Revival of the Center of Ukrainian Culture
When Olha arrived in the French capital, her first impressions were rather painful. It turned out that Russian culture and its figures occupy a significant place here, and the Ukrainian ones have yet to regain their place. In particular, this is how Olha described her thoughts from the evening of solidarity with Ukraine held at the Pompidou Center, “Ukrainians talked about the war, violence, genocide, destruction of cities and villages. Other speakers spoke about the deep crisis and anxiety, the need to support each other, and the strength of artistic unity… No one offered to help, the audience preferred not to discuss the boycott of Russian art. When those present heard the Close the Sky call, they just looked at the sky melancholically. The French love Russian culture, and fear the atomic bomb and environmental catastrophe. They do not notice that their white coats and gloves have long been covered in the ashes of the war in Europe.”
However, just as the Ukrainians went from calling on the world to close the sky to solving the problems on their own, so Olha began to act without waiting for help. And by the end of March, she announced the launch of the Ukrainian Spring in Paris initiative, which will host various events (exhibitions, film screenings, discussions, literature meetings, concerts) for two months at the Center of Ukrainian Culture in France.
This actually meant the resurrection of the active life of this Center, which previously was hardly visible. Olha says, “Unfortunately, this building in the center of Paris (formerly the home of Alain Delon and Romy Schneider), is the only Ukrainian cultural center in the world that is state-owned and has always remained on the margins due to a lack of strategic vision of its role. Poor funding, lack of staff, and most importantly, a lack of mission and planning have led the Center to open its doors only to particular events.”
Instead, the initiative group set itself the goal of making it the heart of expertise on Ukrainian culture, a meeting place for Ukrainian and French artists, cooperation, creating new elements, and attracting resources to support cultural initiatives.
Also among the goals of the project, Olha notes the incessant communication about the war. “Now we will, in particular, talk a lot and in different ways about the WAR, tirelessly explain why Russian culture is responsible for state crimes, fight fakes and stereotypes.”
Events and Collaborations
Almost a month has passed since the start of the initiative, and during this time the Center has hosted many events in various formats. For example, the screening of The War of Chimeras (2017) movie by Anastasia Starozhytskaand Maria Starozhytska, and its subsequent discussion with the directors. The photo exhibition Unbreakable has opened, where 34 photos of Ukrainian artists who remain in the country to document life during the war are presented. The photos were selected by Solomiya Savchuk, a curator of Mystetskyi Arsenal (the Art Arsenal).
And on April 14, the Center hosted a concert that embodied the collaboration between a Ukrainian woman who found temporary refuge in Paris, another Ukrainian woman who has lived in France for a long time, and a Frenchman. This is how Olha described her impressions, “The hall is overcrowded again. We need to take away Russia’s cultural center immediately, they don’t need it anymore, and we lack space. The French are inspired to get acquainted with Ukraine. The #УкраїнськаВесна (UkrainianSpring) team is eager to engage in cultural substitution... to displace imperial naphthalene.”
Another landmark event was the arrival of Natalka Vorozhbyt in Paris. The Center of Ukrainian Culture organized a screening of her movie Bad Roads, followed by a conversation with Natalka and Polish-French writer Agnieszka Zuk. “They talked about the war, women during the war, filming, meanings in context and out of it. Almost four hours of open communication, difficult questions from the audience,” Olha wrote on her Facebook page. She also told the story that preceded this event.
Since the French want to watch movies with subtitles in their native language, it was necessary to quickly find a translator. One was found in Vietnam. The producer sent the film from the USA, the dialogues came from Kyiv. And eight hours before the screening, the subtitles were ready. “Imagine the scale/geography of the project and the speed of implementation (2 weeks),” commented Olha.
“Incredible Ukrainians are everywhere. They are capable of doing unreal things.”
And during the most recent screening (Stop-Earth movie) Olha was not in Paris. She went to Ukraine only for a few days to see her husband with whom she had not separated for more than two weeks in 25 years. On the way back, she wrote, “I am returning to France because now my little son and elderly parents are there. Because together with the Ukrainian Institute I want to strengthen our voice in this country.” However, she, like all Ukrainians who have been forced to go abroad, dreams of only one thing: to return and build her life at home, rebuilding Ukraine.