One Ukrainian journalist in exile sells art to help colleagues in peril back home as she waits for the war to end.

Lyudmila Makei examines a painting of flowers

Ukrainian journalist and artist Lyudmila Makei examines a painting of flowers on exhibit at the National Museum of Kosovo in June 2023. (Photo by Rafiullah Nikzad)

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In June the National Museum of Kosovo hosted an exhibition entitled “Flowers Against War” that featured paintings by Lyudmila Makei, a journalist and artist who has been in exile from Ukraine.

The opening was organized by the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims for World Refugee Day, which was held on June 20.

Through these paintings Makei depicts the pain of war and exile. She sends back sales from her art to colleagues who have remained in Ukraine.

“A year ago, I didn’t even think about exhibiting my paintings in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo,” Makei said. “I didn’t think I would be able to smile and create again. Because on February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, all the colors disappeared from my palette.”

Makei has been homeless for more than a year.

War and exile

The day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Makei attended a concert at the Philharmonic and watched a folk band perform. She felt good about her life.

The next morning, she woke up with the sound of Russian military planes roaring in the sky of Kiev.

A week after the Russian invasion, Makei fled to Slovakia because the city where she lived was located next to a hydropower plant and was constantly under fire from Russian forces. She became one of 7.7 million refugees who fled Ukraine, according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Another seven million people relocated within the country.

Kosovo as a refuge for journalists

Born and raised in the city of Svitlovodsk, which is in the central part of Ukraine, she completed her higher education at the Kirovohrad Pedagogical University at the Faculty of Music and Education and started working as a journalist in 2000, writing for a local newspaper in Ukraine. She soon became respected for her skills as an editor. Before that, she had taught piano and art.

At the start of the Russian invasion, Makei worked as the editor of the first city newspaper in the city of Kropyvnytsky. She also created a series of original music programs on private television and regional state radio.

When Makei learned that Kosovo had become a safe harbor for Ukrainian journalists, she contacted the Organization for the Protection of Journalists in Kosovo. Soon after she became the first Ukrainian journalist to enter the country under a new professional protection program called “Residence in Kosovo.”

She has been able to resume journalistic activity and now works remotely with National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) and a number of media organizations. She even accompanied Vjosa Osmani, the president of Kosovo, to a meeting of the European Parliament. In addition, she has collaborated with international organizations on several financial aid projects for journalists.

“I am in contact with my colleagues every day,” Makei said. “To be clear, the situation in the Ukrainian media today is very difficult, especially in the frontline areas. The local media there are in a very difficult situation. But even now the journalists there are looking for information.”

The press should not be a casualty of war.

Makei is working with the NUJU to get international support for the economic strengthening of newsrooms.

“Many of my colleagues are injured, missing or in Russian captivity,” Makei said. She learned, for example, that one colleague had disappeared with his wife in May and that they had been detained by the occupying authorities without any explanation.

“My heart breaks because the Russians are destroying an entire generation of patriots, highly educated people and highly skilled professionals,” Makei said. “The enemy is causing irreparable damage to Ukrainian cities, villages and families.”

Because of the bombings, Ukraine is losing newsrooms, TV and radio companies, schools, kindergartens and hospitals. Makei is now safe. But she worries about her relatives who are still living in Ukraine.

“I am very worried about the safety of my relatives who were in Kiev when the massive offensive began,” Makei said. “The Russians bombed the Ukrainian capital and announced that they would enter in three days. But they did not succeed and they will never succeed. Ukrainians did not take someone else’s property, they protect their motherland.”

Three questions to consider:

  1. What makes journalism more dangerous than some other professions in times of war?
  2. Do you think journalists should have some special protection, like that afforded to the Red Cross or other aid agencies?
  3. Do you think you could be a war correspondent?
Rafiullah Nikzad

Rafiullah Nikzad is a former reporter with Khurshid TV in Kabul and has also reported for Voice Independent London. Through journalism, he wants to portray the truths of the society and stop oppression and injustice.

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CultureArtPainting flowers and dreaming of peace