Issue 1 (2024)

The war has changed the relationship of Ukrainians with their landscapes, memory, identity, and belonging. Referring to dozens of works, which manifest an environmental strand in contemporary Ukrainian culture, Kateryna Iakovlenko questions our place in the deadly terrain of the war.


With thoughts of Natalia, Katya, Borys, Yaroslav, Stas, and Bohdan


It’s impossible to approach the longed-for horizon, the only way to reach it is through memory, where it is constantly transforming. This horizon pertains to childhood memories from those territories you can’t get to today; the squares and streets have changed over the past ten years. In the best case they’re sagging under dust and shelling, and in the worst they’ve been turned to dust. If you look from above — not from a bird’s-eye view but a drone’s-eye view[1] — the image resembles the artworks of Pavlo Makov, for whom the unattainable garden has been a favourite theme since the late 1980s.[2]

I was once enchanted by German Romanticism and strolled through the ruins of the monastery in Greifswald, destroyed by war and painted by Caspar David Friedrich. Today I look at ruins differently. The fragments of walls — whether familiar or foreign — slice through the landscape, getting under its skin (and under mine too). In Caspar David Friedrich’s works, the Thirty Years’ War was the background for the Romantic figure. It seems Russia’s war against Ukraine has been dragging on for over a hundred years, since before the start of World War I.[3] And the contemporary reincarnation of Caspar David Friedrich’s small human figure retains the extraordinary experiences of women, and children, and men.

The war becomes everything — from your domestic routine to your air and food. I eat war for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, out of whatever the war cooks up for me. Food has become an important aspect of Russia’s invasion — from targeting wheat fields to instigate famine, to the embargo on Ukrainian foodstuffs crossing the border into Europe. The corridors used by drivers — as if they were ants — to deliver provisions have become part of this infrastructure of hunger. Meanwhile potatoes rot on the balcony;[4] dishes full of dry branches are served in Lviv;[5] and, in Kyiv, somebody has prepared a treat — one for herself[6] and another for the enemy.[7]

There is nothing Romantic about this war, nor in these ruins, which attempt to alter memory by transforming the landscape. Even after a hundred years of war, there is no end in sight: it will go on, even after freedom has seemingly been achieved. And then it will turn into an empty landscape again, a museum without walls,[8] or a painting without a canvas.[9]

In Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings the human figure is much smaller than the landscape. Longing, desolation, and melancholy expand across the background of the rocky shores of the Baltic Sea. This image was also about a person’s position in that historical time period. About their impotence in the face of war. About whatever was happening inside, for Caspar David Friedrich believed that not every aspect of reality was worth putting onto the canvas, but it was worth turning attention to one’s internal experience.

But if you don’t put everything onto the canvas, then how can you remember it? How can you prove that this is what really happened? That all these wars, tragedies, and destruction were not the result of a natural disaster, but that they happened through the systematic efforts of people trying to take possession of more resources. The same people who create ‘great culture’ destroy the cultures of others with the same grandiosity. And then they erect their pedestals[10] in the places and on the graves of those others.

Our time has also become the setting for external and internal battles. This is where important questions, which address both the past and the future, are emerging. And a key one is: who — and where — are you in this landscape?

This question struck artist Yaroslav Futymskyi shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion, while he was rebuilding destroyed homes and schools in the Chernihiv region. He and other young people were participating in a volunteer effort that didn’t even have a name. Once he found himself facing a gate with the letters ‘де ти’[11] written across two halves of the metal barrier. The Ukrainian-speaking artist read the Russian word ‘дети’ (children) as the Ukrainian phrase ‘де ти’ (where are you): where are you in this war?[12]

Where are you, person, in this landscape, which is becoming a historical background for others — for the born and yet unborn, for those who have fallen, and for those hiding among the graves?

I think through this question by juxtaposing two photographs: Roger Fenton’s Crimean landscape,[13] which is considered one of the most powerful war photographs, and a photo taken by a Ukrainian soldier on his mobile phone. The latter also depicts a road, but upon closer examination, by the side of the road you can see a uniform, which belonged to a soldier of the Russian colonial army, who was abandoned to die by his fleeing comrades. His body has disintegrated into the ground.

There is no such thing as an empty landscape; landscapes are full of bodies.[14]

The ground receives everything, it doesn’t get to choose.

What disintegrates into the earth is not the roots, as in Katya Aliinyk’s paintings.[15] Paradoxically, in her first series, the rootlets literally decompose and turn into fertiliser; in a later series these roots are deprived of soil — they are painted on a white canvas, and each subsequent illustration gains a more distinctly human form: with eyes, lips, and a nose.

It turns out that people too are created from this earth: they are made of black soil, small rocks, worms, and the fallen leaves that decay in autumn. And afterward, they dissolve into timelessness in this same soil — this is the Romanticism of modern times.

