Traces of war exhibition
Europe, Russia & Eurasia, Global governance, Conflict & security, Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies

365 Days of War: Resilience, Solidarity, Creativity & Memory (Part One)

On February 24, 2022 the world awoke to shocking news: Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

365 days later, students, faculty, members of the public as well as the visiting faculty and students from Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, gathered at St. Volodymyr’s Institute to commemorate the first year anniversary of the start of the war, which, in the words of Ed Schatz, Director of the Centre for European, Russian, & Eurasian Studies (CERES), “focused our minds, captured our hearts, and shared our moral compasses.” The attendees were far away from the frontline but with hearts and thoughts in Ukraine. 

The evening served as a powerful reminder not only of the horror of war and the sacrifices made by Ukrainians daily, but a powerful display of resilience, solidarity, and creativity–things Ukraine has shown since the invasion. 

In the spirit of resistance, Liudmyla Kryvoruchka, Director of Yuchemenko Family Doctoral School at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto, proclaimed, “we decided not to talk about the war today. We decided to talk about Ukraine, its creativity, [and] its resilience.”

“Setting the Global Standard of Resilience”

Kryvoruchka, the first of the KMA professors to speak, presented on Ukrainian resilience, illustrating the ways it manifests itself in the daily life of the Ukrainians. 

Kryvoruchka shared that, in addition to defending the country’s physical borders, over 1000 dissertations were registered for defense since the beginning of the war, ensuring the preservation of Ukraine’s academic realm. For Kryvoruchka, resilience is not only demonstrated by the invaluable contributions of army personnel, volunteers, and civilians, but by the immense academic output of Ukrainians during this war, with several hundred books published in Ukraine within the last year. It can also be measured by poetry lines. According to Professor Kryvoruchka, 57 authors who have written at least 10,000 lines of poetry are “developing symbolic worlds that will endure into the future,” and that are helping build the world that is being fought for. 

Standing in Solidarity

Associate Professor of International Relations at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy,” Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto Dmytro Yefremov commenced the portion on solidarity with the presentation of four “miracles” which, in his view, helped the country’s economy survive during the ongoing war. 

The miracle Yefremov outlined was the financially miracle which saw Ukrainian banking institutions secured, the currency exchange miracle which fixed the exchange rate at 36.5 UAH/USD, the financial miracle in which the state budget was able to avoid a collapse and continue to provide both military and social expenditures, and finally the energy supply miracle which saw, for example, the import of power generators. He explained that both internal and international solidarity protected the Ukrainian economy from collapse, as international aid and homegrown solutions have allowed the government to redistribute finances at a time when the army requires 43% of the state budget. 

Yefremov expressed gratitude to “all friends of Ukraine,” as any challenge is easier faced with people in one’s corner. 

Olena Primerova, Associate Professor of Finance at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto, continued the story of solidarity by sharing a personal experience: in an attempt to provide her husband and his army colleagues with transportation, she received enough funds from a public callout to buy the vehicle within mere days. 

Primierova echoed Kryvoruchka’s earlier sentiments about global admiration of Ukraine, especially when it comes to solidarity. The example of blood drives in Dnipro where 1000 donors a day resulted in 400L of blood being collected daily exemplified the strength of unity within the country. Primierova was quick to remind us that solidarity was not just extended to humans, but animals as well, with house pets and wild animals alike being brought to safety away from active conflict.

“Creativity is like shaking hands with tomorrow”

The last of the professors was Tetiana Fedosieieva, Associate Professor of Private Law at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto, presenting on the creativity and innovation that has developed in Ukraine despite, or perhaps in spite of the war. 

Fedosieieva reminded us that arts and culture are forms of cultural diplomacy, and that all those who represented Ukraine in those fields were essentially transformed into cultural diplomats. From Ukrainian fashion brand Jean Gritsfeldt to ceramicist Georgiy Byero and artist Ilya Isupov, Ukrainian art and creators assumed new roles as representatives and sometimes even activists. Galleries such as the Kyiv-based “The Naked Room” have continued to preserve and display art for the public, providing a home for Ukrainian art and a space in which the country’s rich cultural heritage can be protected. 

The creativity and innovation demonstrated in Ukraine has extended far beyond its borders, as was proven by the opening of the exhibition “Unissued Diplomas.” KMA student Daryna-Mariia Zavhorodnia introduced the project, which is currently being exhibited in 45 universities in over 20 countries. An exhibit that honors the student victims of the war, Zavhorodnia said the project is meant to be an acknowledgement and reminder to the world that there are university peers fighting and defending Ukraine, and also to commemorate those students whose lives were taken. 

Unissued Diplomas” is a sobering reminder of the high stakes of this war, with the faces and stories of students who will never receive their diplomas placed on a university-style certificate. “Unissued Diplomas” will be shown at St. Volodymyr Institute as well as Hart House and the KUMF Gallery in Etobicoke until 11 March 2023. 

Zavhorodnia also introduced us to another exhibit currently showing at St. Volodymyr Institute, co-sponsored by CERES, entitled, “Traces of War.” This exhibit is a collection of 32 reflective works and video diaries of young people, expressing their experience of war through art, poetry, and film. 

These powerful exhibitions shine an honest, if not frightening, light on the realities of war as it is experienced by young people whose world has been suddenly and painfully altered. 

365 days and counting of resistance to war through resilience, solidarity, creativity and memory. 

365 days and counting where Ukraine continues to demonstrate strength in the face of war and prove its resilience, solidarity, and creativity. 

From defending their borders and academic realm to preserving cultural heritage and supporting each other in times of need, Ukrainians have shown the world what it means to be a strong and united people. The war continues to be a sobering reminder of the high stakes of geopolitical conflict, and the importance of standing in solidarity with those who are fighting for their freedom and independence.