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“It’s hard to find a permanent job, but we like our current occupation and people need what we do”: Ukrainian artists about how to keep making art in Poland

Sisters Alla and Halyna Khmel came to Poland in May 2022. These Ukrainian women were participating among other artists in Ukrainian hand-made Christmas market in Krakow. They were selling pictures, illustrations, Motanka dolls, baskets and painted spoons. shares how the women keep doing the job of their life abroad, make workshops for Polish people and Kharkiv – as a center of Ukrainian culture. 

How they got to Poland

“It was not planned, we didn’t want to leave Ukraine”, — says Halyna. Since the full scale invasion sisters left Kharkiv, which appeared to be under the russian shelling from 24th of February and went to Dnipro. Then decided to find more safe place in Zakarpattya.

The decision to go abroad came when the women realized they couldn’t find a job as artists in Western Ukraine. Moreover, Alla and Halyna were offered work through intermediaries who assured that there are many interesting vacancies for artists in Poland.  “When we arrived to Glovenka village, near Krosno (Pidkarpathian region — author.), we have met a woman helping refugees who don’t have accommodation and job. She offered us illegal work and said there is no problem if the police will come. But we said, we don’t want to be deported as Ukrainian citizens at any second”, — says Alla. 

Later, in Krosno local people helped sisters to prepare necessary documents and get job as artists in the Regional Center for Border Cultures (RCBC). 

“They had just one painter, and they were happy to host us, since there were lots of work. There are plenty of plays, workshops, ballets, chorus concerts in RCBC. We are creating large decorations for them”, — says woman.

Alla and Halyna Khmel

Place to live sisters have found with the help of organization Misja Klawerianek — they are living in dormitory in the city center together with other 10 Ukrainians. 

“This is a small but very cozy town. Locals are friendly”, — concludes Alla. 

About arts in Ukraine and Poland

Alla and Halyna have been working in cultural center for half a year already — to gain the experience for minimal salary. Large decorations (5х4 meters) sisters start to create from the beginning, since there was Festiwal Produktów Podkarpackich in the city this summer

Sisters were learning Polish language for 3 months, attending courses, organized by local foundation in Krosno. Alla shares: “We do understand Polish language, but it is very difficult to speak. Also we are learning Ukrainian language, since Kharkiv, before full scale invasion, was mainly a russian speaking city. All our friends who are staying in Kharkiv switched to Ukrainian language”. 

The artists have their own workshop in Kharkiv, located near Blagovishenska Church. They hope, it will survive the war.

Halyna is painting for the festival

Sisters have graduated from Kharkiv Academy of design and arts. They have painted around 200 illustrations for books of local publishers while working as freelancers. Alla and Halyna are members of the National unity of artists of Ukraine. They exhibited their artworks in Kharkiv House of Artists and in other places.Before full scale invasion Alla worked at the plant “PivdenKabel”: made calligraphy, large hand-made banners, created computer design, 3D modeling and art objects.“In general, it is difficult to find a permanent job in Poland. Currently, we have found a place, where we do what we like and other people like what we do. But there is no permanent funding in cultural center”, — says Alla. They signed a contract for 5 months at first, and now – for 3 months. The contract might be prolonged which is depending on financing. 

 “We don’t want to spend 12h per day at the plant, we wish to make an art. We have found where to buy paints, canvas and started to paint here”, — says Halyna.

The premiere of the ballet „The Magic Book” at the RCBC

The materials are more expensive than in Ukraine. Basically, the women are painting small pictures here – it is easier to sell them and would be possible to bring back to Ukraine.

“Some pictures we are selling, others – giving as a gift. For instance, we have presented an artwork for center with volunteers, who supported us. And not only pictures: I also weave baskets and paint spoons” — adds Halyna.

Sisters took part in a festival Karpackie Klimaty in Krosno — exhibit their artworks, made workshops.Halyna has started to create Motankas from material in Poland. Here they are selling for tourists. Clients like the quality.

“Next week Halyna is planning to make a workshop for Polish kids in cultural center. She needs to explain every stage of work. People are interested in the process”, — proudly says Alla

Halyna is the author of the artwork “Prayer for Ukraine”, which Polish people like the most. 

Sisters would like to organize an exhibition in support for Ukraine, paint more artworks, but currently they are looking for  the venue place. If you would like to support the organization of the exhibition – contact Alla via Telegram.

Artwork of Halyna Khmel “Prayer for Ukraine”


More pictures are here:


Ukrainian culture in Kharkiv

“Our mother was a biologist, engaged in agriculture and grew mushrooms. Father was a miner. Actually, we were born in Donetsk and spent our childhood there. The apartment, we lived in, was located near mine “Oktyabrska”— between Pieski and the Donetsk airport where was the epicenter of combat operations — pointed Alla. 

Sisters went to Kharkiv to enter the university and decided to stay there. According to their mind, Kharkiv is the best city for artists and any creative people in general. On the other hand, they have no place to come back – when the war has started half of their house was ruined.

Mother of Anna and Halyna is russian by nationality, father – Ukrainian.  

“We never had an attraction to russian culture. We learned Ukrainian culture, art, embroidery. That was close to our hearts and souls. Even if we were talking russian in Kharkiv, our culture is Ukrainian – no doubts”, — says Alla. Artists always use Ukrainian symbolism and motifs in their works.

“Arts history of our country is very rich, powerful, and inspires the artists of all generations”, — adds Halyna. 


Переглянути цей допис в Instagram


Допис, поширений Alla Khmel (@allakhmel20)


Motanka dolls made by Halyna.

Since the war has started in 2014, the women keep fundraising money for charity.“Kharkiv needs volunteering movement. We had charitable art events in regional organizational and methodical center of culture and art. They are keep doing such events. Drop by drop and we will win”, — concludes Alla.

You could review and purchase artworks of sisters on their Instagram.  

You can read this text in Ukrainian and Polish languages.

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of UA in Krakow and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of UNHCR. For more information on UNHCR and assistance available in Poland:

Text and cover photo: Olena Leonova 
Photos in the article are from the archive of Khmel sisters. 


Fundacja Instytut Polska-Ukraina

Klub Ukraiński w Krakowie - Fundacja Zustricz

The Jewish Community Centre of Krakow

Salam Lab, Laboratorium Pokoju.

Szlachetna Paczka -Pomoc potrzebującym - ubogim, dzieciom, seniorom, chorym i niepełnosprawnym.

NIĆ. Kawiarnio-księgarnia.