In Zhdanivka, a city in the Donbas region of Ukraine where Russian aggression began in 2014, the only place to get cellphone reception was in the town’s cemetery. So Alevtina Kakhidze’s mother, who lived in the city, went there every day to call her daughter to tell her she was alive.
Until the day she wasn’t. Alevtina Kakhidze’s mother had a fatal heart attack in 2019 while waiting at a demarcation line checkpoint, which she had to pass through to pick up her pension check.
Kakhidze created a series of drawings to tell the story of her mother. These drawings are part of “Women At War,” which will be on exhibit at Eastern Connecticut State University until Oct. 15.
Since Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the world has focused on the plight of soldiers and refugees streaming out of the war-torn country. The ECSU exhibit instead highlights the people who stayed, as seen through the eyes of women, whose war experiences are different than fighters on the front lines.
Curator Monika Fabijanska said her interest in the exhibit came from “the silence that I hear whenever I look back and look at history.
“Even when there are female characters … the perspective is usually male. And I was simply interested what would happen if we would … talk about war with women,” Fabijanska said. “There are specific situations that happen to them.
“The works in this exhibition do not necessarily focus on women’s fates. They focus on seeing the war beyond trooping, battles and the concept of the victory and the defeated. They really look at the lives of regular people who are left behind.”
Fabijanska originally curated the exhibit when it was at the Fridman Gallery in New York this summer. The Fridman presented the show in collaboration with the Voloshyn Gallery in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Fabijanska said about half of the works were created between 2014 and 2022, and the rest after this year’s invasion. Almost all of the artists became refugees during the curation of the show.
Lesia Khomenko, who attended the opening reception, is one of those refugees. She said in her journeys, art helped her maintain her emotional equilibrium.
“After the invasion, I escaped Kyiv. In six months, I moved 20 times. Every place, I organized a studio for myself,” she said. “I produced distance from the problem. It helped me to survive as a human.”
Khomenko is showing four large-scale portraits of soldiers. One is her husband, who is in the Army. The others are semi-abstracted works that obscure soldiers’ faces with white blotches or with pixelations, to comment on internet misinformation about the war.
Kakhidze’s drawings about her mother are childlike in their simplicity but narrate powerful stories about the displacement of wartime. Her captions read “Zhdanivka has checkpoints for two days now. … Movement within the city or into neighboring one is only by passport. Banks are closed.” “It took me 11 hours to cross a distance which I crossed before the war in 1.5 hours.” “So, Zhdanivka was under fire. I am alive. A person died on our street, a woman.”
Yevgenia Belorusets offers a series of photographs taken in Donbas, where coal miners pushed back against the mines’ takeover by the military. Her photography, she says in her statement, “portrays a form of resistance to the occupation, which was politically invisible because it took place at workplaces striving to avoid any kind of publicity.”
Alena Grom’s photo “Tamara with her Brother, Mariinka, Donbas,” is equally bleak, a haunting image of small children in a dark cellar.
A series of drawings by Dana Kavelina are rendered in pencil, with streaks of red accents, made from blood: from the mouths, staining hands, staining clothes.
The terrors of the past show up in a work by Alla Horska, who was murdered in 1970 at the age of 41, presumably by the KGB. Her 1963 linocut depicts Ivan Svitlychny, who like herself was a dissident artist.
Olia Fedorova, writing on bed linens with red ink, expresses her fury at the Russian invasion of her hometown of Kharkiv: “May you choke on my soil, May you poison yourself with my air, May you drown in my waters, May you burn in my sunlight, May you stay restless all day and all night long, And may you be afraid every second.”
Other artists in the show are Oksana Chepelyk, Vlada Ralko, Kateryna Yermolaeva, Zhanna Kadyrova and Anna Scherbyna.
The ECSU stop is the traveling exhibit’s first exposure since the show in New York’s Fridman Gallery. Gallerist Ilya Fridman, who attended the opening reception on Thursday, said he hopes the show travels throughout the country.
“Oppressed people everywhere are denied the opportunity to record their own history, the visual and textual record of their own time. [The exhibit] will survive as evidence that Ukrainians define their own culture,” Fridman said. “This war is in a very real way about erasing Ukrainian culture as an independent national identity. The exhibit is resistance.”
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The art gallery is in the Fine Arts Instructional Center on the ECSU campus at 83 Windham St. in Willimantic. It is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday noon to 4 pm, Tuesday and Thursday noon to 7 pm and Saturday 11 am to 4 pm easternct.edu/art-gallery.
Ukrainian arts and culture, as well as aid to Ukraine, are the focus of other events in the state.
“Volya: Free Will,” a Ukrainian women’s art exhibit, is at Southington Community Cultural Arts, 93 Main St. The show of paintings and handcrafted objects made in Ukraine by women who have fled their country will be on view until Oct. 10. Proceeds from the sales will go directly to the artists. southingtonarts.org.
Ukrainian world-music quartet DakhaBrakha will perform at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, 2132 Hillside Road at UConn in Storrs, on Oct. 9 at 3 pm Admission ranges from $15 to $36. jorgensen.uconn.edu.
“Songs for Ukraine,” hosted by the Eastern Connecticut Center for History, Art and Performance, will be Sept. 24 from 6:30 to 10 pm at The Packing House at 156 River Road in Willington. Admission is $30 in advance, $35 at the door. All proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales, donations, sponsorships and raffles benefit Direct Relief. ec-chap.org.
Morneault’s Stackpole Moore Tryon, the clothiers at 242 Trumbull St. in Hartford, is selling Ukraine-themed T-shirts designed by Hartford artists Ellis Echevarria, Amy LaBossiere and Tao LaBossiere, with 100% of proceeds benefiting World Central Kitchen, which is working to feed Ukrainian refugees. Each shirt is $25. morneaults.com.
Susan Dunne can be reached at email@example.com.