Toronto artist is in Ukraine painting bullet holes with flowers

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has drawn foreign volunteers from around the world, many of them from here in Toronto.

One person from the city has made a difference in Ukraine in her own way, turning the scars of brutal war into symbols of hope and recovery.

Ivanka Siolkowskiformer primary school teacher turned professional organizerhas gained notoriety on social media in recent weeks for his inspiring art painted on bullet holes in the torn city of Bucha.

It’s a place that recently caught the world’s attention with the grisly discovery of a massacre by Russian forces, but Siolkowsky tries to paint the town in a new light without whitewashing the crimes taking place there.

Siolkowsky was born in Canada, but she tells blogTO that her Ukrainian roots are a big part of who she is. And the conflict is a bitter but important element in his family history.

“Three of my grandparents were taken from their villages in Germany during the Second World War. After that, they came to Canada and started their life there, where the Ukrainian diaspora is very large. That’s how that the language and the traditions have endured.”

So when Russian troops crossed the Ukrainian border in the largest European ground invasion since the very war that displaced his grandparents, Siolkowsky says, “there was no way I was helping in any way I could. “.

“That was/is the mindset of all Ukrainians around the world. We’re all doing our part – I’m just in a position where I could jump on a plane, so I did .”

His family was worried for his safety, but they knew there was not much they could say to stop him. Her mother died a few years earlier and her father, although probably very worried, told her that “you have to do what you have to do. I have your back”.

In fact, entering an active war zone was surprisingly easy for Siolkowsky, who flew to Poland and spent the early days of the war helping with the massive and, at times, chaotic evacuation.

“There were a lot of kids crossing alone who needed help, so I helped them get to safety. So every time I had to cross, I had no problem with customs because that they knew me and knew the work that I did.. They knew that I was not a threat.

There’s a little time between Siolkowsky’s arrival in Ukraine and the start of her bullet hole painting project, but given the horrors of war, it’s a side of the story that she needs time to process on its own before sharing with the world.

When asked about her experiences in the country and the scenes that marked her, she says that “they are still too recent to talk about. I am still here in Ukraine and I continue to live. Maybe one day I can talk about it, but not yet.”

As for her painting project, Siolkowsky says it all started when she met a man named Sasha who had lost not only his son during the war, but also his house, which was bombed and burned down.

“He told me he wanted to leave because there was no more joy in this town. All he sees are bullet holes in his fence reminding him of his loss. so wanted to erase those bullet holes for him, so he could remember the joy that once was.”

“He told me his favorite flower was daffodils, so I painted daffodils. My goal was to make him smile, and I succeeded. I never thought it would turn into this.”

Painting became a bright spot in its history, but Siolkowsky didn’t start out with a lot of art supplies or really much else for that matter.

“I didn’t bring much with me. I brought items for the soldiers which I delivered upon arrival, but for me I brought very little clothing and only items needed to Security.” She says her most valuable supply has been her body armor, which she wears almost every day.

Locals have been through more than most of us could ever imagine, but Siolkowsky says that even in the face of such extreme hardship and bloodshed, “Ukrainians are the most hospitable people I have ever known.” .

While Siolkowsky admits her Ukrainian heritage may have contributed to her warm welcome, she says they were extremely grateful for all the help and “are the kind of people who will give you the shirt no questions asked.”

“I definitely felt the love and felt like I was home the whole time I was here,” says Siolkowsky, who through her art in turn helps locals feel at home again.

About Catharine C. Bean

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