A native of Kiev, graphic designer Oksana, 47, was living in Irpin, the city that symbolises Ukrainian resistance, when war broke out in her home country. Grabbing her backpack and her cat ‘Rocky’, Oksana and her neighbours managed to board the last evacuation train before the railway line was blown up by the Russians. He mother and nephew are still in Ukraine. “We all felt the horrors of war from the first day,” she shares. “It was scary to see and hear tanks on our streets, loud explosions, people hiding in basements.” On the invitation of a kindhearted family in Wexford, Oksana moved to Ireland, taking ‘Rocky’ with her in the backpack. She left her home and a career as a a graphic designer and art director in a well-known magazine behind. Oksana was later resettled in Bantry, where she says the snow-covered mountains were the first sight she remembers seeing from the bus as she approached her new home in West Cork. Oksana was placed in Ardnagashel Estate in Ballylickey between Bantry and Glengariff, close to a forest and the sea. While the Ukrainian refugee and artist has since relocated to Drogheda where she can live more independently, she continues to paint the West Cork landscape and historic buildings she sketched while here, as well as using the traditional Ukrainian ‘Vytynanka’ technique to create beautiful traditional Ukrainian paper cut-outs, and is taking commissions through her website oksanaso.myportfolio.com. Oksana shares with West Cork People why West Cork will always hold a special place in her heart.
“Right from the beginning there were so many people who helped us in West Cork,” shares Oksana. “I know that things are not easy for many Irish people, but after experiencing war, it is the small gestures that come to mean so much. Our manager Mary, who helped with administration issues as best she could; my social worker Katherine; Dr. Aisling Morris from Glengariff Medical Centre, who helped me to get my shaky health in order, the English teacher from Atlantic School of English, Jade and Mary from the St. Vincent de Paul store, where I worked as a volunteer and improved my customer service skills…and many, many others from West Cork. I will never forget these people.”
Since arriving in the ‘land of land of a thousand welcomes’, Oksana has had many what she calls “little Irish miracles” happen to her. “In those first days, I was so lonely. I used to sit on the shore by the sea not knowing what to do with myself.” She recalls the kindness of strangers such as when two local women engaged her in conversation, by the end of which, they had offered her a lift to Cork City. “That act of kindness was so important to me in that moment,” says Oksana. “There were so many more meetings with people and unexpected kindnesses over time.”
An artist, Oksana could not resist painting her surroundings, posting photographs of some of the finished works on the Glengarriff Noticeboard on Facebook. Her beautiful paintings soon drew attention, with her representation of a boat in Glengarriff quickly snapped up by the owners, followed by a commission for a series of drawings depicting Bantry’s Anchor Bar.
“Art is what protected my mind, and therefore my life,” shares Oksana “so it was the best thing that happened to me during this difficult time.”
While she feels pain when thinking about her pre-war life, her home, her mother, her friends, Oksana says that wherever she is, she tries try to visit local historical sites, museums and galleries. “There I find peace,” she shares. She is currently studying Art and Business at Drogheda Institute for Further Education with the hope of contributing to her local community and the arts and culture scene in Ireland.
As Christmas approaches, she plans on volunteering her time and skills to local events. “I believe that giving back to the community is important, especially during the holiday season,” she says.
Oksana has just shown some of her own paper cut-out pieces at the International Charity Bazaar at the RDS in Dublin and in the future her hope is to showcase her work in galleries, or even at her own venue, and to share the traditional paper-cutting art form of ‘Vytynanka’ through classes for Ukrainians and local residents, bringing both cultures together.
For more information on Oksana’s work go to oksanaso.myportfolio.com