(Photo courtesy of poster) “Depicted, one of the artworks displayed in the exhibit.”
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014. Since then, as of May 2023, the invasion has displaced 5.1 million people — about twice the population of Mississippi — in Ukraine according to Ukraine Refugee Crisis. There have been 6.2 million people (about twice the population of Oklahoma) forced to find refuge in countries like Poland, Hungary, Moldova and other neighboring countries.
Missile and rocket attacks have caused widespread death, destroying homes and businesses. The invasion has caused problems with public water, electricity, heating and more. Many Ukrainians live in hazardous homes, unable to be prepared for freezing temperatures. On that day, it was the most important day of the Ukrainian people. But for other countries, it was Thursday.
“Don’t Close Your Eyes: Ukrainian Artists Respond to the War” is an art exhibition jointly curated by Hanna Melnychuk and Halyna Andrusenko and hosted by the UMass Lowell Art & Design department. The exhibition includes artworks lent by 26 Ukrainian artists including Melnychuk and Andrusenko.
The art displayed a spectrum of styles — not focusing on only one common style or beautiful imagery. These artists have put raw emotion into these pieces to show the reality of the war and the lives that are permanently changed. The destruction of their homeland is depicted by explosions and demolished buildings, people in inhumane conditions and situations and pictures of soldiers patrolling the devastated land, prepared to do more to help.
One of those artists, Ksenia Datsiuk, was kind enough to lend her perspective on the matter. One of her pieces was displayed in the exhibit: a girl curled into a ball in a shower with a pitch-black background and a colored rose by her side. When asked what Datsiuk was trying to convey, she said,
“I depicted a woman in a bathroom, as bathrooms were used by people as a shelter (Due to the presence of two walls, the bathroom is considered the safest place in the apartment. ). Then I often used the space of the bathroom as an element of my works. And the accent of the composition was a tulip, a symbol of the March 8 holiday … This work is to some extent a reflection of my emotions that day. It’s like you’re trying to hold on to a hopeful piece of a bright future, even though there’s darkness all around.”
To be this vulnerable is hard to do, but necessary to show what is going on. They are forced to be activists. Datsiuk, when asked if she felt that she was an activist herself with this piece, said, “After the full-scale invasion, Ukraine became the center of attention of the whole world. And every Ukrainian was responsible for presenting his country to other countries. Including artists … My goal in art is to speak frankly about topics that concern me. Being honest with myself in my work is of the utmost importance to me. The topics I cover appear organically, spilling out into a series of works. I don’t come up with ‘artificial’ things to do to stand out or attract attention. I believe that art should be frank.”
“Don’t Close Your Eyes” brings a powerful artistic vision. Its goal is to capture the world’s attention and bring light to the war than what people typically hear. Numbers and statistics have little effect, show the war for what it really is. People everywhere will never forget what goes on, just like how the people of Ukraine will never forget.
They find no joy in recording the destruction of their homeland. Yet they must do it to spread the message — it is their responsibility. Datsiuk goes on to say “Of course, during the war, our experiences became especially acute and painful. This is reflected in creativity. After the invasion, I feel a special responsibility for what I am doing because I am presenting my state. But the goal remained the same — to be frank, to speak with visual tools and to convey real and important ideas and emotions.”