There was much for Ukrainians to enjoy and experience in the realm of culture and the arts. Here we will try to recap the major happenings of 2017 in literature, film, art, music and theater, as well as developments at Ukrainian museums.
On March 9 in Kyiv, while accepting the Taras Shevchenko National Prize for literature, renowned poet and publisher Ivan Malkovych exalted the Ukrainian language and Ukraine’s bard, Taras Shevchenko, in a stirring speech that went viral across the media and the Internet. He lamented that school curriculums still portray Shevchenko as a “serf and peasant poet-martyr… because the real meanings of Shevchenko sound like heavy hard rock, and not syrupy pop music.”
Mr. Malkovych noted that “a nation should defend its language more than its territory,” adding that “if there’ll be Ukrainian language here, then we’ll have order; and if not, then we’ll have an eternal Putin [a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin], no matter what he may be called.”
Books published by Mr. Malkovych’s company A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA are of consistently high quality with eye-catching illustrations and are extremely popular. (Although Russia’s market share is shrinking, books of Russian origin still account for about 70 percent of the literary market in Ukraine.) Mr. Malkovych announced he will donate the $8,900 Shevchenko Prize money to children whose parents were killed in the Russian-instigated war in the Donbas.
February 24 saw the American film premiere of “Bitter Harvest,” Canadian director George Mendeluk’s lyrical epic-romance set against the backdrop of the 1930s genocidal famine in Ukraine, known as the Holodomor. With a production budget of $21 million, this movie was mostly filmed in Pyrohiv, an open-air museum of Ukrainian folk architecture six miles from Kyiv. The film was financed and produced by Canadian businessman Ian Ihnatowycz, whose family fled Ukraine in the 1940s.
To make the film accessible to the widest audience, the director resolved to use all English-speaking actors; the three principals were Max Irons, Samantha Barks and Tamer Hassan. In addition to telling a story about the Holodomor, Mr. Mendeluk informed The Ukrainian Weekly he wanted to “immortalize, resurrect and preserve for posterity the ritual and culture for Ukrainian generations to come and for the world to see.” Indeed, the film’s poetic images and the evocative cinematography of Douglas Milsome met with wide critical acclaim.
Flowing with dreams and omens, “Bitter Harvest” is an intimate tale of young love. It also subtly references reporters Gareth Jones and Walter Duranty, and the tragic figure of Mykola Skrypnyk, leader of the brief Ukrainization movement, who in 1933 shot himself at his desk in Kharkiv. A stirring adventure story, it interweaves life in the village and the inner halls of the Kremlin with scenes in Kharkiv and Kyiv. “Bitter Harvest” is a multi-layered film that rewards repeated viewings.
On February 28, “Bitter Harvest” premiered in Canada at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. The audience had an opportunity to greet the film’s director, Mr. Mendeluk, and the producer, Mr. Ihnatowycz, a well-known Ukrainian Canadian community leader, philanthropist and patron of the arts. Among those present were Ukraine’s Minister of Culture Yevhen Nyschuk, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada Andriy Shevchenko, and member of Canadian Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
The release of the film “Bitter Harvest” brought international awareness to the little known 1932-1933 Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine and sparked interest in many people to find more detailed information about this genocide. A new website (www.genociderevealedmovie.com) was launched in Montreal to make available English, Ukrainian and French versions of a multi-award-winning feature documentary film “Genocide Revealed.”
Based on survivor testimony, this 75-minute documentary by Canadian filmmaker Yurij Luhovy exposes Moscow’s genocide against the Ukrainian nation and the Famine engineered by Stalin’s regime and the accompanied decimation of the national elite and destruction of Ukraine’s historical past. The Ukrainian version is called “Okradena Zemlya” and is narrated by Bohdan Beniuk. The English version is narrated by Oscar-nominated Canadian actor Graham Greene, and the French version is narrated by international star Genevieve Bujold.
In May 2014 Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who supported the Maidan protests and opposed the annexation of Crimea by Russia, had been arrested by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation in his home in Crimea and eventually sentenced to 20 years in jail for “crimes of a terrorist nature.” In Berlin on February 11, 2017, the European Film Academy and Amnesty International teamed up with 650 spectators brandishing signs to protest his incarceration. A panel discussion following the screening of the documentary “The Trial – The State of Russia vs. Oleg Sentsov” was led by the film’s directors Askold Kurov, Agnieszka Holland and Volker Schlöndorff.
In March, Women’s Month in Washington was celebrated with discussions on the role of women in the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, and director Olha Onyshko’s documentary “Women of Maidan” was screened at the U.S. Capitol. This film was also later shown in Harvard University and in Detroit, Toronto, San Francisco and New York. Meanwhile in Florida, local Ukrainians helped organize an impromptu benefit lunch for the filmmaker that netted $2,500. Residents of coastal cities from Naples to St. Petersburg attended screenings of the film between March 9 and 14. “Women of Maidan” also won the award for best documentary at the Fort Myers Films Festival.
