Digital artist shares heartache of leaving family and pets in war-torn Ukraine for new life in Chesterfield
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Daria and Olha Bulavina will showcase their digital art at St Leonard’s Church, Spital, on June 9 and 10 as part of an exhibition celebrating the town’s creative residents.
"We're really excited about it," said Daria. "After showing our artworks on social networks it's not scary to show our art to people."
Speaking about leaving their home country a year ago, Daria, 20, said: "I remember the day before the war when the popular Ukrainian band started to sing in the underground and on the roads to make people feel better and a lot of people from the different cities started to sing too.
"Next day I woke up to the voice of my mom saying "The war has started." All the family except Olha was in the village of Mayaki. Parents were really afraid for her so they decided to ride to the city (Odessa) for her. It was hard - no petrol at the petrol stations, too busy roads, panicking people. They spent all day but took her - it was dangerous to stay in the city near the sea.
"The next few months are really foggy in my head. We were often sitting in the basement, took our animals with us, heard explosions sometimes. After some time we were really tired and did not always react on the siren's alarm, we just wanted to sleep a little bit.
"On the first day when we decided to leave I spent all day crying and hugging my cat. We didn't know what would be waiting for us and I didn't speak English as well as I do now.""Our mum drove us to Kishinev and there we were waiting for the plane in the airport. We took our last photo together and flew away. Later our mother said that she couldn’t stop crying when she sat in the car."
All Daria and Olha knew about Chesterfield was that it was a small town with a strange spire near a big student city.
They had to wait five months before they were reunited with their little brother Vlad and their mother Natalia. Daria said: "It was hard to not see anyone from our family for so long, because it was my first trip so far away without mother. I was a home-loving child.
"For my mum it was an even more scary decision: to leave her mum, husband, all the animals, when she’s 55 years old, with no English at all and with a nine year old child.
"Our other family - father Anrew, two grandmas, ten cats, five dogs and rabbit are still in Ukraine. We speak with them nearly every day and our father sends us lots of videos with animals. There is no chance they can come here. It's too hard, expensive,we have too many things in Ukraine that are all our life, and dad can't leave the country before the end of the war.
"We miss the sea, we miss our cats - can I even be sure that they will be there when we return? I used to hold my Julia (grey cat) every night, falling asleep. Now I use a plush toy for it. It's just a little detail from ruined routine - but I recall it so often. I just want to wake up one day with the news that Russia has fallen."
Both self-employed artists, Daria and Olha, 30, initially found it difficult to focus on their work because of their experience in Ukraine. Daria said: "For a long time it was really hard for me to draw, hard to relax; it seemed like my art can't explain these experiences: my pain, my hate, this despair. It was quite a long process to return to it.
"In our art we just use things as we think of them - it can be fantasy art, self-portraits, trying to explain the way we feel in the drawings. It's about depression, fairy tales, anxiety, homeland, war, imaginary worlds."
Their art has evolved from childhood when they were always drawing. Daria said: "When Olha bought graphic tablet to draw on PC, she didn't touch it within a year, because she was afraid of new technologies in her life. I've grown up in the internet era so started to do digital art as soon as I had the opportunity, about 10 years ago."
The sisters had to leave their PCs behind in Ukraine and now use iPads for their art. Daria said: "They're small, mobile, comfortable enough, we can carry them to draw everywhere - cafe, kitchen, bed, classroom. As a main workplace we just use tables in our rooms."
Meanwhile, the sisters are adapting to life in Chesterfield. Daria said: "There are a lot of cute little things that we're enjoying - a lot of birds, tasty cheese, friendly people, crooked spire. I like the fact that there are a lot of cute low buildings without big barriers between gardens and street. It makes an amazing look of the town."
Olha and Daria live with a host family, next door to their mum and brother who are also lodging with hosts. Daria said: "Running between the doors in pyjamas every morning, it’s quite fun. I am trying to find a few more clients for my mom (she's a self-employed home cleaner and makes amazing homemade chocolate) to support our family."
*The annual Spital Arts Spectacular will include photographers, a calligrapher, stained glass makers, craft workers and artists. The exhibition will be open on Friday, June 9, from 2pm until 6.30pm and Saturday, June 10, from 10am to 4pm. St Leonard’s Church is at Valley Road/Hartington Road, Spital, Chesterfield, S41 0HA.