“Artists are not soldiers, but now we have to reflect the war”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine surprised Ukrainian artist, writer and photographer Yevgenia Belorusets in Kyiv, who used to live between the Ukrainian capital and Berlin. Belorusets (Kyiv, 1980) then began his war diary what The vanguard has published by installments in Spain. The author is now a refugee in Berlin, where she continues to work on her works and tries to finally sleep peacefully, but she plans to return to Kyiv as soon as possible.
idea of military triumph
“Ukraine’s victory is necessary because this war is already a defeat for Europe”
Now that you are away from Ukraine, what situations or feelings that you included in your War Diary remain anchored in your memory, perhaps forever?
During this time I have been confronted with the idea of victory and defeat, with the idea of what Ukraine wants or expects. Ukraine was never 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 discovered that I want victory for Ukraine in this war, when before, a word like victory would have provoked a deep inner confrontation in me. But now I understand that it is the only thing left to save Ukraine from this violence. It’s a huge turnaround. Regarding my diary, it is not possible to return to any feeling, because each 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 constantly develop new approaches, new feelings, new ideas.
In what way was the idea of victory problematic for you before this war? Since 2014 there was war in Donbass.
Perhaps because in our modern day the idea was a world in which we do not try to dominate other countries or win, but to coexist, get to know each other, feel mutual interest, appreciate different kinds of life in other lives and interconnect with them while remaining oneself. . Sometimes you even have to be defeated to win; that is, to be defeated as a person, as a cultural subject, to understand something more deeply. In 2015 I created the photographic project Victories of the defeated , about the people in the coal mines in the Donetsk war zone. They are people who were involved in the violent conflict with Russia, but decided to step aside and preserve a normal life; They continued to work in the mine. I read your defense strategy as a certain kind of victory, but also as a certain kind of defeat.
And does that analysis of defeat also apply to the present moment?
The European world has already been defeated. That is why I think Ukraine’s victory is so necessary. Because now we have all been defeated, because the start of this war was a defeat for the entire European security strategy. We have already been defeated, so we need some victory. When I say we, I mean: Europe, the United States, the democratic countries and, of course, Ukraine.
You have presented your work at the Venice Art Biennale. Do Ukrainian artists have a role in the war effort?
Artists are not soldiers, but we have the feeling that as artists we don’t have many options; now we have to reflect the war. I took to Venice an installation on my war diary , that is, I was not exhibiting an artistic work in the strict sense, but documenting my own experience or what happened around me. Of course, a fragment of experience can also exist in an artistic space, but with another way of human thought, thinking of your own life in document format, thinking of your way of interacting with the catastrophe, trying to write or photograph to preserve what is happening. Other artists I appreciate, such as Nikita Kadan and Lesia Khomenko, also exhibited documents . Nikita created an installation on the violence with pieces of rockets using ruins from Ukraine from 2014 to the ruins of today. Lesia redrew photographs of those sent to her by her husband, who is fighting in the army; she could not expose photos, since all documentary material related to the Ukrainian army is secret, so she made a large-scale drawing. Practically all Ukrainian artists are trying to understand and capture what is happening from their experience. I am not saying that this is what art can do, or what we Ukrainian artists should do. But artists that I respect and admire are now doing this; they are trying to create a deeper image, they are not creating propaganda, they are documenting war experiences.
The work of Ukrainian artists operates as a soft power abroad, drawing attention to the war at home that is not the bombing.
Perhaps it can be described as a soft power , but exercising it is not the objective of these works of art. It is more about telling a terrible pain that must not be repeated, about stopping a horrible manifestation of aggression, and in general, not only in this case, but also for the future. In the task of documenting the lives of people who survived the Holocaust, it is thought of as a common memory, a common experience that we cannot allow something like this to happen again. I am Jewish, but I have never worked on the Holocaust. However, now I think that my current work on the war in Ukraine unexpectedly connects with that experience.
The population of Ukraine has been suffering destruction for more than two months. How do you react to the daily sight of corpses?
I have 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 had been in a Nazi concentration camp and described that horrible reality. But she explained that even then, when she stopped looking in the direction of the dead, she thought: ‘this is just a nightmare, it can’t be real’. I get the same description from people from Mariupol or from Kharkiv. And I myself saw some really terrible things, which seemed like a surreal part of reality. You can’t put that image you see on the schedule of your life; you put it somewhere away from your daily life or routine of perceptions, somewhere in that dream zone, in the ‘this really can’t be true’ zone. I think that people in Ukraine who are trying to survive and preserve their idea of ethics and normalcy have to work through their horrible experiences like this.
What is the current relationship with Russian, your mother tongue?
complex. But I hope that the language remains the language that it is. A language is something deeper than a country; it cannot be privatized by a crazy dictator.