Maria Zadorozhna is the general director of the National Art Museum of Ukraine. Located on the frontline of last year’s Maidan protests, the Museum had witnessed a lot of violence at its doorstep – but had also helplessly watched museums and cultural hubs in East Ukraine destroyed and plundered by the separatists. Maria wrote this piece for us to reflect on an unprecedented effort the Museum carried out last year to protect the people and the museums and help them survive.
It is not merely the pretense for conflict that renders the war in eastern Ukraine so abhorrent, but also the terrorist-enforced abrogation of law and the rules of engagement. Armed militants employ civilians and cultural institutions as human shields. Indeed, separatists seized the premises of the Donetsk-based cultural initiative platform Izolyatsia, turning it into a center for the torture of prisoners. A number of museums in the east – the Lugansk Museum of History and Culture, the Donetsk Regional Museum – have been repurposed for military needs or been turned into stockpiles of the spoils of war.
This situation, the exhaustion felt at the heart of this “Revolution of Dignity” here in Kyiv, the physical location of the National Art Museum in the very epicentre of Maidan protests, and this unprecedented disavowal of human and cultural values in eastern Ukraine led our team to ask itself this past summer, “is there nothing we can do?” A question which has resulted in a charitable effort called “Lions Never Abandon Their Pride”.
Choosing a focus for the program was not difficult. Monies donated would be directed toward medical treatment for soldiers wounded during the war in eastern Ukraine, and assistance to museums damaged in the fighting. Our double purpose – to help those who fulfill their national duty in the war zone and to assist civilians of all ages, from different backgrounds, bearing spiritual wounds – was crucial in shaping the “Lions” program of events.
Given the number of charitable events occurring throughout the country, the Museum faced a significant challenge: to create a singular program and as quickly as possible. We concluded that our activities should offer diversity. What we created features open-air art, “silent discos” during exhibits, research quests, concerts, evening poetry readings, art and design lotteries, and film screenings in a joint effort with British Council Ukraine.
Again, our goal was not just to collect the maximum amount of support in a minimum of time, but to provide continued support for people suffering all manner of injuries – from depression and psychological strain from the sense of powerlessness and uncertainty of the situation, to those with shrapnel wounds, and those who’d undergone great loss. Because of the sizeable need, we kept the prices for our events low. In events like the British Council Ukraine’s film screenings, we encouraged a free will donation was in lieu of a ticket purchase, allowing us to attract the widest possible audience – from students to seniors, mothers with their children, and soldiers wounded at the front now at home and in recovery.
A signature event during the “Lions” program was the exhibit prepared by Taras Polataiko. The artist presented a number of oversized portraits of soldiers from the Kyiv Military Hospital and made audio recordings of their stories. Some of the soldiers who took part in the program were later able to visit the exhibition. Others, sadly, were unable to recover from their injuries, giving the last full measure of devotion to their country.
As it is logistically impossible to apply the aid to the restoration of institutions now located in occupied territories, the portion of raised funds set aside for museum support was designated for the support of families of museum workers now with refugee status.
Our event is ongoing and will continue until the fighting is ended, and the field secure. Unfortunately, despite the fragile truce, the war in eastern Ukraine continues. Yet we also continue to develop new events to add to our program, though not only because of the war. The shock that Ukraine has undergone this year has helped us to rethink our values, desires, attitudes and community commitment. Ukrainians have discovered a great deal – things that we had never before been concerned with. It is vital to maintain this new openness which we are now, finally, experiencing. Particularly in the field of culture, both now and when peace, at long last, will come. And come it will. It must.
by Maria Zadorozhna, General Director, National Art Museum of Ukraine