Kateryna and Olena, who poured powerful feelings of despair, heartbreak and hope into the exhibition, opened up to the Limerick Voice about their time in Ireland
By Riona Maguire
Two brave Ukrainian photographers who fled the war on their homeland a year ago have said that Ireland “saved our life and art saved our soul”, after pouring their feelings of both heartbreak and hope into the photography exhibit ‘With Faith’ at Limerick Museum.
Kateryna Vyshemirska and Olena Oleksiienko met a day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year and were forced to leave their country with their families after a month of warfare.
The two have now settled in Limerick with their children where they have begun building their new life – but they will “never forget that their Motherland is on fire”.
The ‘With Faith’ exhibition provides a unique window into the experience of the Ukrainian people over the past twelve months.
Speaking to the Limerick Voice, Kateryna and Olena told of how much the photography show means to them.
“It means a lot because it is our whole year of experiences here in Ireland. When it all started, we didn’t expect it would be like this, because we have changed everything (in our lives) several times. For us, this was an opportunity to show our experience here and to show our gratitude,” said Olena.
Kateryna added: “Together, it meant everything to us. I met a very important person in a very hard part of my life, that is Olena. We try to care about each other all the time. Olena helped me to run from Ukraine with my daughter. I survived because Olena helped me. When we began to speak about different things – about life, about war – I understood that she thinks like me on life, on photography.”
The two women have worked side-by-side on their photography since arriving here, always leaning on each other for support as they battle to adjust to their new lives. Both Kateryna and Olena spoke of how grateful they are for the many opportunities that photography and Limerick have provided them.
“I have an opportunity to study at an art college and have my own exhibition. When I ran from the war, I imagined very sad pictures. Now, it’s like my second home here – it’s true,” explained Kateryna.
Olena has started volunteering to take pictures for Irish and Ukrainian communities, which she has included in the exhibit, under an Irish and Ukrainian flag hanging side by side.
When asked if they had a favourite piece of art displayed in the exhibit, the two photographers admitted that each one is too special in their own way.
“They’re all so different and all so important I cannot choose one. You know, it’s like feelings and your self. It’s different sides of one person, of one stone, one diamond. It’s different angles and different sides. It came from the heart. It all happened very slowly, and not easily, but naturally,” said Olena.
Both Kateryna and Olena extended their thanks to everyone around them that contributed to the exhibit, even if only in a small gesture. They specifically extended their thanks to Pat, who works in the Limerick Museum, for helping them put some of the most important aspects of the exhibit together – and providing them with chats along the way.
“All of the people, they put something into our lives, like small grains of something. It may be love, happiness, smiles, it’s all very important. The exhibition started our journey. We started to meet very important people in our lives,” Olena said.
This is the second exhibition with a Ukrainian theme that Limerick Museum has hosted, following on from Shelter, the exhibition of children’s drawings from Ukrainian bomb shelters.
As with the Shelter exhibition, the opening ceremony of With Faith drew a large crowd, including many from the local Ukrainian community.
With Faith will continue until Saturday, February 25 at the Limerick Museum. It is open Monday to Friday 10.00am to 5.00pm and Saturday 10.00am to 1.00 pm and 2.00pm to 5.00pm. Admission is free.