How Ukrainian Creatives Are Responding to the Russian Invasion

As ongoing political tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to escalate, artists from both countries voiced solidarity with Ukraine—and expressed pessimism about the fraught political situation improving anytime soon. 

In December, artists protested outside the Cabinet of the Ministers in Kyiv. Photography by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are escalating as the Kremlin ordered Russian troops to storm the country and assert the Crimean region’s independence from Ukraine. Many countries condemned the attacks and imposed sanctions on Russia, with outpourings of solidarity with Ukraine circulating on social media. Within creative spheres, the attacks venture into ideological territory. Last summer, Russian president Vladimir Putin published an essay outlining what he claimed are centuries-old cultural ties linking Ukraine and Russia, essentially insinuating that Ukraine has no separate national identity of its own. Critics decried the essay as an outrageous attempt to advance Russia’s fraught foreign policy and stoke a broader culture war.

“What’s going on now is a form of Neo-colonialism,” Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta, director of Kyiv’s art venue Mystetskyi Arsenal, told Artnet News in early February. Over the past eight years, artists have banded together in a cultural boycott of Russia in protest, from musicians refusing to perform gigs there to curators and institutions engaging in an “unwritten boycott” of Eastern European artists within the international sphere. Leading up to Russia’s actions this week, people were continuing with their day-to-day routines as Ivan Frolov, founder of Ukrainian fashion label Frolov, told WWD. “There is no panic. But everybody is ready for everything. We’ve prepared all of our documents and warm clothes. We’re ready for everything but we’re leading our regular lives. We believe in our government and the ability to solve this problem in a diplomatic way. We hope Europe and the U.S. will help solve this conflict and protect us.”

Mystetskyi Arsenal. Photography by Bohdan Poshyvailo

The hope that diplomacy would prevail has given way to a harsh new reality. Conductor Oksana Lyniv hopes the world sees Putin’s true face, saying it’s clear he wants to destroy an independent nation with its own culture, language, history, art, and identity. Meanwhile, Ivan Dorn, the famous singer and coach on The Voice Ukraine, took to Instagram to plead for his Russian fans to speak up: “Please… convey the message that Ukraine is an independent, sovereign state. Please, let’s stop this disaster.” 

Joining Dorn in showing outrage on social media was Russian musician Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, who made her feelings pretty clear when she called Putin a “clown psychopath” on her Stories. She also took action immediately, teaming with Trippy Labs and members of PleasrDAO to announce Ukraine DAO on Twitter today. “Our goal is to raise funds to donate to Ukrainian civilian organizations who help those suffering from the war that Putin started in Ukraine,” Pussy Riot tweeted. “We’ll be buying an NFT of the Ukrainian flag.” The drop will consist of 10,000 Ukrainian flag NFTs minted on Ethereum and one unique NFT to lure larger contributors, with proceeds benefiting the Return Alive Foundation and NGO Proliska. 

Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. Photography by Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images

For many, feelings of pessimism pervade. “We understand that the current situation is transitional; it can change from one day to the next,” the poet and writer Serhij Zhadan tells DW. “While I’m glad that some Russian artists have taken a clear position, their voices have no chance of being heard. I have many longtime friends, including artists and writers, who believe that Ukraine wants to attack Russia and the like—that’s where the Putin propaganda has already had its effect.”

To show support to Ukraine citizens, we recommend donating to Nova Ukraine, a nonprofit that provides civilians with baby food, hygiene products, and clothes; United Help Ukraine, which distributes food and medical supplies to displaced citizens; and the Kyiv Independent, an English-language newspaper currently reporting crucial news about the situation from on the ground.

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