Two years in the making, the award-winning feature documentary film “Recovery Room” directed by Adriana Luhova was screened across Canada and the United States throughout 2017. A documentary under the patronage of the Ukrainian World Congress, it tells the story of the impact of the current war in eastern Ukraine and the diaspora’s response on a humanitarian level. Ms. Luhova began by photographing the medical missions in Ukraine organized by the Canada Ukraine Foundation. She then filmed interviews with Canadian and Ukrainian medical teams who performed reconstructive surgery on soldiers injured by sniper fire and explosions.
An extraordinary installation by Daria Marchenko and Daniel Green, two artists from Ukraine, opened at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago on August 26. Titled “Five Elements of War,” it comprises five emotionally charged works about the causes, turmoil and consequences of war. To strike home with the horrific reality of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the artists incorporated bullets, shell casings, shrapnel and barbed wire in their works titled “The Heart of War,” “The Flesh of War,” “Honor,” and “The Brain of War,” which underscores the role of propaganda.
The dramatic centerpiece of the exhibit is “Faces of War,” an eight-foot-tall depiction of the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin, formed entirely from 5,000 shell casings gathered at the battlefront in Donbas. Both artists participated in the Maidan Revolution and saw many of their friends killed. Mr. Green stated “Art sometimes has more power than wars. Art has the power to provoke long lasting changes.”
In the words of Ms. Marchenko, “After people are killed, what is left are the bullets and parts of weapons. That is why I chose bullets and debris of weapons to represent the lives of individuals they killed.” Amid all the carnage, Ms. Marchenko saw only one face: “the face of Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer and de facto dictator of Russia – the one person responsible for all this brutality.” This remarkable work “Faces of War” garnered widespread media attention, being featured in such outlets as the BBC, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, NBC and ABC News, The Guardian, Die Welt and others.
Lviv-based designer Slava Salyuk is attracted to the wealth and variety of craftsmanship and design relationships from Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, Latin America and Ukraine’s Carpathian mountains. Ms. Salyuk collects diverse arrays of materials such as Hutsul and Coptic crucifixes, old Venetian trade beads, Ghanaian Krobo beads, brass Hutsul fibulas and antique silver Austrian coins of the late 1800s, incorporating them harmoniously in her colorful creations. The Ukrainian Institute of America in New York presented an extensive showing, on view through the beginning of April, of her intricate and ornate necklaces based on traditional global motifs.
On September 29, the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York commenced its fall 2017 season with an exhibit of 30 expressionist landscape paintings by Ukrainian artist Roman Luchuk. Painted in vibrant and lush colors, these works show an emotional rather than representational view of the artist’s fondness for the mysteries of the Hutsul landscape in western Ukraine. Mr. Luchuk lives and works in Kosiv, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast in western Ukraine, where he teaches painting at the Kosiv regional branch of the Lviv National Academy of Art.
Ola Rondiak, a graduate of Hunter College in New York, grew up in Ohio in a Ukrainian family. She studied art in both Ukraine and Hungary, and has lived for the past 20 years in Kyiv. On August 15, The Delaware Contemporary in Wilmington presented an exhibit of her works titled “Behind the Lines,” referring to both an artist’s lines and enemy lines in battle. The events of the Orange Revolution and Maidan shaped Ms. Rondiak’s worldview, and the emotional experiences started to surface in her paintings, such as her iconographic portraiture of Ukrainian women with their determined and indomitable spirit. Ms. Rondiak’s faceless “motanka” sculptures are inspired by the ancient Ukrainian dolls typically passed on from mother to daughter, talismans of good health and fortune.
On September 17, The Ukrainian Museum in New York opened an exhibit celebrating the artist Bohdan Borzemsky with a retrospective of his prints and paintings. This important exhibit featured a variety of paintings, woodcuts and prints. Mr. Borzemsky was born in 1923 in Kolomiya, Ukraine, and graduated from the graphics department at Cooper Union in New York in 1951. Byzantine icons and mosaics were sources of inspiration for the artist, as well as the scenes and inhabitants of his native regional Carpathian culture. Mr. Borzemsky decorated his paintings with expressive images of flowers, birds, mountains, wood churches and Hutsul people dressed in national attire.
Founded in 1971, the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (UIMA) celebrated its 45th anniversary on March 25 in Chicago. The UIMA’s vision also included education as a core mission for the future, with a dedicated educational resource center for both Ukrainian American children and the community at large. As a way to recognize its anniversary year, the UIMA announced a campaign to raise $450,000 for the Children’s Art Learning Center.
