It all began in mid-March 2022 when I received an image of the Ukrainian flag on WhatsApp, accompanied by a message urging me to set it as my profile picture. My initial reaction was skepticism, thinking, “This won’t make a difference; I should focus on helping refugees.” I had been following the news, seeing young mothers and their children arriving at the Ukrainian-Polish border to escape the war. Heartbreaking images of children, lost and vulnerable, haunted me. I wondered why their fathers weren’t with them. This compelled me to turn to art as a therapeutic means to assist them.
I reached out to two major international NGOs, explaining my idea, but all they seemed interested in was recruiting me and collecting monthly fees. Frustrated with their response, I decided to embark on this mission alone.
Within three days, I found myself in Krakow, Poland, and from there, I took a train to Przemysl, just a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border. This city served as the primary arrival point for refugees, with a central station receiving an average of 12,000 refugees daily, predominantly women and children. Their onward journey took them to various parts of Europe. My backpack was laden with 20 kilograms of paints, markers, colors, and paper, all meant to help children express their emotions through art or simply find solace in drawing, if only for a brief respite from their harsh reality.
After introducing myself and explaining my purpose to Polish authorities, including the police and military, I finally secured special accreditation to enter the refugee reception center.
Once inside, I entered a room roughly 80 square meters in size, where instructors were engaging children with music and games. As I unpacked my supplies, the mere sight of them brought smiles to many of the children’s faces. They began drawing and painting almost instantly. In just minutes, the blank pages transformed into vibrant, colorful expressions. I witnessed firsthand that art truly served as therapy, especially for children.
Those nine days were intense, filled with a rollercoaster of emotions. We faced difficult moments, but they were overshadowed by a profound sense of satisfaction. The hundreds of artworks created by these children adorned the walls and windows of that cold, sterile place, infusing it with life and hope. It was filled with emotions, at times conflicting, but it ultimately reinforced the belief that there are many compassionate individuals in this world willing to help those in dire need.
In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist. The challenge is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”