The artwork, in Ukraine's blue and yellow colours, depicts a mum and daughter heading to safety in a sunflower field. It is being auctioned off to raise funds for people in Ukraine.

Artist’s family escape Ukraine

Sue Neal is no stranger to overcoming the odds – after all, she moved to Crossford in October 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 1st April 2022, 4:19 pm

For 14 years prior to that, Sue and her two sons lived in the ski resort Morzine, in the French Alps.

It was there Sue met Andrew Scott, who owns Reynard Nursery in Carluke and Flower Fairies at Rosebank.

For five years, the couple enjoyed a long-distance relationship but with Sue’s two boys having flown the coop – Thomas (23) working in France and Lewis (19) at Edinburgh University – she decided it was time to make the move to Scotland.

Having spent the last year or so renovating and setting up an art studio at their Crossford home, Sue was just getting back into her art commissions when the Ukraine crisis hit too close to home for comfort.

While living in Morzine, her son Thomas met and fell in love with Viktoriya from Kyiv. During the first lockdown in March 2020, she moved in with the Neal family in Morzine.

Thomas and Viktoriya had been planning to travel around the globe; instead, the couple travelled to Ukraine and, in June last year, got married in Odessa.

Their plan was to work in France for the winter ski season and spend the rest of the year in Ukraine. In October last year, they travelled back to Morzine, Thomas working with English Speaking Ski Schools in France (ESF) and Viktoriya in a clothes shop.

They had intended to return to Kyiv in March; however, Putin’s invasion of the country meant they had no choice but to remain in Morzine.

Viktoriya was, of course, concerned for her family and, in the last few weeks, a plan was hatched from Crossford to get them to safety.

Sue (56) takes up the story: “Viktoriya’s family live on the outskirts of Kyiv but her mum Oksana, nine-year-old sister Kristina and grandmother Viktoriya moved to the relative safety of a small village where her grandmother’s sister Lola and her daughter Olay lived.

“As the fighting intensified, they decided it would be safer to leave Ukraine so I said I’d do what I could to get them transport.

“Morzine is quite a close-knit community and I still have a lot of friends there, one of whom, Sarah Whitmore, runs a transport company.

“She usually does trips back and forth from the airport but I rang her to see if she had a bus free to get to Poland. Sarah was able to provide a bus, but not a driver.

“I started thinking about who would be up for that kind of trip. I contacted another friend, Paul Lake – a paraglider and all-round adventurer. He roped in his Ukrainian friend, Paul Chlopas, and they drove from Morzine to Poland to get across the border.”

Prior to their departure, Sue’s friends in Morzine had packed the van with aid for the Ukrainian people. Sue had also launched a gofundme page to cover transport costs.

“Everyone in Morzine rallied to help,” she said. “The van was so overloaded that by the time it got to Krakow it needed new break pads. The garage owner they took it to for repair was Ukrainian and, when he heard what they were doing, he fixed it for free.”

After depositing the aid for refugees, the two Pauls travelled over the border to collect Viktoryia’s family. With two spare spaces on the bus, they spoke to the refugee centre and managed to fit in another two ladies.

Viktoryia’s grandmother’s sister and daughter were dropped off in Nuremberg, the two additional passengers alighted in France and Viktoryia’s mum, sister and gran finally made it to Morzine and safety.

Sue said: “It was an incredible journey and it was particularly hard for Viktoryia, waiting for news back in Morzine. Once across the border at Poland, Ukrainian phones don’t work so she hadn’t heard from anyone for seven hours. She was frantic.

“She was delighted when they finally arrived home. Tom and Vik are living in my ex-husband’s chalet and there’s plenty of room for everyone.”

Sadly, not everyone made it to safety. Viktoryia’s father, who is in his 50s, was not allowed to leave the country and the family parrot was also left behind.

To raise funds for people like Vik’s dad, who have had no choice but to stay, Sue has created a stunning artwork which is being auctioned off – it is currently on show in Lanark’s Tolbooth. It depicts a mother and daughter in the safety of a sunflower field – in the Ukrainian colours of yellow and blue.

In a weird coincidence, Sue’s partner Andrew is also known for his sunflower artwork. in 1991, he hit the headlines and appeared on News at Ten for reproducing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, using plants for paint and a 46,000-square-foot patch of wheat field for a canvas.

Sue hopes the Clydesdale community will now rally to support the Ukraine appeal – by bidding for the artwork.

She added: “The aim is simply to raise as much as I can to help people in Ukraine. The highest bidder will win.”

If you would like to make a bid, visit Sue’s website at suenealart.com or pop in to the Tolbooth in Lanark.

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