Now in a safer place, though far from her home, she is rebuilding her life. But since the war, her art feels more “gloomy”, not helped by the disappearance of a friend, the artist Viacheslav Mashnytski. He established the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art in his own home, and has been missing since October. “We don’t know if it was murder or kidnapping, or a violent attack – it’s still under police investigation,” she says. “We are waiting every day for news, but the hope is very little.”
Another great artistic loss is the life’s work of late artist Polina Rayko. She began painting at 69, to process her grief after the death of her husband, and losing her only daughter in a car crash. She painted every inch of her house, in Oleshky, in southern Ukraine, in a fantastical, folk art style. It was considered a national treasure, drawing many visitors. But then in June came the destruction of the huge Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power station, in a Russian-controlled area of Kherson. The resulting flood is believed to have engulfed Rayko’s house-museum, as well as villages and towns downstream of it. The power station itself, built in 1954, was the only structure of its kind in the Soviet monumental classicism style, which has deep European roots.
Olia Hercules, a chef from Kherson, posted on Instagram about Rayko: “Her story and art gave strength and inspired me immensely… Only photographs and documentaries on YouTube remain. I cannot stop crying.” She added: “Please remember her and her beautiful house full of unique art, now under murky water of the catastrophic flood.”
The flood also submerged Scythian and Cossack burial mounds, old Cossack settlements and Tyagyn Fortress, a monument of Lithuanian and Crimean Tartar architecture from the 14th and 15th Centuries. But as the waters receded there was a small win, as an ancient settlement, named the Cossack Meadow, was revealed.
Survive and rebuild
The fight is on to preserve Ukraine’s precious culture, and support is pouring in from all quarters. Save the Spot is a not-for-profit fund-raiser based in London. It has partnered with 15 cultural venues in Ukraine, so far, such as Borodyanka music school for children, XII Months Zoo and Pokrovsk Historic Museum, in the Donetsk region. Donors can buy “entrance tickets” to their chosen venue, to support them to survive and ultimately rebuild. Its founder is Tatiana Fokina, CEO of a fine wine emporium and a Michelin starred restaurant in London, where she and her partner, Yevgeny Chichvarkin, have lived since 2009. Both are Russian by birth, have been “very vocal” on the war and critics of Putin – so much so, she says Chichvarkin is “a political refugee”.