Over three years in development, “Trunk tales: Leaving home… finding home” opened at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada in Toronto on April 29. It told the poignant stories of Ukrainian immigration to Canada beginning in the late 1800s. Part of the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, this exhibit revolved around four luggage trunks brought by Ukrainians over four major periods of immigration, with each individual history of hardship, loss and ultimately great hope and joy found in a new home in Canada. Visitors could not only meet some of the immigrants through their passports, visas and letters from the “Old Country,” but could also hear their compelling stories recorded in their actual voices in intimate taped interviews.
On June 4, attorney Chryzanta Hentisz was elected president of the board of trustees at The Ukrainian Museum of New York. A longtime community activist and lover of the arts, Ms. Hentisz at one time ran an art gallery and organized a number of exhibitions featuring Ukrainian artists. She had been a vice-president on the museum’s board since 2014 and a member of the board since 2012.
On October 5 the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago marked its 65th anniversary with a gala showcasing Ukrainian immigration through music. Today, the museum is home to over 10,000 items – including rare 17th century maps, numismatic and philatelic collections, sabers, helmets, badges and medals of 17th century hetmans, artifacts from displaced persons camps, and extensive pysanka and embroidery collections. The museum also hosts film screenings, musical and poetry performances, and even yoga classes.
On October 7, the Ukrainian Museum and Library of Stamford, Conn. (UMLS), the oldest cultural institution of its kind in the United States, celebrated its 80th anniversary. The UMLS was founded by Bishop Constantine Bohachevsky in 1937 and was envisioned not only as a repository for both religious and secular art, but also as an important cultural resource for the preservation of Ukrainian identity in the U.S. Occupying a grand 19th century mansion dubbed “The Chateau,” the UMLS now holds 7,000 objects of folk art, 1,000 items of religious art, and a fine collection of over 3,000 paintings and sculptures.
A wide array of member organizations took part in a three-day conference titled “Conservation and Preservation” held by the Ukrainian Heritage Consortium of North America (UNHCNA) on October 27-29. Brief activity reports were also given by representatives of museums at Harvard and in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Washington, Rochester, N.Y., Stamford, Conn., and Somerset, N.J., as well as the Ukrainian Sports Museum in Whippany, N.J. Participants had an opportunity to attend various workshops and informative sessions conducted by collections and preservation specialists.
On November 11-12, the Ukrainian American Archives and Museum of Detroit held a grand opening at its new location in Hamtramck. Crain’s Detroit Business listed this event as one of the top five in their “10 things to do this weekend” column. Events planned for 2018 include literary readings, classes in icon painting, memoir writing as well as more artists’ exhibits.
The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine (NSOU) undertook a 44-concert North American tour during the first three months of 2017. Its conductor laureate, Theodore Kuchar, showcased the orchestra in Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Alabama , Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado and New York.
A cultural ambassador for Ukraine, the NSOU is also one of the world’s most recorded orchestras, producing over 100 compact discs over the past two decades for labels like Naxos, Marco Polo and Brilliant. During past tours of Spain, England and Australia, music critics singled out both Maestro Kuchar and the NSOU for their precision of execution and their intense and vivid performances. Mr. Kuchar has served as music director of the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Reno Chamber Orchestra and the Orquestra Sinfonica de Venezuela, and has guest conducted orchestras from Amsterdam to Seoul. The NSOU’s North American tour included works by Ukrainian composers Mykola Lysenko, Yevhen Stankovych and Myroslav Skoryk, and featured as soloists the pianist Alexei Grynyuk and violinist Dmytro Tkachenko.
Over the course of its history, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine has been chosen to premiere compositions by Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich and Aram Khachaturian, and has accompanied such legendary soloists as pianists Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Arthur Rubinstein, Van Cliburn, violinists Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.
Yevhen Stankovych is a venerable composer, teacher and ambassador of Ukrainian music. His compositions, which include six symphonies, ballets, concertos, chamber works and music for over 100 films, have been recorded by Melodiya, ASV and Naxos. Born in 1942 in the Zakarpattia Oblast, Mr. Stankovych encountered various difficulties under the Soviets in his artistic growth. At that time, the only window to the West was through Poland; out of favor with the Soviet regime, many Ukrainian composers attended performances in Warsaw and brought back new scores to study.
The March 19 “Meet the Composer “ concert dedicated to Mr. Stankovych at the Ukrainian Institute of America (UIA) was organized by violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv. Also performing with Ms. Ivakhiv were flautist Nora Lee Garcia, cellist Yves Dharamraj, and pianists Tanya Bannister and Philip Edward Fisher. They offered a fascinating cross-section of the composer’s works ranging from early avant-garde experimentation to his later mature works.
