‘Sunflower in November’: Accomplished Ukrainian artist re-establishing herself in Markham

Unionville’s Kathleen Gormley McKay Art Centre will feature a special Ukrainian artist, Violetta Radzilevych, with her solo art show from Nov. 16 to 20.

Violetta fled war-torn Ukraine about six months ago and struggled to settle in Markham with her seven-year-old daughter. She hopes to re-establish herself in the arts community in Toronto and become self-reliant as soon as possible by showing people her abilities through the coming exhibition.

Early on, Violetta discovered her love and talent for art. As a child, she started to draw and paint when she could hold a brush. She attended Grekov Odessa Art School for five years, curating the school’s gallery and doing freelance work while attending.

Upon graduating, Violetta worked continuously on a wide range of projects for numerous clients, both commercial and private. Violetta had a thriving business in Ukraine for over 15 years and was well-known in the fine arts and decorative arts arena.

However, it all came to an abrupt end when Russia decided to invade Ukraine.

“We moved to a new house on the New Year's Eve 2021 to celebrate the new year in a new house,” Violetta recalled, but only two months later, in February of this year, Violetta was forced to leave her family, home and business when the Russian attacks on her homeland began.

The hardships in the escape soon became evident. When transiting in Germany, “my daughter and I were dropped off in the middle of nowhere in the night.” Due to the language barrier, Violetta said she didn’t know what to do except hold her daughter and cry.

With her little girl, Violetta managed to flee across Ukraine, Moldova and Romania and then reach Berlin. From there, with persistence, she was able to emigrate to Canada, where kind-hearted fellow Ukrainians, Lori Danyshyn-McBrien and her husband, took them in and gave them a roof over their heads.

“We connected with Violetta with a Facebook group called Cornell Supports Ukrainian Families,” said Lori, who was very upset about the unprovoked attack on Ukraine, as her paternal grandparents were from Ukraine.

Though the lines of communication were lost long ago, Lori always knew that she had unknown relatives back in Ukraine. “I have very personal feelings toward the Ukrainians, I found it very hard to deal with doing nothing but also knew there was very little I could do to help.”

Therefore, after learning about Violetta's situation, Lori and her husband decided without hesitation to help them settle down in Canada.

Violetta was forced to leave her home, where she had a very happy family and a well-established career. As the paperwork for her husband's Canadian visa has not been completed, the family is now separated between two places.

Meanwhile, Violetta has been fortunate. Long before the war, she and her husband started studying English, which laid a good foundation for her to quickly adapt to life in Canada. And, most importantly, Violetta’s daughter would no longer have to look over her shoulder or stay up all night because of a bomb that could drop at any moment outside their window.

Moving forward, Violetta’s future plan is to open her own studio or become an art teacher. Her media of choice is acrylics, but she also creates with oil, watercolour, pastels and gold leaf. She is good at portraits, figure painting, large-scale murals, creating decorative wall treatments and more. Her works encompass memories of home and her great appreciation of the country that welcomed her.

To learn more about Violetta and feel her power to communicate in many languages of paint, please visit her web page at https://radzilevichviolet.wixsite.com/my-site/my-portfolio. Details of the “Sunflower in November” art show are as follows:

Date: Nov. 16 to 20

Time: 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Address: Kathleen Gormley McKay Art Centre, 197 Main St., Unionville

Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun