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HUMANS OF SARNIA: Nataliya Nikolenko

The Sarnia Journal has partnered with local photographer Art Connolly to feature his captivating “Humans of Sarnia” series as he delves into the lives and experiences of everyday people in Sarnia.

I had the pleasure of immersing myself in the world of Nataliya Nikolenko, an artist whose journey from Ukraine to Canada is as captivating as her vibrant artwork. 

Nataliya made the transformative move to Sarnia in April 2022, guided by the compassionate hands of the humanitarian organization Loads of Love and Pentecostal Church Bethel. 

Their unwavering support not only facilitated her escape from war-torn Ukraine but also ensured she found refuge in Canada with the necessary accommodations.

What makes Nataliya truly unique is her extraordinary ability to create art using paintbrushes held in her mouth. 

Born without the use of her arms and legs, she defies physical limitations, adorning her apartment with a kaleidoscope of colors that breathe life into her surroundings. 

On average, she completes one painting per week, each a testament to her resilience and creative spirit.

Raised in a small orphanage in Dnipro, Ukraine, where she spent 18 years after being abandoned as an infant, Nataliya is not only an artist but also a polyglot, proficient in three languages. 

As a newcomer to Canada, she's diligently learning English through the YMCA, adding another layer to her already impressive linguistic repertoire.

Nataliya's artistic prowess garnered recognition in Ukraine, culminating in her being honored with the title of Hero of Ukraine—the highest national decoration bestowed by the President. Unfortunately, the weight of her achievements remains in Ukraine, as she had to leave her medal and photos behind while embarking on her Canadian journey.

Since settling in Sarnia, Nataliya has showcased her artwork at Lawrence House, inviting art enthusiasts to connect with her through her Facebook page for potential purchases. 

Despite the challenges she faces as a person with disabilities, including inaccessible stores, she finds solace in the scenic views of the river and lake—a departure from the bustling city of Dnipro, Ukraine.

Now a permanent resident of Canada, Nataliya aspires to secure employment, embracing independence and self-sufficiency. Her story, rich with resilience, artistic brilliance, and cultural transition, adds a vibrant stroke to the diverse canvas of Sarnia.

Anyone who is interested in acquiring Natailya’s artwork can reach her through her FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/nataliya.nikolenko.9 


Humans of Sarnia” founder Art Connolly is a man fuelled by curiosity and a passion for connecting with people in Sarnia. Inspired by the renowned “Humans of New York” series, with a camera in hand, he captures the very essence of the individuals he encounters, preserving their stories through his lens.