Ukraine: 19 Artists Living a Creative Life in Exile

Ukraine: 19 Artists Living a Creative Life in Exile

Poignant gallery exhibition brings Ukrainian artists together

On August 24, 2023, The Collectors’ Gallery of Art in Calgary was filled from morning to night with the newest bunch of Calgarians — a burgeoning Ukrainian community displaced by the war, along with people from Inglewood, art lovers from all over Calgary and members of the media.

There was a festive feeling in the air even as it was tinged with melancholy: not only was it opening night of UKRAINE, a group exhibition of 10 Ukrainian artists, most of whom have relocated to Calgary, it was also Ukrainian Independence Day. That’s the day, in 1991, that the Ukrainians declared independence from the Soviet Union.

That made an exhibition opening filled with artists forced into exile because of a war that much more poignant. “It’s a strange feeling,” said musician Snizhana Gukasian-Konobeinikova. “Today was a big celebration for Ukrainian artists in Calgary, and the whole Ukrainian community. So many people came out — and it was nice, because I met Ukrainians I didn’t even know. So many are coming here, and we go into our new communities, and we don’t know who is here! 

“But at the same time, for it to be our Ukrainian Independence Day, at the same time, when there is a war going on, and we are all here, there’s a bittersweet feeling.”

Four Countries

Elena Faushteyn is one of the artists featured in the exhibition, which runs through September 3. Her works are large, bright and tactile, made of different items all pieced together in a kind of creative labyrinth. She explains the clues as she reveals bits of her biography and the displacement she’s endured. 

“I am part Ukrainian but born in Moldova,” she says. “Then I moved to Ukraine, but when Russia invaded, I moved to Turkey, where it’s quite different, then to Calgary.”

One of her artworks is a pastiche of colours and textures and tchotchkes: There’s a skeleton key embedded into it, along with mesh wire that Faushteyn explains. “That’s the fence where you go to smoke in the Istanbul airport,” she says. Does she smoke? “Cigarettes, yes,” she says. “Not drugs!”

A second piece of Faushteyn’s is an installation that appears to be a shoe box turned into a multi-coloured chess set, with a sneaker embedded into it. “I wanted to make a chess board, but with more colour,” she said.

A second artist, Maria Mykhalap, has five different works on display. Three are nudes, part of a series of pieces Mykhalap is working on featuring friends and herself. The other two are watery landscapes. One is her memory of the Black Sea rolling into shore in her Ukrainian hometown.

She has made all the paintings since her arrival in Calgary. The inspiration for her landscapes, it turns out, is the Glenmore Reservoir at Heritage Park. “I really like this place because it looks like the sea. I go there for inspiration. This Heritage Lake really looks like the sea (in Ukraine). “I go there often,” she says. “I really like sunsets there.”

Mykhalap’s nudes are actually a combination platter of painterly techniques: she blends acrylic, oil paint, graphic pencil and gold potale to create each one. “There was a lot of experimentation before making the first painting in a new style,” she writes in a note about “Soul Nudes” on Instagram. “One of the paintings is my story,” she says, “and it is about how a chance meeting became a flash of emotions and inspired me to believe in my strength and continue in Canada to do my favourite thing — creativity.”

Despite all that she has been through, it’s more important than ever to live her creative life. “It’s important because it’s my life,” Mykhalap says. “When I make my paintings or create something — I work sometimes all day and all night, until 4 a.m. It was an inspiration.

“When I do it, I don’t feel how time passes,” she adds. “It makes me feel alive.”


Andrii Zahorodniuk, a young landscape painter who moved to Calgary from Kyiv two months ago, requests a favour: He is asking everyone attending the show to contribute to one of his works by drawing a flower using a box of Crayola crayons. I do my best, drawing a child-like version of a sunflower like the one sitting next to the easel on the counter of the gallery.

“My main idea was everyone — especially people who don’t draw — make a challenge for themselves and try it and finally I wanted to make a beautiful picture to show them they actually can do a great job,” Zahorodniuk says. “Even if they just draw a few lines — but if everyone does this, in the end, we will have a ready picture.”

In other words, it’s not enough for Zahorodniuk to live a creative life — he wants to inspire everyone to tap into their own. “The main idea,” he says, “was just to create one piece together, and see what we can do which holds problems for our limited thoughts about what we can do. If we can overcome it — today it can be only painting, but tomorrow, you never know what you’re gonna do.”

Four photos from the opening reception of Ukraine, an art exhibition at The Collectors' Gallery of Art featuring Ukrainian artists who have relocated the Calgary. The photo show a damanged building; two gallery visitors looking at a series of photos by Oleg Arkhanhorodsky, who is embedded with the Ukrainian army; a group photo of several of the artists whose work is featured in the exhibition; and a musician playing a stringed instrument.
Clockwise from top left: A photo by Oleg Arkhanhorodsky, who is embedded with the Ukrainian army; two visitors viewing a series of photos by Arkhanorosky; a group photos of artists featured; and a musician at the opening reception. | Photos by Francis Willey

Ordinary Lives at War

The exhibition is a blend of landscapes, figurative work, more abstract work like Faunsteyn’s, but in the back area of the gallery, it becomes something else — something darker and more urgent. That’s where one wall is dominated by the photography of Oleg Arkhanhorodsky, who remains embedded with the Ukrainian army, where he is creating a document of the impact of the war on Ukrainian civilians.

His photos are searing. “The Wrinkles” shows a man in his 60s, sitting outside with a look of bewilderment on his face at what has become of his country. Another photo, “No Neighbours,” shows the husk of a bombed-out apartment building, with a single tenant — a woman — remaining, looking out at the world.

Arkhanhorodsky also has contributed a video of a mass grave, where 400 Ukrainian citizens are buried — a site that the Russians rigged with land mines, in order to kill or maim grieving relatives come to look for what’s left of their loved ones.

The exhibition is the inspiration of Romana Kaspar-Kraft, who runs The Collectors’ Gallery of Art. She came to Canada as a four-year-old girl with her parents who were forced into exile from their home in Czechoslovakia in 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague and opened fire on Czech people. “I remember the struggles my parents had not speaking any English,” she said, “Trying to find work, and the feeling of isolation in a new and bewildering country.”

The work from UKRAINE is for sale with 100 per cent of the proceeds going to the artists. There’s also a silent auction, featuring works donated by Calgary artists in support of the cause.

The Collectors’ Gallery of Art is located at 1332 9th Ave. S.E. The exhibition runs through September 3, 2023.