‘I thought I would never paint again after the shock of the war’
A BRAVE mum who fled the conflict in Ukraine has created an art exhibition to share her story of what it was like to escape the horrors of war with a child.
Kateryna Taylor fled Kyiv with her six-year-old son Stefan and has been receiving support from the Summerhill Ukrainian Support Committee. Leaving Kyiv was an incredibly hard decision for the English translator as her mum refused to leave with her deciding to stay on and help the volunteers.
Determined to keep her young son safe, the courageous mum battled through impossible conditions for days to get them both to asylum and arrived in Ireland earlier this year.
Since being in Summerhill the talented artist has not only created works of art based on her experience in a war zone but has also impressively completed a degree in teaching English with the prestigious Cambridge University graduating with distinction.
Kateryna hopes that the exhibition that will run in The Kildare Gallery later this year will give a glimpse into living in combat.
"I painted five canvases so far which tell a personal story of a refugee who was thrown out of her home," said Kateryna.
"The canvases are like flashbacks of the memories I store. Often times a painting can tell more than any words.
"The Kildare Gallery and their amazing directors, Ken and Ruth, granted me with art supplies having heard I was an artist back home. I thought I would never paint again after the shock of the war I had to experience but painting my memories helped me to cope with the stress and pressure and the shock I was in."
The Ukrainian native says art has also helped her mum cope with living through the horror of war.
"When the Russians bombard my city, my mum paints. She says it helps her not to be afraid during air raids."
The artist says she hopes to share her expertise with local budding creatives to give back to the people of Ireland.
"I am planning to organise a charity workshop in a local community centre to help raise money to help Irish children in hospices. I want no child to suffer injustice or pain and I want all the Irish people to know that every Ukrainian mum whose child you have rescued and continue rescuing is grateful to you forever."
As I am speaking with Kateryna our conversation was abandoned briefly as the terrified daughter ensured her mum took heed of the sirens and moved to a bomb shelter to escape the missile attacks in Kyiv. The realities of war that innocent Ukrainians have to face daily and the reason Kateryna left her beloved country with her son.
The brave duo, who spent many nights in bomb shelters before making their escape to safety have seen things that will be etched in their minds forever as Kateryna explains:
"I woke up on 24th February hearing a strange noise, which I later realised was explosions. We were getting ready for the attack, but never really believed they would attack Kyiv. I was going to join our territorial defence, I did a special course to help other civilians. I had a place to take my mum and my son to safety in the west of Ukraine if the worst came to the worst.
"But the very last minute my mum refused to leave Kyiv, giving me no option but to take my son to safety. She said, Kate, your son needs mum more than he needs Grandma. My son was very poorly and needed medical help that morning but we could not get any appointment at any clinic on the day of the invasion. Luckily, I had prepared the rucksack with medicine, antibiotics including which later saved my son on our journey to the west of Ukraine."
Kateryna found somewhere safe to stay in the west of Ukraine but the journey to get there didn't come without its own battle.
"It took us days to reach it, and we had to repair the wheels of the car twice and to sleep in the cold broken car in the fields with a sick child but we made it. And as soon as we reached the suburbs of Lviv, there were more missiles attacks and more hiding in bomb shelters for us.
"We decided to go closer to the border with Hungary where our friend's family welcomed us. There were four or five families sharing a small apartment but grateful and hopeful not to hear the sounds of explosions again. Then we realised that the war could go on for much longer, and we needed to do something about it."
An Irish friend helped Kateryna and her son make plans to come to Ireland. Despite not wanting to leave Ukraine, she says she is grateful to have been welcomed here.
"It gave my son the chance to go to school, have friends, try to forget the horrors of the war, and most importantly clear skies, clear from missiles which Russians send to bomb Ukrainian civilians."
The inspirational artist and teacher wants to use her skills to help other refugees adapt to life in Ireland. She added:
"The Russians' war on Ukraine ruined lives and plans of many people in Ukraine. I was no exception. But luckily, I managed to continue my education which was only possible due to the support of my close friends who had helped my son and me find refuge in Ireland.
"I am now looking at the ways of how I can help other refugees to master English having all the necessary skills and knowledge I have acquired with my education. I hope my knowledge will help integrate the refugees not only from Ukraine but other countries who need English to be able to work."