Conflicts & War

Ukrainian artists transform their pain into art

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Sep 19 (EFE).- Ukrainian artists who fled the Russian occupation of their hometown of Kherson are expressing their pain and hopes for their lives as refugees through artworks, currently on display in Lviv city.

“This is an exhibition that shouldn’t have happened,” says Olena Afanasieva, the curator and head of the center of cultural development, where the “Kherson Inside/Outside” exhibition is taking place.

Afanasieva and her art community in Kherson were preparing a number of projects that combined art and social activism when the Russian invasion ruined their plans in an instant.

Many artists fled to nearby villages and then crossed into the Ukrainian-controlled territory, risking their lives.

Others stayed because they were either unable to quickly pack or unwilling to abandon the city to the Russians.

“We needed to do something to keep our artists together as they were being quickly pulled apart by the circumstances,” Afanasieva tells Efe.

They started holding online meetings on Zoom to think about what each artist could do next.

“We had been so sick of having to use Zoom all the time during the Covid-19 pandemic and yet it became our savior again,” she says, recalling how the artists in Kherson were hunting for Wi-Fi across the city.

For many, getting back to making art amid the shock proved to be difficult yet it eventually provided a chance to heal.

Pointing to a painting of a field littered with bomb craters, Afanasieva explains that this “would be simply a good abstractionist piece if not for the story behind it.”

Yulia Plias, who filled her suitcase with paints when she was leaving Kherson, produced her first work after a long pause.

She based it on the screenshot from the video taken by a drone showing the effects of an unending Russian artillery barrage.

“I felt how my voice became one with the millions of others who reposted the picture,” says Plias in a video at the exhibition.

“This unity is something new for me. While earlier I painted to express my internal struggles or anxiety, I cannot think about anything else than this war now,” she continues.

While the showcased artworks range from comic paintings to mock movie trailers to photos, many are united by brand products and symbols of Kherson, most notably its trademark watermelons.

Some artworks are based around the objects that artists took with them as they fled the city, while others tell the horror the city’s residents have lived through.

A black and white drawing of an apartment by Anna Grokholska is only lit up by red dots. She finally decided to flee for her life when Russians pulled up near her home in Kherson and started breaking into apartments with their laser sights.

Oleksandr Tanasiuk’s drawings depict patients in a hospital in Lviv.

Most of those who remained in Kherson do not reveal their real names to avoid being taken into Russian makeshift prisons and torture centers.

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