Ukrainian Fox Valley Tech student displays art work

Irina Vish fled Ukraine last year and lives in Appleton
Irina Vish was visiting her daughter in Appleton in 2021 when it became unclear she could go home. Her work will be part of the "Heart and Soul of Ukraine" tour
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 4:39 PM CST
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Irina Vish is a student at Fox Valley Technical College whose story is unlike most.

She left war-torn Ukraine in December 2021 while visiting her daughter in Appleton over the holidays. Due to unrest, it became uncertain the next time she could go home to Odessa, Ukraine, and see her loved ones.

“I didn’t think a year later I would be here. Every day I keep in touch with my friends and family. I call every day,” says Irina.

It was difficult for Irina to pick up her paintbrush during her first few months away from home. “I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t do anything. I was just in this really weird state,” she said.

Since that time, Irina has used her feelings of the war, and her own cultural identity, to create new artwork. She paints on old kilims, rugs, and canvases.

In just a few days, her art will be on display in a museum in San Diego as part of the Heart and Soul of Ukraine art tour.

“My true love is people,” says Irina “I love to learn about people... It’s how I still transcend that love through my artwork. Every painting I do is a story. It’s a story about individuals, or as a whole, about nations.”

Irina is currently taking English classes at Fox Valley Technical College. She says she took four years of English in high school and an additional four in college, but her year in classes at Fox Valley Tech has helped her progress the most.

She says the past year has taught her that some things will always be out of her control.

“It’s an important thing to know for people in the United States, because you guys have a beautiful life here. Treasure it. Everything is not a given and you must be grateful and treasure everything you have,” says Irina.