Isolated from her friends and hundreds of miles from home, Kate dreams of connection. But, with the uncertainties of the Ukraine war, her dreams have taken new form
By Roger Burks in Bucharest, Romania
Before she was forced to flee to Romania alongside her mother and younger brother, 17-year-old Kate was a university student at Kyiv State Academy of Decorative and Applied Arts and Design. Her studies focused on using art and design to create interactive games
Today, most of her classmates are refugees as well – scattered across Europe – and so she feels like the concept of a shared gaming experience is more important than ever. As she plays online games with her friends, she takes note of the characters, concepts, designs and scenarios that inspire engaging and connected play.
“Designs are coming from my head, and some scenes are coming from my heart,” she explains. “I want people to communicate [well], have good interactions. So, it’s been nice to make some games where people can play together.”
Although her family has found safety in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, the loneliness is acute. Kate has felt separated from her community of artists, and the war has affected the way she experiences art.
“I saw one art[work]. There was [a] broken city and ghosts of people and kids near a rocket,” she remembers. “It was in Mariupol and – oh, it’s so sad and painful to look at it.”
For Kate and her family, this art reflects their own experience.
“Mother didn’t want to leave home because our grandparents are there and her husband is there, but after some bombing, we decided to leave,” she says. “We were [travelling] for three days.”
Kate’s family is among the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine that have crossed the border to Romania. More than 83,000 have chosen to remain there. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its partners are providing support as refugees cross into Romania and try to establish a sense of normalcy.
Shortly after arriving in Bucharest, Kate’s family visited a UNHCR enrollment centre where they were registered to receive multi-purpose cash assistance. Additionally, the Government of Romania offers a temporary protection status for refugees from Ukraine, which includes access to education, health care and the labour market, and the whole society has opened its arms to refugees. About two-thirds of refugees applying for temporary protection are women.
Today, Kate’s younger brother is attending school and her mother is able to provide for the family’s needs – even a few art supplies to replace those Kate had to leave behind in Ukraine.
Kate’s university studies have resumed with a few online classes and discussion groups, with many of her classmates who were also forced to flee their homes joining from countries such as Poland. Months after the war started, their academic community is coming back to life.
“We have group chats about each course, where we help each other,” she explains. “I think of some ideas about my characters or their story.”
“Romania is very inspiring for artists…”
Kate’s notebooks are filled with the characters that will populate her games, as well as scenery that will form the world around them. She’s also drawing creativity from the country where her family has found refuge.
“Romania is very inspiring for artists like me,” she enthuses. “Here it’s already blooming, everything. The trees and the landscapes are so beautiful. And I love it.”
Although Kate’s vision and aspirations have been influenced by her experiences as a refugee, her biggest wish remains close to home.
“I want to live. I like my life. I want to continue my studies,” she says. “We all hope that we will all come back to our home one day, and we can build it together.”
Originally published by UNHCR 22 July 2022