Lu Sakhno’s career as an artist was on a roll. She had 18 exhibitions under her belt, international projects and after 20 years of building her career, her work was being recognised and sought after by collectors all over the world.
But that changed in a matter of seconds.
“Everything ended on one day — February 24, 2022, when we heard the terrible sounds of Russian missiles,” she said.
Sakhno was living in Kyiv with her daughter, Alisa, and their dog. Her husband, Oleh Shapiro, was working in Hungary.
Her life was normal — until the war started.
“It was very scary.… A rocket fell not far from our house, in the place where we liked to walk with our dog,” she said.
On the move
She travelled with her daughter to her husband in Hungary, then they all moved to Switzerland, “where the wonderful people of Switzerland” helped them as much as they could, she said.
But jobs weren’t easy to come by, since they couldn’t speak German, according to Sakhno.
They considered Canada because of the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel program, a federal program that allows Ukrainians to work, study and stay in Canada and apply for a number of applications and extensions.
“The province of Newfoundland and Labrador seemed to us extremely picturesque,” Sakhno explained.
It was the ocean and the well-known friendly nature of the people that were big draws.
Sakhno arrived with her husband in St. John’s in June. Her daughter stayed in Germany, where she works as a tattoo artist.
“We were very stressed. Life here and everything around is very different from the European life we are used to, but thanks to the Jones family from Mount Pearl who sheltered us and the Association of New Canadians who helped us,” said Sakhno.
Sakhno said she came to meet the Jones family through a Facebook group. She posted she was looking for housing, and Jennifer and Kevin Jones jumped in to help them with almost every aspect of the move. Sakhno and her husband lived with the couple for two months.
Art remained a compass
A few weeks later after her arrival, Jennifer Jones invited Sakhno to participate in a craft fair at the Conception Bay South Yacht Club, where she sold some of her paintings. All her paintings remained in Ukraine until she asked a trusted person there to send them to her.
“Twenty large paintings on canvas are here now — I am more than happy about it,” she said.
Sakhno and her husband found jobs quickly and rented an apartment.
However, her first job at a restaurant was short-lived, since the restaurant closed permanently.
She now works at Newfoundland Canvas in St. John’s, designing photos and making frames.
“I worked in similar companies in Ukraine, and I am very close to this topic of painting, so I am happy that it became possible,” she said.
The feeling is mutual, with the company writing on its Facebook page that they’re “very excited” to have Sakhno working with their team.
From the art world in Ukraine to St. John’s
Sakhno studied and graduated from the National Academy of Arts and Architecture in Kyiv many years ago, and then began to actively exhibit in the galleries of Ukraine.
“From the age of 14, I devoted myself completely to painting, and I worked as a designer in advertising companies and [worked on] my paintings at home,” she said.
After arriving in Newfoundland, Sakhno gradually started to paint again and attended workshops in local galleries. The Association of Newfoundland Artists offered her and two other Ukrainian artists free membership. She participated in the exhibition at the St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre in October.
Painting is something she only gets to do on the weekends. But it still reflects her passion.
“Lately, I finished a large piece of work that very well illustrates my condition as a person who was forced to leave her native home,” she said.
But she has found some light from a traumatic situation.
“The City of St. John’s bought a painting from me. I’m happy!”