Ukrainian refugee donates art as part of Warrnambool’s fundraising efforts for war-torn towns

Home Arts Ukrainian refugee donates art as part of Warrnambool’s fundraising efforts for war-torn towns
Ukrainian refugee donates art as part of Warrnambool’s fundraising efforts for war-torn towns

With every stroke of his paint brush, Vladymyr Naumenkov pours his heart onto the canvas.

The 70-year-old artist and his wife Valentyna are among a number of displaced Ukrainians currently calling the south-west Victorian city of Warrnambool home. 

The pair escaped their home town of Mykolaiv amid a rain of gunfire and shelling early last month, commencing a torrid 22-day trek through Europe before finally arriving in Australia. 

The toll of war was written across their tired faces when they finally met their daughter Olena Naumenkova at her home in regional Victoria. 

“It was really terrible, they would call us between the shelling and bombs,” Ms Naumenkova said.

A man is painting
Mr Naumenkov was forced to flee the Russian invasion in his hometown of Mykolaiv.(ABC South West Victoria: Daniel Miles)

“It was very unsafe to stay here so they decided to go very quickly.”

For Mr Naumenkov, the move was world shattering. 

He left behind the family home, a lifetime of work and memories, and many dear friends. 

When he arrived in Australia, Mr Naumenkov said something unique hit him straight away.

“He says they were very surprised from silence, because they last few days they feel such big tension always expecting explosions,” his daughter translated. 

A man paints at an easel framed by trees
Ukrainian refugee Vladymyr Naumenkov was a celebrated artist in his hometown.(ABC South West Victoria: Daniel Miles)

From little things, big things grow

In Ukraine, Mr Naumenkov was an artist.

When Ms Naumenkova asked a friend for any spare art supplies, she was soon inundated with paints, canvases, easels and brushes.

All had been donated by locals after a social media call-out went viral locally.

“There’s no doubting the people of Warrnambool,” Ms Naumenkova said, wiping a tear. 

A woman watches her father paint
Ms Naumenkova watches her father paint on a donated easel.(ABC South West Victoria: Daniel Miles)

There are currently seven displaced Ukrainians calling Warrnambool home, a number expected to increase significantly once appropriate visas are sourced. 

The city has already hosted memorials, talent shows and music nights all to raise money for hospitals and other organisations in Ukraine.

Winslow wool grower Brendan Finnegan’s merino product is normally snapped up by Italy’s top fashion houses.

Two men looking at wool
Brendan Finnegan (left) and Chris Bull class the AAAA-grade merino wool prior to packing(ABC South West Victoria: Daniel Miles)

This year, he’s donating the best cut to a charity auction, with all the funds going to Ukrainians caught up in Russia’s war.

“I’ve got eight grandchildren and probably won’t worry me, but for the next 50 or 60 years, if Russia prevails, it’s going to have an effect on their life,” Mr Finnegan said.

What can be done?

Since his arrival in Warrnambool, Mr Naumenkov has produced a dozen landscapes.

Some are of his hometown in Ukraine, others of Victoria’s southern coastline.

Each is simply signed “refugee”; a nom de plume he’s recently taken on. 

A man painting a beach scene
Mr Naumenkov said he was inspired by Australia’s unique coastline. (ABC South West Victoria: Daniel Miles)

They’re set to go under the hammer at an art auction in Warrnambool as part of the local humanitarian fundraising effort.

But as his daughter explains, for Mr Naumenkov, no amount of painting will be enough.

“But it makes him feel better to do something useful, to do something to help.

“Sometimes, it’s all we can do.”

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