Artists and arts organizations across Canada are working to launch shows in support of Ukraine while taking public stances against Russia and its devastating invasion on the country launched last week.
From immersive experiences of the work of beloved Ukrainian painter and writer Taras Shevchenko to performances of the Ukrainian anthem at a local hockey game, Ukrainians in Canada are celebrating their culture as an act of hope.
Others, like Russian-born Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra music director Daniel Raiskin, are speaking out.
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“I firmly believe that it is the duty of every artist to speak the truth, expressing himself through the art he makes,” Raiskin said in a scathing indictment of his country’s actions posted to his Facebook page Wednesday. “But today, this alone is not enough!”
In Toronto, Valeriy Kostyuk is racing to put together an immersive show featuring Shevchenko’s work. Kostyuk, a Ukrainian-born producer with Toronto’s Lighthouse Immersive art space, said the show was originally set to open in North America this coming September.
But when the Russian army began its advance last week, Shevchenko’s 19th-century work promoting an independent and sovereign Ukraine became urgently relevant, Kostyuk said.
He’s now working with a team at the National Museum of Taras Shevchenko in Kyiv — at night, when the internet is faster and they’re not making camouflage nets out of masking-tape for military vehicles — for the show top open on March 15 in Toronto, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Boston.
“(Shevchenko) wanted to promote Ukrainian culture, he wanted to be writing poetry in the Ukrainian language, he wanted Ukrainians to be independent and living on their own lands and, most importantly, free,” he said in an interview Saturday. “This is exactly what Ukrainian people are going through right now. They are fighting for their national identity.”
Most of the work in the Shevchenko museum in Kyiv has been packaged up and hidden away somewhere out of reach from the bombs and the shelling, he said. Some are tucked away in the same containers used to hide the precious work from the invading Nazi forces in 1941, he added.
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Attendees of Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine will stand in a room whose walls are flooded with projections of high-quality scans of Shevchenko’s original paintings, while hearing music created by composer Timur Polyansky and based on the scores Shevchenko most loved and listened to, Kostyuk said.
“You truly get to feel the soul of the Ukrainian people right now, because to them Taras Shevchenko is in a way a spiritual and a cultural leader,” he said.
The show was first presented last October, in Odesa, Ukraine, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence.
“There was this feeling of pride that myself included and my team felt. Right now, we don’t have this feeling, we are just physically unable to have this feeling,” he said. “Right now, all we have is a feeling of hope, that this will help someone … that the Canadians or the Americans will come and see it and will support the cause.”
All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the efforts to help Ukraine led by the Canadian Red Cross and the National Bank of Ukraine, the Lighthouse Immersive website says.
Meanwhile in Newfoundland, Ukrainians were celebrating their heritage in a different way. Local band the Kubasonics took to the ice at Mile One Center in downtown St. John’s to sing the Ukrainian national anthem before Friday night’s hockey game between the Newfoundland Growlers and the Adirondack Thunder. The teams are part of the ECHL, formerly the East Coast Hockey League.
Three of the five members of the Kubasonics are Ukrainian and the band plays what it calls “Ukrainian-Canadian speed-folk.” In a Facebook post, the band said they appreciated the invitation.
Across the country in British Columbia, a rally against Russia and in support of Ukraine was planned for Saturday afternoon outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Pavlo Ponikarovskyi, who moved to Vancouver from Ukraine nearly a decade ago, said he’ll be there to protest against the war.
He said his family has left Kyiv for the Czech Republic and are now refugees with an uncertain future. But many of his friends in Canada have not been able to contact loved ones for three or four days as they’ve been living under the occupation of Russian forces in their homeland, Ponikarovskyi added.
“They’re worried that they might not be alive anymore. The last time they spoke with their family members in the Kharkiv region, their family members told them they’ve seen civilian bodies on the streets, just shot.”
Ponikarovskyi said he took a week off work from his job at a software company while dealing with “an emotional roller-coaster,” the same as many of his friends across Canada.
“You’re angry, you’re crying … I don’t think there’s anything in the world that’s worse than war,” he said.
Meanwhile, police are investigating what they’re calling an act of vandalism at the Russian Community Center in Vancouver.
In a news release, Sgt. Steve Addison said officers were sent to the center on Saturday morning following reports that someone had defaced the building with blue and yellow paint. He said the vandalism likely occurred overnight.
“No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.”
Back in Manitoba, Raiskin said he was suspending all immediate and future work in Russia until the country ended its “barbaric” and “fratricidal” assault on Ukraine and justice had been served. The composer condemned his country and its invasion.
“Each missile, each shell, each shot was made for one reason only: to kill … to kill a person, a people, an infrastructure, a country,” he wrote. “War kills, there is no excuse for war. The war must be stopped immediately!”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2022.
— With files from Camille Bains in Vancouver.
© 2022 The Canadian Press