“I was at the museum today, and this woman shows up, haven’t seen her in 30 years, she walks in and says, ‘Who do I write the cheque to, to help Ukraine?’” says Andrew Fedynsky, the director emeritus of the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, Ohio. “I’m feeling sort of like a hockey goalie, with so many calls and requests coming at me all the time this week. It’s been both gratifying and, obviously, enormously distressing.”
The Ukrainian Museum-Archives, which was founded by displaced Ukrainian scholars in the 1950s and is housed in a three-building campus in Cleveland’s largely residential Tremont neighbourhood, has experienced a significant increase in visitors since the war began, Fedynsky said. Some have come to see its exhibits, which include a trove of historic photos and documents, a collection of ornate pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs), works by the Kyiv-born modernist artist Alexander Archipenko, and a special exhibition of images by the Ukrainian photojournalist Sasha Maslov. Others just want to support Ukraine and the museum.
“We’ve seen a big uptick in people contacting our gift shop wanting to buy trinkets, and also donations,” Fedynsky says. “We’re, what, five or six days into the invasion? Who knows what’s gonna happen in another five or six days, five or six weeks or, god knows, five or six years?”
Less than a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, small institutions across North America devoted to the country and its diaspora have been fielding an outpouring of support and attention all the while continuing their regular programming and, in some cases, rushing to organise events in response to the current war. The Ukrainian Museum of Canada, located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, took to Instagram to caution its followers to vet any organisations they donate funds to, before recommending several charities. The Chicago-based Ukrainian National Museum, located in the city’s Ukrainian Village neighbourhood, likewise shared a list of verified charities on its Facebook page. “It is a terrible time for everyone who lives around the world, not only for Ukrainians,” Maria Klimchak, the museum’s curator, told the Chicago Tribune. “Even the moral support, it’s very important at this time.”
At New York’s Ukrainian Museum, located in Manhattan’s East Village, tickets to a special programme of poetry, theatre and music tonight quickly sold out; the museum is also preparing an exhibition of photographs documenting the Russian invasion, according to its director Maria Shust. She notes the cruel irony of the fact that just three years ago her museum hosted an exhibition celebrating the centennial of Ukraine’s independence, titled Full Circle, which was organised by Yurii Savchuk, now a curator at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War in Kyiv.
“It’s just such a repetition of what happened then with the Soviets, except that nowadays the artillery and the machinery is much, much stronger and more destructive,” Shust says. “I talked to Yurii on Friday, and they were putting many, many of their artefacts into hiding. And so many other museums are trying to safeguard their collections. But you know, with the bombings, I don’t know if they will be able to save them.”
Uptown, the Ukrainian Institute of America hosts programming across a range of disciplines including music performances, film screenings and art shows in an ornate mansion steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has posted a list of resources, upcoming rallies, organisations to support and more. As the invasion began, staff there were putting the finishing touches on The Fiber Effect, an exhibition featuring textile works by two US artists (Stanley Bulbach and Jaroslava Lialia Kuchma) and two artists based in Lviv, Ukraine (Volodymyra Hankevych and Yaroslava Tkachuk).
“Fiber art has endemic ties to Ukrainian culture because a lot of Ukrainian folk artists work in traditional weaving or embroidery,” says Andrew Horodysky, an advisor for art programming at the institute. The exhibition opened on 25 February, and a public reception is scheduled for 4 March, though Horodysky says not everyone is happy about that.
“We’ve had a little bit of pushback about putting this exhibition on from fellow Ukrainians who say, ‘Oh my god, how can you put an art exhibition up at a time like this?’ But you have to keep propagating your own culture, it’s a living culture,” he says. “Even during the Second World War, when my parents were kids escaping Ukraine with their parents, the diaspora was still promoting culture, they had social events, they still had art exhibitions and literary events. That never ended, and it’s no different now."