Young Ukrainian artist back from Japan with new perspective

A budding Ukrainian artist who fled Russia's invasion is back in her home country after about three months in Japan. Mariia Luiza Filatova could have stayed here for another year but the idea of living in safety while her compatriots were in danger left her conflicted. Here, she talks about her newfound perspective, and why war has taught her to make the most of every single day.

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.

Video talk with Filatova

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.

The app says, "An air raid warning is in place across Ukraine. Seek shelter immediately."

"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.

Uzhhorod in February, taken by Filatova.

"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.

Filatova has a passion for painting Japanese rice paddies.

"Painting the rice fields of Japan brought me peaceful emotions," she says. "I miss that so much."

Draft paintings Filatova showed on video talk were also rice paddies from Japan.

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.

One of the places where Filatova feels at ease in Uzhhorod, Ukraine.

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."

Sunset in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, taken October 2022.

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.

Mariia Luiza Filatova speaks to NHK on February 16th.

Staying positive

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.

Watch video 03:33

Read our first article about Filatova here: Ukrainian artist-in-residence finds peace in rural Japan