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Evgenia Belorusets: “Artists are not soldiers, but now we must repel the war”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine surprised Ukrainian artist, writer and photographer Evgenia Belorusets in Kyiv, who used to live between the Ukrainian capital and Berlin. Belorusets (Kyiv, 1980) then started his Diario de Guerra from there, which La Vanguardia published in parts in Spain. The author is now a refugee in Berlin, where she continues to work on her works and is finally trying to sleep peacefully, but plans to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.

idea of ​​military triumph

“The victory of Ukraine is necessary, because this war is already the defeat of Europe”

Now that you are away from Ukraine, what situations or feelings that you included in your war diary will remain in your memory, perhaps forever?

During this time, I was confronted with the idea of ​​victory and defeat, with the idea of ​​what Ukraine wants or expects. Ukraine has never been a country that dreamed of any kind of military victory. Even before 2014, Ukraine was a country deeply uninterested in military culture. Everything has changed. I realized that I want Ukraine to win this war, whereas earlier the word “victory” would have caused me a deep internal confrontation. But now I understand that this is the only thing left to save Ukraine from this violence. This is a huge twist. As for my diary, it is not possible to return to any feeling, because every day of this war is not repeated on any other day, even being far from Ukraine. You cannot go back to the feelings you had, but you are constantly developing new approaches, new feelings, new ideas.

How problematic was the idea of ​​victory before this war for you? Since 2014, there has been a war in the Donbass.

Perhaps because in our day the idea was of a world in which we are not trying to dominate other countries or win, but to coexist, get to know each other, feel mutual interest, appreciate different types of life in other lives and interact with them. being yourself.. Sometimes you even have to fail in order to win; that is, to fail as a person, as a cultural subject, to understand something more deeply. In 2015, he created a photo project “Victory of the Defeated” about the inhabitants of coal mines in the Donetsk war zone. These are people who were involved in a violent conflict with Russia but decided to step aside and keep a normal life; They continued to work in the mine. I see his defensive strategy as a kind of victory, but also a kind of defeat.

And does this analysis of defeat apply to the present moment?

The European world has already been defeated. Therefore, I believe that the victory of Ukraine is so necessary. Because now we are all defeated, because the beginning of this war was the defeat of the entire European security strategy. We have already been defeated, so we need a victory. When I say we, I mean: Europe, USA, democracies and, of course, Ukraine.

You presented your work at the Venice Art Biennale. Do Ukrainian artists take part in hostilities?

Artists are not soldiers, but we have a feeling that as artists we don’t have many options; now we must repel the war. I brought to Venice an installation based on my “War Diary”, that is, I did not exhibit a work of art in the strict sense, but documented my own experience or what was happening around me. Of course, a fragment of experience can also exist in an artistic space, but with a different way of human thinking, comprehending one’s own life in the format of a document, comprehending one’s own way of interacting with a disaster, trying to write or photograph in order to preserve what is happening. Other artists I appreciate, such as Nikita Kadan and Lesya Khomenko, also exhibited documents. Nikita created an installation about violence by rocket fragments using ruins from Ukraine from 2014 to the ruins of today. Lesya redrawn the photographs of those sent to her by her husband, who is fighting in the army; I could not post a photo, since all documentary materials related to the Ukrainian army are classified, so I made a large-scale drawing. Almost all Ukrainian artists try to understand and capture what is happening from their experience. I’m not saying that this is what art can do or what we Ukrainian artists should do. But the artists I respect and admire are now doing it; they are trying to create a deeper image, they are not doing propaganda, they are documenting military experience.

The work of Ukrainian artists acts as soft power abroad, drawing attention to the war at home, not to the bombing.

Perhaps this can be described as soft power, but its application is not the purpose of these works of art. It’s more about talking about terrible pain that cannot be repeated, about stopping a terrible manifestation of aggression, and not only in this case, but also in the future. In the task of documenting the lives of Holocaust survivors, this is seen as a shared memory, a shared experience, and we cannot allow something like this to happen again. I am Jewish, but I never worked on the Holocaust. However, I now think that my current work on the war in Ukraine is unexpectedly connected to this experience.

The population of Ukraine has been suffering destruction for more than two months. How do you feel about the daily sight of corpses?

I heard from several different people a description very similar to that of Anastasia, a Holocaust survivor evacuated from Kyiv, who participated in a round table in Venice, in which I also participated. Anastasia visited a Nazi concentration camp and described that terrible reality. But he explained that even when he stopped looking towards the dead, he thought: “this is just a nightmare, it can’t be real.” I get the same description from people from Mariupol or Kharkov. And I myself saw really terrible things that seemed like a surreal part of reality. You cannot fit this image you see into your life schedule; you place it somewhere far away from your daily life or routine of perceptions, somewhere in this zone of sleep, in the zone “it really cannot be true.” I think that people in Ukraine who are trying to survive and keep their idea of ​​ethics and normalcy have to go through their own terrible experiences like this.

What is your current relationship with Russian, your mother tongue?

complicated. But I hope the language stays the way it is. A language is something deeper than a country; it cannot be privatized by a crazy dictator.


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