Two guests stop to take in a large-scale painting by artist Iryna Kalyuzhna during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Two guests stop to take in a large-scale painting by artist Iryna Kalyuzhna during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Ukrainian art in Everett showcases grief, hope in war-torn nation

“For Ukraine: Art of Freedom” at the Schack Center aims to remind Americans of the war and raise money for maternity hospitals.

EVERETT — Viktoria Nikitiuk couldn’t figure out how to transport a piece of artwork from the bombed Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to Everett.

As war rages on, Ukrainian airspace is still closed to commercial air traffic, so mailing large packages is difficult. But Nikitiuk found a volunteer who agreed to deconstruct the wood-and-glass piece to fit in a suitcase, drive it out of Ukraine and fly it to Seattle.

“We call everyone who tries to help a volunteer, but it was just my friend,” Nikitiuk said, smiling as she looked at the piece now hanging in Everett’s Schack Art Center.

The artwork, entitled “Childhood” by Oleh Denysovetz, is part of Schack’s exhibit “For Ukraine: Art of Freedom” on display until Feb. 18. The exhibit features 22 Ukrainian artists and more than 100 pieces from around the world.

Art sales will fund neonatal incubators for Ukrainian maternity hospitals. The incubators provide infants a safe and controlled environment to continue developing their vital organs after being born prematurely. According to the BBC, stress-induced premature births now account for 50% of deliveries in war-torn Ukraine.

The Schack Center arranged the exhibit alongside the Ukrainian Association of Washington State, a nonprofit that set a goal of raising $4.5 million to support Ukrainian maternity hospitals. Nikitiuk volunteers with the Ukrainian association, serving as a guest curator for Schack’s exhibit.

Carie Collver, the gallery director at Schack, said she wants Ukrainian to artists know “we’re behind them” and that they will do “anything we can” to help.

“You hear the same thing every day: that Ukraine’s gotten bombed again and that civilians, children and women have perished in this horrible war,” Collver said. “Yet the spirit of the artist still is strong. It just shows how important the creative spirit is.”

Visitors gather to look at a piece by Iryna Kalyuzhna during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Visitors gather to look at a piece by Iryna Kalyuzhna during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Collver and Nikitiuk recalled how artist Sergey Slepko painted by flashlight in Kyiv, where electricity is rationed by the hour. Slepko’s oil on canvas piece entitled “Birthmark” hangs in Schack’s gallery.

Proceeds from the $3,400 price tag will go directly to Ukraine, but the exhibit represents more than that, Nikitiuk explained. She said it’s about sharing Ukraine’s rich culture and reminding Americans that the war continues.

Anna Lomachenko, a Snohomish High School graduate who emigrated from Kyiv in 2019, has three pieces featured in the exhibit. Now a student at the School of the Art institute of Chicago, Lomachenko echoed similar sentiments to Nikitiuk.

“There’s a lot of confusion about Ukrainian and Russian cultures — they’re not the same,” Lomachenko said. “It’s really sad for Ukrainians. We don’t want to be associated with our enemies.”

“It’s been a year, and people are starting to forget about the war,” Lomachenko continued. “That’s an issue. (The exhibit) is a way to remind people that there are a lot of people still dying.”

A mannequin donning traditional Ukrainian bridal attire is illuminated as a crowd gathers to listen to a live music performance during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A mannequin donning traditional Ukrainian bridal attire is illuminated as a crowd gathers to listen to a live music performance during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lomachenko’s displayed piece entitled “Flowers of Life” depicts a hand splayed open on the ground, palm up, bleeding. Red poppies sprout from the pooled blood.

Poppies tend to grow on the churned up soil of battlefields, she explained. The red petals symbolize blood. Black seeds for gunpowder. But the fact that they still grow — that symbolizes hope.

Oksana Limankina, another featured artist, immigrated to Seattle a few months before Russia invaded Ukraine. She said that for her, her friends and her family, the war is “our common pain and biggest nightmare.”

One morning in Lviv, she woke up to find short instructions attached to every person’s door. The notes detailed how to find a bomb shelter, if necessary. She said she couldn’t conceptualize it — war actually happening.

“Something is falling from the sky? Like what … on my apartment? My particular bed? The bench under my window? This flower bed? Impossible,” Limankina said.

A man takes a long pause to look at the detail of some traditional bridal attire on display during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A man takes a long pause to look at the detail of some traditional bridal attire on display during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

When Nikitiuk reached out to Limankina about Schack’s exhibit, she “surely agreed.”

Limankina’s vibrant watercolors offer memories of summer days in Lviv and outside the National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Odessa. She aimed to “recreate the atmosphere of happiness, joy, laughter, love and pleasure” in the Ukrainian cities she “knows well and loves fondly.”

“Ukraine is a home for brave and wonderful people, and I see this home thriving,” Limankina said.

Since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, the United Nations has recorded over 18 million border crossings from Ukraine. Out of 3,033 U.S. counties, Snohomish County has the 18th highest population of Ukrainian refugees, according to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen.

Ukrainian artist Iryna Kalyuzhna fled to the Netherlands where she painted the two massive wall pieces that now hang on the Schack Center’s walls. The piece entitled “I am Ukraine,” after Serhiy Zhadan’s poem, consists of nine separate oil paintings.

Guests filter through the gallery past a wall of paintings during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Guests filter through the gallery past a wall of paintings during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The canvases depict who the people in her life were forced to become when the war began. One shows a friend of hers — a fellow Ukrainian artist — hugging his daughter goodbye after he enlisted to fight in the war. Another shows her nieces wearing red poppies. The top-center canvas features Kalyuzhna herself, clutching her daughter to her chest.

Artist Oksana Chumakova fled to Poland, where she painted the pieces entitled “Swimming with Jellyfish” and “Dance of Blue Jellyfish” that now hang in the Schack Center. Her pieces highlight the beauty of Ukrainian art apart from the war.

The bold, warm-hued acrylic entitled “I’m Free” by Mariia Yarchak depicts a woman wearing a traditional dukach necklace and headpiece.

The exhibit also features handmade jewelry, sculptures and “traditional costumes.” The pieces, such as the goat figure by Lomachenko, combine Ukrainian traditions and mythology.

To bring attention to the exhibit, the Schack Center held a special event Saturday featuring Ukrainian musicians. Cover band IZI, folk band Roduna and violinist Kateryna Marach performed as people perused.

Members of the Ukrainian Association of Washington State take photos with guests during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Members of the Ukrainian Association of Washington State take photos with guests during a public event highlighting the For Ukraine: Art of Freedom exhibit at the Schack Art Center on Saturday, in downtown Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Nikitiuk spent an hour with a The Daily Herald reporter ambling through the exhibit, pointing out details and sharing the stories behind the paintings. She spoke of each artist like a friend, translating inscriptions and delving into the cultural meaning behind certain images or symbols.

Nikitiuk works full-time in tech, but she devotes all her free time to supporting Ukraine. She said she will be at the Schack Art Center from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday to give tours to “everyone who’s curious.”

“As a person who loves her country, loves her people, this is the best that I can do,” Nikitiuk said.

Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449; kayla.dunn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.

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