The Artistic Soul of Ukraine
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, triggering Europe’s largest refugee crisis since WWII. As events continue to unfold, we are reminded of the resiliency and beauty of the Ukrainian people and their indomitable spirits.
Often, art is regarded as the highest expression of the human spirit. Considering the happenings in Ukraine, here are a few Ukrainian artists and artforms you should know.
Prymanchenko was a Ukrainian folkart painter who worked in the naïve art style – an artistic style developed by a person that lacks formal education and training as a professional artist. In 1966, Prymanchenko was awarded the Taras Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine, the highest state prize of Ukraine for works of culture and arts. Prymanchenko had several artworks displayed at the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum in Ivankiv, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. During the 2022 Russian invasion, the museum was burned and many of the twenty-five works were lost to the fire.
Pysanky have been an integral part of Ukrainian heritage for generations and are rooted in folklore and legend. Ukrainians draw intricate patterns on pysanky – eggs decorated using a traditional method involving beeswax and a stylus – for Easter. Pysanky are thought to shield Ukrainian homes from evil spirits, catastrophe, lighting, and fires. One theory is that the eggs help keep a monster at bay that wants to destroy the world. Each color in the design often holds a different meaning, such as white for children, black for remembrance.
Ukraine is best known for their ritual folk songs, which are older and include ballads, historical songs (dumy), and incantations. Songs are often accompanied by folk music instruments such as the bandura, sopika, violin and dulcimer. Many Ukrainian melodies have become popular in neighboring countries such as Poland, Austria, Romania, and Moldova. While born in Votkinsk, Russia, Tchaikovsky considered his grandfather’s homeland, Ukraine as his mother-country.
Vyshyvanka is the casual name for an embroidered shirt worn as part of the national costume for Ukraine and Belarus. The embroidery is a fundamental part of the Ukrainian national costume and is present in both the male and female variations. In Ukrainian embroidery, black, red, and white create the basic color pallet, while yellow, blue, and green are supplementary. “Embroidery is … an important craft within Ukraine and different techniques exist to suit local styles with their own particular patterns and colours.” JJ Gurga, Echoes of the Past: Ukrainian Poetic Cinema and the Experiential Ethnographic Mode1
Also known as Kobzar Taras, Taras Shevchenko was a Ukrainian poet, writer, artist, folklorist, and political figure. His works are often regarded as the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature, so much that they affected the modern Ukrainian language. Shevchenko was a fellow of the Imperial Academy of Arts, advocated for the independence of Ukraine and is revered by Ukrainians throughout the world for his impact on Ukrainian literature. There are many monuments erected in honor of Shevchenko, the most notable of which are located at his memorial in Kaniv and in the center of Kyiv, just across from Kyiv University.
Maxim Dondyuk is a photojournalist well known for his series Culture of Confrontation, in which he chronicles the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in 2014. For nearly a decade, Dondyuk has documented many aspects of confrontation between Russian and Ukraine, photographing the conflict from both sides. Most recently, he has been documenting the Invasion of Ukraine. “I don’t stay here and do this because I am a masochist, I do it because sometimes a photo can change people, change societies.” Dondyuk, by phone from the center of Kyiv.2
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