After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, families in the United Kingdom opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees as part of the Homes for Ukraine program. This allowed people to quickly sponsor and take individuals into their homes long-term. Now, as many of these Ukrainian families are moving on to their own homes in the UK, one artist has come up with a special way to commemorate the bonds forged during the experience.
Olha Son is a 35-year-old Ukrainian artist who had just opened her first exhibition when the war broke out. She fled Odesa with her young daughter and connected with her UK sponsor, Ffyona, on Facebook. Olha and her daughter lived with Ffyona in Cornwall for 11 months until Olha's husband was able to join them, and they moved into their own home in Bristol.
So when Olha received a message from a Ukrainian woman asking for a painting to express the gratitude she felt toward her British hosts, it wasn't hard to come up with ideas. “I brainstormed some ideas, and one of them was describing a girl in a gray coat who is holding an umbrella with a British flag over a girl sitting on the ground wearing clothes of the Ukrainian flag colors,” she tells My Modern Met. “I was in the same situation as my Ukrainian customer so it was very easy to depict this feeling of being sheltered from the war by the UK.”
After she posted the painting to Instagram, she got many requests from Ukrainians seeking something similar and the piece slowly transformed into what it is today. On one side, the host family holds an umbrella over the Ukrainian family they've taken into their homes. It's an image filled with warmth and gratitude for a shared experience that has bonded these families forever.
Kevin Kennedy Ryan and his wife Jessica Ryan-Smith were on the receiving end of this special gift after they hosted a family in their Sheffield home. The couple had signed up to house a family at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis and hadn't thought much about it again until they got a phone call.
“One evening, we got a call out of the blue asking if we'd be open to having a family with a child. I think within a week, they had arrived at our door after a long drive across Europe,” Ryan shared with My Modern Met. Dima and Tonya Mogylnyi arrived in Sheffield with their young son Misha, who is now 19 months old. The family traveled from Brovary, just outside of Kyiv, and left behind thriving careers to flee the war.
“Having Dima, Tonya, and Misha staying with us has brought a lot of life and humor into the house. We cooked together often and shared some wonderful life moments—from celebrating Misha's first birthday…Christmas together—to some sad moments as well, particularly when they lost friends back home in the war. My wife and I will definitely carry these memories with us forever.”
The families lived together for nine months, and now the Mogylnyi are moving into their new home. To show their gratitude to the Ryans, they commissioned a personalized umbrella painting from Olha Son. In the painting, the Ryans and their dog are reaching across to the Mohylnyi family, who are dressed in blue and yellow. Tonya is holding sunflowers as they leave behind a backdrop filled with fighter planes, getting ready to step into a brighter atmosphere.
It was an emotional experience when the couple first saw the painting. “We cried! We didn't expect anything, let alone something so personal and poignant. Also, incredibly impressed by just how well the artist painted our dog.”
Ryan then shared the piece on Reddit, hoping that Olha Son's artwork and their experience would resonate with others. “If you're able to help others—please do. I think for both my wife and myself, we'd like to think that if the shoe was on the other foot and we had to flee somewhere, we'd be able to rely on the kindness of strangers.”