United as one for Ukraine - from afar.
This past year has been hard for all Ukrainians. For us, the Aotearoa New Zealand Ukrainian diaspora, though we were safe here, we all had relatives who were not. Watching an invasion unfold from behind a screen while waiting to hear from our loved ones hiding in shelters, often cut out of communication, and seeing locations we knew from our childhoods flattened to the ground was a surreal experience.
Following the disbelief, grief, and sadness we all felt - still feel - something enacted itself from the ashes of our homeland. Our diaspora began networking, coming together regularly to fundraise for our people while safeguarding our culture, an oppressor was trying to eradicate, for the second time in less than a century. Initially, this manifested mainly through bake sales and craft stalls at local markets (the Britomart Market for us here in Auckland). These actions strengthened our bonds with each other too - after all, cooking traditional food together and being able to share it with others while raising money is a communal act of love. Ukrainian food is core to our culture and often based on family recipes, so every dish has a bit of history!
As time went on we fell into a steady rhythm of organising fundraisers across our adoptive nation. It allowed us to feel united, determined and resilient - after all, this is our act of resistance, our contribution from afar. We also realised how critical bringing more visibility and awareness of current affairs, historical context, and culture was. In times when disinformation runs wild on social media, it became a personal duty to broadcast the harsh reality our own relatives were pushed into.
In April 2022, the first photojournalistic exhibition about the war in Ukraine opened in Berlin. It was replicated later in other countries worldwide by many more Ukrainian volunteers, like me - Kateryna (Katia) Samokisha.
Our community engaged with Ukrainians overseas, journalistic correspondents and media on the frontlines. We all collaborated with creative Ukrainians living here to set up the Aotearoa New Zealand version of the exhibition - “Ukraine: The Cost of Freedom” with enormous support from the Auckland War Memorial Museum which originally opened in their Te Taunga Community Hub on the Ukraine Independay day anniversary - the 24th of August 2022. Over the following months, the exhibition welcomed nearly 21,000 visitors. Visitors also got to enjoy the "Vinok" (flower wreath) workshop and the documentary "Mariupol. Unlost Hope".
More details and a virtual walk can be found on the museum's website.
This exhibition told visitors about the history of Ukraine, showing photographs from the frontline and de-occupied territories confirming terrible war crimes. The exhibition materials were later displayed at the Victoria University of Wellington. Another exhibition, “Ukraine: The Colours of Freedom” was organised by other community members in the Papakura Library and featured traditional cultural aspects of Ukrainian culture, combined with works of a Kiwi sculptor, which he created under the emotional impression of the war in Ukraine.
This year, I was honoured to find another venue for our latest exhibition: ‘Ukraine: a War Diary of Lives’ opening on June 8th at the Estuary Art Centre in Orewa (free admission). It is a unique synthesis of past exhibitions that were set up across New Zealand and Australia with new elements added. Most importantly, Maryana Kozakevych and I conducted a major community web project: “Creative Ukrainians”. Our goal is to promote all events from the Ukrainian community (including film festivals). A central place to publish details about upcoming events freely while keeping evidence of past projects, including fundraisers. We also wanted to establish an educational blog that actively promotes our culture. This online project received the generous sponsorship of Rocketspark - an NZ-based website builder company.
The “Ukraine: a War Diary of Lives” exhibition ultimately takes on a larger scope than previous events by making it accessible to a wider audience. Beyond displaying artwork, stories, and photographs, the event will end on a high note with a Ukrainian lunch and Art Auction on Saturday 1st of July at 13:00pm, inviting the community to experience our culture.
Many of us attended a cooking workshop with renowned chef Peter Gordon at his Homeland NZ kitchen, organised by UNICEF Aotearoa - we had an opportunity to use a commercial kitchen there to share our traditional recipes with Peter and the UNICEF attendees. This was part of UNICEF’S #CoolForUkraine initiative (more information is available here). We’re now bringing these newly acquired skills to Kiwis who will enjoy our special kai. The fact is there are no Ukrainian restaurants in NZ. The only way to experience our cuisine here is by going to our bake sales, so we thought of creating a special event where guests could sit down, share and enjoy a full-course meal with us.
The lunch will be prepared by the Ukrainian volunteer group "Chevrona Kalyna" and will include Borsch (UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Ukraine), Varenyky (Ukrainian dumplings with potato and onions), Uzvar (a compote made from dried fruits and berries), and Cherry Pies. The event will involve a documentary about Borsch, a music performance by internationally recognised musician and filmmaker Dasha Volga, as well as small gifts for attendees. Tickets can be purchased here.
As for the Art Auction, the audience can bid on the artworks displayed as part of the ‘Ukraine: A war diary of Lives’ exhibition. Leading up to the event, bids can be made on the Rally Up (a secured online bidding platform), or directly at the event. One special artwork is a limited-edition print from an internationally renowned Ukrainian photographer from Australia - Olena Levkivska.
You will also find an exclusive antique set of traditional Ukrainian costumes - only available for bidding at the event itself.
All proceeds raised will be sent to Ukraine via the Tautoko Ukraine Charitable Trust, supplying direct necessary aid to the people of Ukraine in most affected regions.
Ultimately, this exhibition and events associated with it are a massive community effort that is bringing us all together - united, creative, uncompromising, unbreakable, determined, and resilient - and inviting New Zealanders to join our cause. This does not mean that we, as a community, are stepping away from smaller-scale fundraisers and cultural events. Many of us are regularly baking at local markets, every Sunday from 12-2pm where Ukrainians and now great friends of Ukraine gather at Aotea Square to join the war effort, discuss current affairs and brainstorm ideas or make plans on how to help next.
Everyone is welcome! Just recently, Aucklanders passing through the CBD witnessed many of us celebrating Vyshyvanka (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt) day. This was organised by Mahi for Ukraine, working tirelessly for the advocacy of war refugees, international sanctions, humanitarian aid & diplomatic relations in New Zealand (photos attached). Our unified kaupapa is supporting each other in these trying times, our countrymen, women and children with what we can, while engaging Aotearoa in what’s truly happening in Ukraine.