A professor of violin at the University of Connecticut, Ms. Ivakhiv has long championed the music of Mr. Stankovych and in fact commissioned his “Angel’s Touch” in 2013. An interesting feature of this UIA concert was the pre-concert discussion where Messrs. Stankovych and fellow composer Leonid Hrabovsky answered questions and shared their thoughts about musical life under the Soviets, music unions and the need for future legal reform in Ukraine. The third panel member was Matthew Keiser from Lauren Keiser Music Publishing, which advances the cause of Ukrainian composers like Mr. Stankovych.
Other notable offerings in the Music At The Institute series included “Let’s Tango,” a selection of Ukrainian and Argentinian tangos on February 4; “Generation Millennium,” an event focusing on the works of current composers in Ukraine and featuring Bohdan Kryvopust, director of Muzychna Ukraina Publishing House, on April 2; and a concert of “Beethoven, Barvinsky and Brahms” on October 7.
On March 12, The Washington Group Cultural Fund presented violinist Solomia Soroka (professor of violin at Goshen College in Indiana) and pianist Arthur Greene in a concert also devoted to the music of Mr. Stankovych. The works included his “Ukrainian Poem,” “Triptych” and “Maidan Fresco.” The composer was in attendance as Ms. Soroka introduced and talked about these works, which she also recorded for the Toccata Classics label in London under the title “Yevhen Stankovych, Music for Violin and Piano.” Ms. Soroka earlier presented a similar concert dedicated to the works of Mr. Stankovych in Warren, Mich., on March 5.
The inaugural Ukrainian Art Song Summer Institute was held at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) in Toronto on August 7-13. Artistic director operatic bass-baritone Paul Hunka joined with other fellow RCM faculty members to provide 12 young professionals an opportunity to develop their skills in singing new repertoire of classical Ukrainian art songs.
DakhaBrakha (the name means “give/take” in the old Ukrainian language) is an avant-garde four-person ensemble, combining Ukrainian folk music with the added rhythms of world music such as Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian traditional instrumentation. The group terms its sound “ethnic chaos.” Ensemble members dress in unique, colorful costumes, and perform on myriad instruments. Founded in 2004 in Kyiv, DakhaBrakha has posted numerous songs and performances on their popular YouTube site. On April 15 they were welcomed back for a concert at the Schimmel Center in New York City.
Violinist Oleh Krysa first came over from the Soviet Union on a grand musical tour of the United States in 1971. Since then he has been concertizing and giving master classes all over the world. After a seven-year absence from The Washington Group Cultural Fund (TWGCF) music series, he returned to the U.S. capital area to give a recital on May 21. Accompanied by Irina Lupines, pianist and fellow faculty member at the Eastman School of Music, Mr. Krysa performed a program featuring Brahms, Bach and Myroslav Skoryk’s Caprice for Solo Violin.
TWGCF launched its 2017-2018 Music Series on September 24 with a concert by the Gerdan ensemble in a program of classical, folk and ethnic jazz/fusion music. The concert series schedule also featured violinist Bohdana Pivnenko on October 22, with more to come in 2018.
Based in Toronto, the Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America (WBENA) comprises over 20 women from Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Hartford, Conn., Pittsburgh, Toronto and other cities, who share a common interest and passion for music, particularly the bandura. Under their co-directors Oksana Rodak and Oksana Zelinska, WBENA held its Chicago debut performance on September 30 at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. Prior to its Chicago appearance, the ensemble had performed in concerts in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
On November 19, the Wesleyan Concert Choir under the direction of Nadya Potemkina performed a choral setting of the Vasyl Stus poem “Na Lysii Hori” (On Bald Mountain) as part of its fall concert program.
In June in New York, La MaMa Theater and the Yara Arts Group presented “1917-2017 Tychyna, Zhadan & the Dogs,” a new theater piece conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, using the poetry of Pavlo Tychyna and Serhiy Zhadan and the songs of the rock group the Dogs. The show opened with an installation in the lobby featuring Bob Holman, who explained the context and performed his own poetry inspired by Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century.” This production also featured music by bandurist Julian Kytasty.
The Yara Arts Group also received two nominations for New York Innovative Theater Awards: to Jeremy Tardy for Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role and Julian Kytasty for Best Original Music in recognition of their work in Yara Arts Group’s “Dark Night Bright Stars” directed by Ms. Tkacz. This was a theater piece recreating the 1858 meeting of the Ukrainian poet and painter Taras Shevchenko and the African American actor Ira Aldrich.
On June 7, Chicago’s Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble embarked on a 10 day-tour of performances in three of Spain’s most iconic historical meccas: Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. Under the artistic direction of Roxana Dykyj-Pylypczak, the ensemble was rewarded with enthusiastic audiences at every venue. The Ukrainian ambassador to Spain, Anatoliy Scherba greeted them following the concerts, which included appearances by violin virtuoso Vasyl Popadiuk.