‘We’re the cultural resistance’: the Ukrainian artists responding to the war | Financial Times

When exhibitions have been cancelled, creatives have launched independent projects

by UKCHP_Admin

In the first few weeks of Putin’s “special military operation”, when Kyiv was surrounded and more than two million citizens fled, many feared that the capital would fall quickly. In a war driven by one man’s belief that without Russia there is no Ukraine, Kyiv, the country’s cultural crowning jewel, became a primary target. But amid the shelling, destruction and ongoing brutality, a resistance movement has emerged – one powered by art, artists and the belief that Ukraine’s heritage should be protected at all costs.

By March it became clear that a “new wave in Ukrainian art [was] approaching,” says Olga Balashova, head of the Museum of Contemporary Art NGO, which helped establish the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund, an initiative founded by four prominent art bodies including Kyiv gallery The Naked Room. “Culture is one of the primary aims [of] the attack – it’s our aim to ensure that Ukraine’s voice is kept alive and vibrant.” Where exhibitions and productions have been cancelled, creatives have spun things around and launched independent projects. Take director Semen Gorov, who recently pivoted from a state-funded feature film to a documentary about Ukrainian artists living in the context of war. Or Masha Reva, who in April helped raise around €70,000 in humanitarian aid through the fundraising exhibition Under the Open Sky.

The group of creatives gathered for this feature, photographed by Lesha Berezovskiy in Reva’s studio, have chosen to remain in Kyiv for as long as they can. Some stay to help with the volunteer effort; others have camped out in museums to tend to exhibits. (Many institutions have hidden their collections in response to reports of Russian troops looting historical artworks.) All are united in their opinion that preserving Ukraine’s culture is crucial. “In Kyiv, it’s easier to be free,” says Balashova. “It always was, and still is, a melting pot of Ukraine.” 

Mykola Ridnyi, 37, artist “A lot of my works made from 2014 to 2022 reflect on violence caused by the war,” says Kharkiv-born Ridnyi, who predominantly works with video, and whose work is held in the permanent collections of Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne, the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein and the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw. “It’s impossible to reflect on the ongoing war when it encircles you,” he says. “Distance is needed to make new artwork.” Oleksandr Burlaka, 40, photographer and spatial designer When war broke out, Burlaka had been working on the design for an exhibition of works by Ukrainian new wave painter Oleksandr Roytburd. Now, he says: “My work is of little importance; I have to do my best to help the Ukrainian army, to care for my family and to communicate with people from other countries asking to unite together to survive.” He remains in Kyiv to help with the volunteer effort. 

Svitlana Vechirka, 32, choreographer “At first, dance appeared to be not important, not relevant,” says Vechirka, a former dancer for Kyiv Modern Ballet, one of the most progressive dance companies in Ukraine. But after war broke out, she “started to hold free dance improvisation classes to relieve stress and work through emotions”, she says. “Thanks to dance and bodywork tools, I’ve managed to cope with fear and apathy.”

Pavel Buryak, 31, director, writer and creative producer “If all creative minds leave, who’ll develop this country?” asks Buryak, whose work spans films, music videos, commercials and documentaries. “We will have a long recovery period, so we will need all these people here.” A recipient of numerous awards – from festivals including Cannes Lions and UK Music Video Awards – Buryak has recently pivoted to helping promote Ukrainian fashion brands and creating content for president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s platform United24. 

Artem Klimchuk, 35, fashion designer Klimchuk’s demi-couture collections are best known for their minimalist silhouettes; his embroidery work was seen on a shirt worn by Olena Zelenska, Ukraine’s first lady, in 2021. “It’s my home, my patrimony; I belong here,” he says of the decision to stay in his native Kyiv. “I’ve started to appreciate the people I work with even more – and also the clients who buy my clothes.” 

Semen Gorov, 51, director This year, Gorov was scheduled to shoot a full-length feature film funded by the state, but the project was cancelled at the end of February. Instead the director, whose work includes music videos and musicals, is creating his own film; a response to the experience of being an artist living in the context of war. “Kyiv and Ukraine need me,” he says. “If everyone leaves, it means no one needs this city and country.” 

Katya Zuieva, 29, architect The co-founder of architectural practice AKZ Architectura says she remains in Kyiv “to help the city”; offering lifts, cooking for the military and supporting the elderly. “Ukrainians are the bravest,” says Zuieva, who still has clients looking to “live their best life” and keep building houses. “[We] are alive and continue to create and rejoice as much as possible.”

[Read more: https://www.ft.com/content/c74781a7-2bce-4031-9a41-732106905aee]


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