After Fleeing Ukraine: one woman’s story

Sarah Kilgallon
4 min readAug 13, 2022
Josephine Florens
Josephine Florens (photo used by permission of artist)

Josephine Florens is an artist, mother, wife, and daughter. Her home is in Odessa, Ukraine, a place uninhabitable since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

I first wrote about Josephine on February 25th. She and I texted as she and her family bunkered in their basement. Now, six months later, she’s able to describe those first 48 hours of the invasion.

“On the day the war began,” Josephine said, “we woke up early in the morning from monstrous explosions above our house. We grabbed the children. We fled to the basement. We didn’t know if we would survive. The children were afraid, crying. [Our]pets hid in the basement with us.”

“Even [now],” she went onto explain. “Hiding from the war in Germany, we (she and her children) live in pain. Since we packed in 10 minutes… almost without anything, not knowing what would await us tomorrow.”

Over ten million people have crossed over the border from Ukraine since the invasion, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Many refugees, like Josephine, live in constant uncertainty and fear.

“And to this day we don’t know. We live here and there at the same time. Our hearts bleed with every report of an air raid alert, an explosion, a murder. Our husbands [are still] in Ukraine, our pets too. Every day the war [gets] worse. The [Ukrainian] people live in terrible agony every day. All this is because one monster…Putin, who went crazy, went berserk…went blind with…power and together with his henchmen, decided to bite off a piece of Ukraine with his disgusting teeth.”

Despite the upheaval, displacement, and cruelty of the war in Ukraine, Josephine dedicates herself to creating artwork she hopes will inspire others.

This balm of creativity began in earnest in 2017 after her mother’s sudden death. “It was very difficult for me…like a stab right in the heart. I didn’t know where to put myself. It was very difficult for me mentally; my world had changed.”

Josephine decided to enroll in art school with a concentration in fine art painting. “And so my career as an artist began. I am a person who tries to help people, animals. I love nature, peace and quiet, harmony and joy, love and kindness. All this inspires me. All this can be found daily in the details I encounter. Therefore, I always have a lot of different creative ideas in my head. I create paintings the way I feel at a certain moment in time. I [refer to] my style [as] mixed, since my paintings very much depend on my mood, on what is happening around me. My arm and hand [are an extension] of these vibrations.”

Her instinctive painting style, informed by her surroundings has sense of urgency whether landscape or portraiture, especially now in these trying time of conflict and destruction of her county.

“The war changed my paintings. I began to use elements of abstraction, although I had previously avoided this. My work is darker, with deeper feelings, splashed out not striving for perfect strokes and lines. After all, who needs this ideal? Sincerity, naturalness, fantasy, freedom are important.”

When I asked her about the thematic importance of her work, she gave me one word.


“This is a very deep and multifaceted concept. This is the salvation of the planet, this is a careful attitude to all living things, this is nobility, love, understanding, humanity, good-naturedness, compassion. In each of my paintings, my direction…towards kindness. Through my work, I encourage people to be kind. Now, during the war, I (with great effort) reveal these themes in my paintings. This is my morality, my religion [that I relate through] my artworks.”

There are many opinions about what art is or should be or what needs to be. But the spirit of holding each other up and help support each other’s artwork I think is core. The ability of expression is an essential part of the human experience. Josephine’s work embodies this freedom.

To learn more about Josephine’s work please visit her website and social media accounts.



Sarah Kilgallon

From Boston, MA living in Lisbon, Portugal. Photographer - Writer - Painter - Mixed-Media Sharing stories Creating art with sustained emotions