‘We will bloom again’: How one woman is turning bullet holes in Ukraine into works of art
The Ukrainian town of Bucha, the site of alleged mass killings by Russian forces, remains riddled with memories of occupation – from bullet holes to destroyed homes. To help Bucha’s residents move on from the “horror” of the Russian invasion, a Canadian volunteer of Ukrainian descent has begun turning bullet holes into things of beauty, in order to bring joy and smiles back to the people of Ukraine.
The town of Bucha, outside of Kyiv, was occupied by Russian troops for over a month. When the army withdrew, Ukrainian officials entered Bucha on April 2 to find bodies strewn in the streets and evidence of mass killings, torture and executions. The town received global attention and has become synonymous with allegations of Russian war crimes.
While life in Bucha has slowly started to go back to normal, the memories of these atrocities remain everywhere in the streets. Buildings have been gutted and damaged, and bullet holes mark walls throughout the city.
But now, fences and doors around Bucha that were previously distinct only for their bullet holes are works of art – painted over with flowers by Ivanka Siolkowsky.
‘I wanted to erase those bullet holes for him, so he could be reminded of the joy that once was’
Ivanka Siolkowsky is a business owner from Canada of Ukrainian descent. When the war broke out on February 24, she decided to volunteer to help Ukrainian refugees.
Within the first week of the invasion, I flew to Poland and was helping at the border. There were many children crossing alone who needed assistance, so I helped with that to ensure they arrived to safety.
After that, fewer people were crossing over, so I came across the border to assist with humanitarian aid here. Every day or two I was in a new city, helping out in many different ways – mostly all related to helping children.
Siolkowsky came up with the idea of painting over bullet holes left behind by the war when she spoke to a resident of Bucha.
I met a man named Sasha who had lost his son in the war, and his house was bombed and burned to the ground. He told me he wanted to leave because there was no joy left in this city anymore. All he sees are bullet holes in his fence reminding him of his loss. So I wanted to erase those bullet holes for him, so he could be reminded of the joy that once was. He told me his favourite flower was daffodils, so I painted daffodils. My goal was to make him smile, and I succeeded. Never did I think it would turn into this.
I have done all of the fences alone, though I have had some help from my four-year-old assistant, Anya. She watched me paint that first fence through her bedroom window and came to help. Since that day she’s been by my side. That said, my hope is that people around Ukraine will hop on board and paint their fences as well, so the country is full of flowers! I’ve already seen it happen, and it’s marvellous.
In the past two months, Siolkowsky has been to more than 20 cities across Ukraine. But she has spent most of her time painting doors and fences in Bucha.
I have asked each homeowner what their favourite flower is – all of the answers have been Ukrainian themed, so it worked out well. Each house has a different flower, except for my final fence which I painted today [May 24] – that one has all of them.
For Siolkowsky, helping Ukrainians has a personal significance:
All of my grandparents – both from my mother’s and father’s side – are Ukrainian. Three of them were taken from their villages to Germany during the Second World War. After that, they came to Canada and began their lives there, where the Ukrainian diaspora is very large. This is how the language and traditions continued.
I grew up hearing their stories of war. Never did I think we would live through something like this in my lifetime, but here we are.
‘Flowers are a symbol of hope, re-growth, rebirth, so this was a great way to let Russians know that they cannot take away our hope’
Throughout her time in Ukraine, Siolkowsky has painted seven fences and 243 flowers in total. Along the way, she has been helping rebuild parts of the country, speaking with locals and doing all she can to help the Ukrainians impacted by the war.
I have heard the most horrific stories I’ve ever heard in my life. Truth be told, I don’t think my mind has processed any of it. I’m fearful of when I return to “normal” life back home, because I have a feeling it is going to hit me then.
These people have been through so much. They don’t need to be reminded of that horror every day when they walk down the street. But that’s what these bullet holes do. So my goal was to hide them behind beauty. Flowers are a symbol of hope, re-growth, rebirth, so this was a great way to let Russians know that they can not take away our hope! We will bloom again!