A downtown part of the Meeting Place painting

Famous Ukrainian artist includes GO Trains in tribute to Toronto

Mykola Zhuravel, working as a refugee, incorporated his daily train ride in a new painting.

Mar 14, 2023

Familiar green and white GO Trains can be found in a recent painting created by a preeminent Ukrainian artist who is now working out of Toronto.

Mykola Zhuravel fled Kyiv with his family at the outbreak of the war. He is now working with his wife, Daria Tischenko-Zhuravel, as artists-in-residence at the Withrow Common Gallery at Exhibition Place.

They are in Canada as refugees. Like many newcomers they quickly became avid transit riders.

In fact, GO has even influenced Zhuravel’s art. When he learned that the Toronto name is widely believed to be the Wendat word for meeting place, he was inspired to paint a bird's-eye view of the city, full of local images, including GO Trains.

A clean image of the Meeting Place painting

Meeting Place is a new painting by Ukrainian artist Mykola Zhuravel. He is working as an artist-in-residence at the Withrow Common Gallery at Exhibition Place while living as a refugee in Scarborough. (Image courtesy of Mykola Zhuravel)

While showing the painting to Metrolinx, he excitedly pointed at a series of train images that move across the canvas, from Scarborough towards downtown and said, “This is me going to my work, all the way from Rouge Hill to the CNE.”

He spoke highly of his daily ride, which starts near the shore of Lake Ontario.

“The city is really fed by the energy of this water,” Zhuravel said.

“What I like about my trips on the GO train is that I can sit down, and just observe through the windows of the train how the life goes on and how the water changes its colours.”

A curator, the artist and his wife pose in front of Meeting Place

Ukrainian artist Mykola Zhuravel (centre) poses in front of his new painting, Meeting Place, flanked by Ludmila Bezpala-Brown, curator of the Withrow Commons Gallery (left) and his wife, photographer Daria Tischenko-Zhuravel (right). (Mike Winterburn photo)

Zhuravel lives near the Rouge Hill station because his family is being housed by the gallery’s curator, Ludmila Bezpala-Brown, and her husband Darryl. When moving from mid-town Toronto, they chose to live there because GO allows them to enjoy a suburban home and downtown activities.

“I could still be part of the rhythm of the city in just thirty minutes of a ride,” Bezpala-Brown said.

“There is a predictable, clean, spacious, comfortable ride that connects me with downtown.”

Bezpala-Brown, who served as the interpreter for the interview, recalled how Zhuravel was prepared for a language barrier on his first solo GO ride. He carried a card with emergency contact information and an explanation that he does not speak English.

“Luckily, I never had to use it,” Zhuravel said with a laugh. “Everything here is pretty well organized for travel.”

Two GO Trains from the Meeting Place painting

GO Trains figure prominently in Ukrainian artist Mykola Zhuravel’s Meeting Place painting. (Trains excerpted from an image provided by Mykola Zhuravel)

After fleeing Kiev and spending three days in the line-up to drive through the border, public transit was part of the Zhuravel family’s time in Poland, where they arranged for Canadian visas.

“Everywhere we went in any bus, trolley, streetcar, or subway, we saw posters calling out [locals] to help Ukrainians, [advertisements] for schools that were accepting Ukrainian children and places to find food,” Zhuravel said. 

Leaving Ukraine was vitally important for their safety as the couple is best known for Invasion Redux, an anti-aggression series created following Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It debuted in New York in 2016 and, following the 2022 invasion, became even more relevant by the time it was displayed at Exhibition Place last May and Art Toronto in October.

Speaking of his original intentions for the series Zhuravel said, “I really wanted to warn the world of things to come.”

Zhuravel is a prolific artist, having created more than 30 paintings since arriving in Toronto.

by Mike Winterburn Metrolinx communications senior advisor