By Roger Burks in Bucharest, Romania | 22 July 2022

Kate, a 17-year-old Ukrainian refugee from Kiev, with some of her sketches in a park in Bucharest, Romania. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Before she was forced to flee to Romania with her mother and younger brother, 17-year-old Kate was a university student at the 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 also refugees – scattered across Europe – and so she feels the concept of a shared gaming experience is more important than ever. As she plays online games with her friends, she notes the characters, concepts, designs, and situations that inspire engaging and connected play.

“Designs come from my head and some scenes come from my heart,” she explains. “I want people to communicate [well], communicate well. So, it was nice to make some games that people could play together.”

Although her family has found safety in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the loneliness is intense. Kate feels isolated from her community of artists and the war affects the way she experiences art.

“I saw an art[work]. was there [a] Ghosts of people and children near a broken city and rockets,” she recalls. “It was in Mariupol and – oh, it’s so sad and painful to watch.”

For Kate and her family, the art reflects their own experiences.

“Mum didn’t want to leave the house because our grandparents are there and her husband is there, but after a few bombings, we decided to leave,” she says. “We were [travelling] for three days.”

Romania.  Talented young refugee artist dreams of designing video games

Kate’s story

Kate’s family is one of thousands of refugees from Ukraine who have crossed the border into Romania. More than 83,000 people have chosen to live there. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and its partners are providing support as refugees move into Romania and try to establish a sense of normalcy.

Shortly after arriving in Bucharest, Kate’s family visited the UNHCR enrollment center where they were registered to receive multipurpose cash assistance. In addition, the Romanian government offers temporary protection status for refugees from Ukraine, including access to education, healthcare and the labor market, and society as a whole 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 some of the art supplies Kate had to leave in Ukraine instead.

While Kate’s university studies have resumed with some online classes and discussion groups, many of her classmates have also been forced to flee their homes in countries such as Poland. Months after the start of the war, 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 characters that will populate her games, as well as scenes that will create the world around them. She is also drawing creativity from her family’s country of refuge.

“Romania is very inspiring for an artist like me,” she enthuses. “It’s already blooming here, everything. The trees and the landscape are very beautiful. And I love it.”

Although Kate’s vision and aspirations influence her experiences as a refugee, her greatest desire remains close to home.

“I want to live. I love my life. I want to continue my studies,” she says. “We all hope that we all come back to our homes one day and we can build it together.”

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