Love & Loss in Ukraine

Chelsea Ryan

It’s late on Sunday the 27th of February 2022, and the sun has been suffocated by heavy smoke and fumes that cling to the air. Down below, in a small city called Ivankiv, Northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a small museum has been caught in the crossfire of Russian military weaponry. Destroyed in a mass of uncontrolled Russian artillery shelling and the unpredictable movement of military vehicles, are dozens of works by Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko, as well as others.  

Fear and concern for Ukraine’s cultural and historical sites has been raised following the devastation of the Ivankiv museum, which was once home to hundreds of artworks. Over decades, collectors have accumulated these pieces from talented artists, each one a small physical representation of Ukrainian heritage and society. Ivankiv is not the only city affected by this war; other “city centres are seriously damaged, some of which have sites and monuments that date back to the 11th century,” Lazare Eloundou, UNESCO’s World Heritage Director has said. The destruction of the Ivankiv museum has been described by Ukrainian scholars as “an unfolding cultural catastrophe,” and many people fear that the prosperous legacy Ukraine has fought for throughout the course of its history is in danger of being rewritten into one of deep loss. Ivankiv is just one of the many cultural sites at risk of ruin; others include monuments dating back to the Byzantine and Baroque periods; the erasure of which would render Ukraine’s material legacy a mass of rubble and ash.

At least two million people have been forced to flee Ukrainian cities, taking with them only what they can fit into small bags, leaving behind memories of a life no one ever expected could suffer such devastating loss. Not only is Ukraine’s physical legacy at threat of being destroyed, so too are millions of family histories being marred by death and unbearable loss. These are stories that will inevitably be passed on from generation to generation. The weight of this tragedy is only just becoming fully realised, with Ukrainian prosecutors only able to enter towns such as Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel as of Sunday the 3rd of April, to investigate Russian war crimes. Upon arrival it is clear that these cities, once a home to many, now house mass grave sites. Some alleged witnesses to these crimes are too traumatised by their experiences to speak. War seems to reveal many truths in its wake, and in Ukraine these truths are for now, too brutal to bear. Whilst there are stories continuing to emerge of extraordinary vigilance and bravery, the most painful of truths comes with the knowledge that all of this devastation could have been avoided if not for the Russian’s merciless invasion.

There is no doubt that Ukraine is currently suffering from one of the worst tragedies that the modern world has seen. Whether the destruction of revered cultural and historical sites is a matter of intentional erasure or careless violence, the reality is that Ukraine’s legacy as an independent country is at massive risk. However, while violence and war threaten to tear apart the country, what has been evident from the very beginning is that Ukraine is not a country to give in. Those still left to fight for their homeland are doing so with grit and determination, continuing to persevere through hardship, putting their lives on the line to save whatever they are able to.

As bullets cascade upon the Ivankiv museum, and flames threaten to ravage the building, one man races into the wreckage to salvage what remaining artworks he can. As he returns from the smoke, in his hands he carries pieces that were once painted by artist Maria Prymachenko, one of which shows a large, white Dove spreading its wings and asking for peace.

There is unimaginable loss being experienced in Ukraine right now, and there is an undeniable force of love and strength being demonstrated as Ukrainian’s turn their horror story into one of redemption. One thing that remains true in the midst of such previously unimaginable violence, is that no matter the loss that is endured, for Ukraine, love will always prevail.

Chelsea Ryan is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. She writes to explore the complexities of human nature, whilst focusing on relationship dynamics. She explores her own thoughts and beliefs through creative writing and usually does this through fiction, however is enjoying experimenting with memoir.

Anastasia Notaras is an emerging artist based in Brisbane. She is currently in her third year of BFA in Drama at QUT. Her work has been published in ScratchThat Magazine and can be found on her Instagram @anastasianotaras. Her creative work is multidisciplinary as she delves into painting, collage, script writing and performance.