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  • Writer's pictureRichard Lancaster

The Bombing Has Not Stopped

Moreton Bay visual artist Dr Natalia Balo, an Australian citizen who migrated from Ukraine in 1995, views the destruction of her native Ukraine with a sense of increasing dread.

Vinnytsia, City in Urkraine | Image: Contributed

Acknowledged world-renowned avian artist Dr Natalia Balo was determined to assist the Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Australia from their devastated homeland. Volunteering with the Australian Translators and Interpreters Service, which provides much-needed language interpretation assistance to newly arrived refugees worldwide, she completed a NAAT certification, allowing her to become an official interpreter.

“If you have been thinking about donating to a charity that helps Ukrainians in this humanitarian crisis, now is the time. We do care in Australia!.

The hours of talking and listening to the horrific stories of cruelty, barbarism, and depravity meted out to these now-homeless refugees have taken an immense toll on Natalia.

"On 24 February 2022, the incomprehensible news of a horrible war in my birthplace Ukraine hit me very hard," she recalls. "Russian planes were bombing Ukrainian cities and towns, and Russian troops were invading Ukraine."

"I started calling my friends who were left in Ukraine, many of whom live in apartments in my home city Kharkiv. They told me they were awakened by explosion sounds at about five o'clock in the morning. They spent the whole day waiting for the sounds of the sirens and explosions to stop, but they didn't. Nobody could believe that this was happening. It was a real war!"

Now, after a year, the bombing still has not stopped. Kharkiv has come under continual attack since the start of this terrible war. Ukrainians still listen for the air raid warning sirens and run to seek shelter in basements, cellars and underground train stations.

Dr Natalia Balo

Ukraine has a population of 45 million, which is nearly twice that of Australia. After a month of warfare, the United Nations recorded almost 18,000 civilian adult deaths. After ten months, an estimated 500 children died, with another 877 injured. Many volunteer organisations who are on the ground believe these figures to be conservative. Sadly not everyone can leave the devastation.

"My beautiful home city Kharkiv is in ruins, with many residents being found dead under their homes bombed by the Russian military," Natalia shared openly. "A dear friend Irina and her family, including her elderly mother, have been hiding in their basement for months."

"Many families cannot leave Kharkiv as they have lost all their savings. Others have elderly relatives who, because of their age, cannot travel. One of my close friends has an elderly father suffering from a stroke and a mother who has had a heart attack."

"A lot of people I know personally have been injured or killed, including my classmates and members of their families. My old house has been destroyed, and so has my old school building and countless other places I used to love."

A vast number of the population of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city located only 40 km from the Russian border, are of Russian ancestry. Many speak Russian as a first language yet do not support Russia.

"I was born in Kharkiv and lived in the city for 29 years," Natalia said. "I studied at the Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Arts (KSADA), one of Ukraine's oldest artistic educational establishments."

"The Kharkiv historic city centre is ruined, and cultural centres are targeted by the Russian bombs. Much of the city's historic architecture is badly damaged or destroyed, including many theatres and even the University."

Kharkiv has been the hardest-hit city; however, urban areas are equally targeted by constant missile strikes on civilian infrastructure. The true impact of the Russian rocket strikes is hard to estimate, as tragically, with power shortages, many vulnerable and elderly residents of Kharkiv are stranded in the ruins of high-rise buildings without heating, water, electricity and gas. They cannot reach the shelters or call an ambulance if they are injured.

Natalia said it was hard to describe the complex feelings of the Ukrainian people. She could only name horror, pain, and fear.

"Despite this, everyone is doing what they can. People who are injured help others who are wounded, showing genuine courage."

The pathos of speeches about heroism always had seemed somewhat phony to Natalia, and the frequent banalities about peace on earth and justice sound oversimplified.

"I don't think that way anymore," she explained. "Now, when I see and hear of the Ukrainian people's everyday courage, those simple phrases now acquire a deep meaning for me."

Natalia and her family, like many other people, contribute to Ukrainian fundraising efforts. Her brother, Vlad Balo, participated in the Barefoot for Ukraine marathon in Auckland in October 2022.

"It is impossible for us to help everybody, but we can have a tremendous impact," she said. "If you have been thinking about donating to a charity that helps Ukrainians in this humanitarian crisis, now is the time. We do care in Australia!"

Many people worldwide have expressed their support for Ukrainians, and Natalia says that the people of Ukraine are grateful for that support.

"This kind of unity reinforces us all. Even the power of simple, supportive words gives us hope and faith. Humanity has hope, after all!" she said.

Natalia conveyed the gratitude of Ukrainian refugees and the Ukrainian community in Australia for the Australian government's assistance and help from volunteers and ordinary Australians.

"My Ukrainian compatriots are so lucky to have the support of the Australian people and from people from all over the world!" she said.

An acknowledged world-renowned avian artist, Natalia recently achieved additional fame with her bestselling pictorial book Bird Anatomy for Artists, featured in the CSRIO's prestigious book Feather and Brush- A History of Australian Bird Art by Dr Penny Olsen. She had always thought that art could change the world; however, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she reached a point where she was finding it difficult to create any art.

"War is incomprehensible; compared to it, art does not appear strong or meaningful," said Natalia. "Who needs art when the world is burning on fire? However, I am slowly returning to my regular work schedule and research into the Anatomy of Birds."

"We don't know how long this hell will last in Ukraine. All we want is to live in a peaceful democratic world and freely create art, express our views, and be open to the world."

May we never have a war in Australia and Europe.


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