Iryna Morykvas reflects on how fleeing Ukraine with her son changed her perspective on love, peace and safety – and inspired her to design this year’s World Refugee Day emoji
By Iryna Morykvas
Iryna Morykvas is a Ukrainian artist and children’s book illustrator. She fled the war in Ukraine with her 10-year-old son to seek safety in Poland and later in the Netherlands, where she is currently hosted by a local family.
For World Refugee Day, Iryna created a unique emoji – a heart with an open door – symbolizing the love and solidarity she encountered along her journey to safety. Through a partnership between Twitter and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the emoji will be available on Twitter from June 19 to 25, with the hashtag #withrefugees, to honour the 100 million people forced to flee war and persecution.
Peace and love
Before the war, I didn’t really think about security. I lived in a beautiful, peaceful city, painted a lot, met friends, travelled. I have a wonderful family, an apartment with a beautiful view of the forest.
The war changed everything and made me think emotionally and quickly. When the war comes, the only thing you want most is for it to end as soon as possible, for peace. All other fears and experiences disappear. It sweeps away everything in its path – it leaves a void.
My son and I decided to flee to a safe country, where my child will sleep and live in peace, where there will be no need to hide in the basement during the serenade because rockets are flying in the sky.
I was driven by fear and desire for security. I felt like a migratory bird flying to warmer lands, fleeing the winter. I took with my son only a usual briefcase and love, love for the child, the country, life, people and the world. I think that peace and love are the greatest values and the foundation for the harmonious development of society.
When our family sheltered us in the Netherlands, I wanted to bring something good to the windows, because I did it at home. I cut out white birds, two white birds. I used what I had at hand – a sheet from my son’s notebook and a kitchen knife.
Help and support
In everyday life, we can rely on ourselves a lot, we can plan, make an effort. With the beginning of the war, everything changes – the feeling of security disappears, there is uncertainty, fear, helplessness. Then even the slightest help is invaluable. When someone gives warm tea, a blanket, food, a toy to a child or even just says something encouraging and smiles.
I will never forget the feeling when my son and I crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border, scared and tired, and we were greeted with smiles and hugs by Polish border guards and people. They asked us if we needed something, if we were hungry or if we had a place to spend the night. Children were given toys, sweets and picked them up. A smile finally appeared on the children’s frightened little faces. It was a great feeling of support and unity despite nationality and status.
House, roof over your head
A roof over your head is very important for a sense of security. This roof is your home, but when rockets fire or fly around it, you have to leave it.
I love to travel. It’s easy to climb, it’s easy for me to communicate with people, but I never thought that someday in my life there may be an option when you need to gather yourself and your child and do it quickly and take only the essentials. And to call a journey which is not at my request and it is unknown when and where it will end. Then you want to take your whole house with you, because even the walls are important, its smell is important, the view from the window.
When we were first sheltered by a Polish family, my son and I went into the room they gave us. I sat on the bed and exhaled. Everything is safe. I am safe. I am really safe. I felt the same way three weeks later when we were in the Netherlands with a Dutch family. At first it is unusual, everything is new, when you arrange your things, do the usual everyday rituals, but the most important thing is that this house is – even if it is temporary.
When we open the door of our home to someone who needs security, we open our heart.
Because home is the heart of the family.
Originally published by UNHCR on 19 June 2022