How artist Anna is keeping her culture alive in Tasmania
Anna Mykhalchuk is a talented artist who sells her traditional Ukrainian artworks at the Salamanca Market in Hobart. Along with her husband and young son, she left Ukraine just before the conflict began.
We talked to Anna about her new life in Australia, and why painting in her traditional folk-art style is so important to her.
When did you come to Australia and why?
I lived with my husband, Oleh, and four-year-old son, Nazarii, in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. We left Ukraine a month before war started, because we had some feelings that war would happen. When the war began, we were in Portugal. We were very afraid. We couldn’t return home.
We talked with friends who lived in Hobart. They that told us that Australia was a safe country and that Hobart has a small but united Ukrainian community that could help us settle in. We flew to Sydney on 10 March 2022. The next day we arrived in Hobart, Tasmania.
It was a complicated decision for us to come to Australia, but we decided to choose a safe future for our son. My mother, father and sister are still in Kyiv. My mother is a teacher who works with children with disabilities.
How did you find life in Australia when you first arrived?
When we first arrived in Australia, my husband and I knew nothing about important social processes such as visas, or the medical, educational and tax system.
My English wasn't good enough for communicating via phone or chatting. My husband could only understand ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It was a hard and stressful period, but I am very grateful for the support that we received from the Ukrainian community in Hobart, as well as from Australian people.
What is the inspiration behind your art?
I am an artist of the Ukrainian folk-art style called ‘samchykivka’. I was taught the style by a master painter in Ukraine.
My inspiration comes from observing nature – the colours and shapes we find around us in tiny flowers, curled leaves, small singing birds. In the final stage of painting usually it is hard to select colours, but when I find the right colour I feel real happiness!
When I paint, I’m always thinking about the story that I want to share and the emotions that I want to emphasise. It's not just a colourful picture, it's my emotional story.
This tradition of decorative painting was placed on the National Register of Intangible Ukrainian Cultural Heritage. I am very proud to be a representative of samchykivka art in Australia.
You have recently illustrated a children's book called Forest Adventures – what inspired you?
The book is a collaboration with another Ukrainian refugee, Anastasiia Ananieva, and talented author, Iryna Bohlscheid. It was inspired by my son, Nazarii, and other displaced Ukrainian children who have come to Australia. Our idea was to create a book to tell them about the wonderful Australian fauna, to help Ukrainian children learn English, and keep their native Ukrainian language alive. It is a unique book because it combines traditional Ukrainian folk art with illustrations about Australian animals. It is also bilingual – in Ukrainian and English. The book is also available in an English-Chinese version. It was my dream to create a book for children — I am thrilled to be selling it at Salamanca Market along with my art to the people of Hobart and tourists from around the world.
What does UNHCR mean to Ukrainians?
Ukraine needs support from organisations like UNHCR. Displaced children need support so they can keep learning. Any help from organisations like UNHCR is very important to the people of Ukraine.
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.