I first met Filatova last September, soon after her arrival in Shiga Prefecture. The 23-year-old had been through so much, but her passion for painting was undimmed.
When we reconnected on February 16, I wonder if she's still the same, back in war-torn Ukraine. Filatova is from Zaporizhzhia, a focal point of Russia's aggression in the southeast.
"I am now in the western city of Uzhhorod," she says. The area is deemed to be relatively safe, but Filatova still regularly checks an app for notifications about air raid warnings. Sometimes, they include her neighborhood.
Painting rice paddies
Filatova says she sometimes forgets about the war as she goes about her life. But then the realization will hit like a sledgehammer. And finding a way to process the complex emotions can be hard.
"There are many people who are traumatized," she says, "and sometimes it's difficult to communicate with people like we did in the past."
Filatova developed an affinity for the rice paddies of Shiga during her stay in Japan, and they continue to provide plenty of inspiration. Photographs she took serve as more than just a visual reference.
"Painting the rice fields of Japan brought me peaceful emotions," she says. "I miss that so much."
Filatova loves landscapes. She says there are many that inspire her in Ukraine, but she'll first be focusing on expanding a series of rice paddy paintings she started in Shiga.
A sudden realization
The more we speak, the more she opens up about everything she's been through. Filatova has endured immense upheaval, but she's also broadened her horizons. And now, the experience is starting to inform her art.
"The past year felt like five," she says. "Many things happened, and everything changed. It was essential for me to go to Japan. Without my time there, maybe I wouldn't know what to paint. It was different, psychologically. And I'm really, really grateful."
"I was taking a walk one day, and the sun went down," she recalls. "It was pitch dark, but I thought, 'Life is good.' It was an extraordinary feeling. And it's had an impact on the direction of my paintings."
Filatova is happy to be using paints she received as a leaving present from people in Shiga. And she's also got some Japanese ink.
Filatova is as careful with her words as she is with her brush. And she remains defiantly upbeat. "War has taught us not to hesitate because life may soon end. If you want to do something, do it now."
Stones that Filatova has decorated with watercolor paintings of Ukrainian landscapes and women in traditional costumes sit on my work desk as a reminder about what she is enduring back home – and how much I look forward to seeing her and her artwork again someday.
Read our first article about Filatova here: Ukrainian artist-in-residence finds peace in rural Japan