The Invasion of Ukraine Is a War Against All Democratic States. As We Fight for Our Liberty, Here Are 5 Ways the Art World Can Help

The actions of Russia will have a global impact on the entire world and will very likely affect generations to come.

Protesters carry a giant Ukrainian flag during a rally to show unity and support of Ukrainian integrity, amid soaring tensions with Russia, in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa, on February 20, 2022. Photo: Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP via Getty Images.

Olesia Ostrovska-Liuta is the director general of the Mystetskyi Arsenal National Art and Culture Museum Complex in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Yesterday morning, February 24, Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine, my home country. Last night was very hard. Most of my colleagues spent the night in underground train stations. In many cities, citizens hear explosions as the Russian army’s tanks and heavy artillery have crossed our country’s borders from the north, the south, and the east. There are already casualties among Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, including children. Today as I write this, Kyiv, the capital city where I live and work as director of the Arsenal—one of Europe’s largest art museums—is under multiple attacks, as is the rest of the country. We hold on.

At our museum, we should now be preparing for the 11th annual Book Arsenal Festival to be held this May, as well as important exhibitions and interdisciplinary projects—but instead our team must focus our efforts to ensure the safety of our staff and our families, as well as guard our collection and our museum objects: paintings, graphics, and fine art. We must protect the artworks of artists important to our shared European history and the history of Ukraine: works by Kazimir Malevich, Vasyl Yermylov, Alexander Bogomazov, and Anatol Petrytsky, and Viktor Zaretsky, to name only a few. We must ensure the safekeeping of works of modern art, archaeological finds, and the entire Old Arsenal building, itself a historical and architectural monument of national importance.

By escalating its eight-year-long aggression with these horrid and disgusting actions against Ukraine, by invading our territory, Russia is attacking the fundamental principles of international peace and security, the pillars of the United Nations, and the very existence of the Ukrainian state. You must know: This is a war in the center of Europe and this war is not just ours. This is a war against all democratic states—the whole civilized world.

Mystetskyi Arsenal Art and Museum Complex Director Olesia Ostrovska at a press conference of the speakers of the Cultural Diplomacy in 2021. Photo: Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.

Mystetskyi Arsenal Art and Museum Complex Director Olesia Ostrovska at a press conference of the speakers of the Cultural Diplomacy in 2021. Photo: Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.

We need your solidarity and support more than ever. Today’s invasion could become bigger and even deadlier than anything we have seen since World War II. The actions of Russia will have a global impact on the entire world and will very likely affect generations to come.

We ask those of you in the cultural sphere and beyond for your support. Every one of you can help in the following ways:

1. Remind yourselves and remind others that this war is a war against the whole civilized world, free thought, democratic values, and truth. Include information about the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine into your public talks—mention this invasion at art and literature events that you attend or participate in. Bring this up at your exhibitions.

2. Write and share joint public statements as cultural and civil organizations, institutions, and industry associations—we need writers, publishers, booksellers, artists, and museums to use their platforms. Use your social media and share information and solidarity with the hashtag #StandWithUkraine. Help us provide truthful accounts to international media and share information on human rights and the lives of political prisoners with the hashtag #SolidarityWords

3. We ask you to publicly share your successful stories of cultural cooperation with Ukraine. In recent years, our country achieved essential progress in the arts and literature fields, and we partook in important cultural diplomacy and the promotion of European cultural values. We would like to save this important vector and defend the positive milestones that we have mutually achieved. 

4. Support peace and drive the attention of your fellow citizens, media, and politicians by using the facades of your offices and other available spaces for artistic actions showing the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

5. Highlight contemporary Ukrainian art and discuss the books of modern writers who wrote and will continue to write about the war in Ukraine, which has been going on for eight years in Europe. As a leading art institution, we are eager to provide you with all the information we have, so please get in touch with us.

The mission of our museum, the Mystetskyi Arsenal, is to facilitate interactions between people, communities, and institutions that empower individuals and free society. Our mission is not about aggression or escalation, and it is not about the forces of evil or destruction. We Ukrainians are a peace-loving nation, but we will defend our land, our families, and our right to freedom and independence. We will also defend Europe and our European choice.

The armed forces of Ukraine are ready for full combat, and they will resist Russian invaders as best as possible! With regard to civilians, we are trying to remain calm and do everything to help each other prepare for this warfare.

Despite the invasion that is currently in full force, we believe above all that our armed forces, along with the support of everyone else involved, will succeed. We believe that as an international arts community that we will be able to meet and invite you again to our peaceful, beautiful city of Kyiv, so that we may acknowledge, celebrate, and appreciate the principles of humanism, freedom, and critical thinking.

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