‘To live means to die’.[16]

Here I’m also thinking about the ideas in Viktor Petrov’s novel Bez gruntu [Without Ground] (published under the pseudonym V. Domontovych).[17] He viewed this ground as more than a mere historical backdrop, but as the cultural and social foundation upon which new, vibrant scenes unfold. Katya Aliinyk’s artworks somehow remind me of those issues; they express the need to understand what has been obliterated from memory and why. This is not just a matter of identity, it is about the chance to stand on a surface that does not crumble.

Memory comes back. It returns when you touch the ground and try to understand what the texture of the soil is — humid or hard or dense — and to determine its colour and smell. It comes back when you wonder whether this soil contains salt, grass, seeds, or discarded objects[18] — found randomly by the side of the road or washed up by floodwaters; when you look to see if flowers have taken root in this soil, which once had pieces of Russian mines embedded in it.[19]

We can talk about the ground as a bearer of memory when discussing the artworks of Katya Buchatska, who collected soil from the Kyiv region in the spring of 2022 and made paint out of it. Her canvases don’t depict anything: the traces of this home-made oil paint on the canvas convey the tragedy of places that endured violence — Hostomel Red, Horenka Ochre, Moshchun Umber.[20]

In contrast to destruction, Katya Buchatska wanted to create. She said, ‘Soil is often used as a pigment for paints such as ochre, sienna, umber, and mars. I painted this series of monochromes with oil paint that I made from the soil of de-occupied or shelled territories. This paint contains both earth and parts of crushed houses, sifted and ground with oil and wax.’

The final work in this series, Black from the Front (2023), is made from earth from the front line, or what the soldiers call the ‘zero’ line. But this work is not just a reference to today. In his Suprematist Black Square, Malevich created something where all the feelings that unfold on a background of white emptiness would find harmony. His black square was the result of analysing his own apprehension about the future as well as an attempt to transgress the limits of the old and obsolete. It became a zero point for art, a starting point for new thought and new movements. But today the word ‘movements’ conjures military action. Now all artistic movements depend on the positions of military lines.

This is not an overstatement. As we’ve learned, there is nothing that doesn’t burn. There is nothing that you can’t forget.

Perhaps the small figure standing before a background of ruins in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich is trying to ingrain its lived experience into memory and to recognise the landscape as it was before.

Artist Katya Buchatska wonders, can the landscape itself remember, and what does it remember?[21] In the period that she was creating her paintings, she was also taking photos of the craters left by missile and artillery strikes and documenting the ‘horizontal monuments’ of these tragedies. The earth was gashed like a naked human body in a thicket of stinging nettles. But the plants immediately began taking over the metal remains of tanks, and with each passing summer month, trying to conceal the traces of the trauma inflicted by war.

The mangled landscape also made an impression on artists who saw it from a different point of view. When Yurko Vovkohon was serving in the army during the anti-terrorist operation[22] in Ukraine’s east, he made an audio-visual artwork incorporating the sounds of war and images of the stationary landscape featuring trees wounded by shelling.[23] In this moving image everything happens before the viewer’s eyes: the landscape changes.

Trees fall to the ground, opening a view onto a broader horizon. But what exactly does this horizon tell us?

Few artworks are capable of transmitting everything that’s in this landscape. Take, for instance, smell — the pungent aroma of the grass that wafts through the air or tickles your face when you are lying amidst the blades — or feet running innocently over the summer steppe. Images of one’s native environment appear in dreams,[24] over and over again, like something precious but inaccessible in real life. They remain that way: vast territories have been occupied and mined by Russia in the course of the full-scale invasion. And maybe because these territories are inaccessible and under constant threat of being destroyed or transformed, artists — out of a desire to preserve — have begun grasping at images of landscapes and embracing the earth’s materiality,[25] as well as literally falling into their own land,[26] where they grew up. They are trying to sprout from this land again, along with the grasses now tickling the faces of others — soldiers and medics hiding in this grass[27] — and being trampled by the feet of refugees escaping deadly fire.

Every day this horizon seems unfathomable, although you reach toward it again and again to discern your reflection in it, to see your own trauma and — by fathoming it — to fully experience it. To see how every day of war affects a person — changing their gaze, their posture, their gait, their ability to eat, drink, sleep, and speak.

And every day the sun sets.

And every day the sun rises.

Days, days.[28]

Soon after the full-scale invasion, many photographers and ordinary people posted photos on social media in an attempt to convey the scale of the destruction. They would photograph themselves standing inside an explosion crater, arm raised overhead to provide a sense of scale.[29] This person was like the small human figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings, against a background of personal and social tragedy. The only difference is that the contemporary person, unlike the one in the paintings of the German Romanticist, was looking straight at the camera, trying to make eye contact with whomever is looking at them. But all they would see when looking into the camera is their own reflection in the landscape, which is suffering from violence and burning from massive Russian missile strikes.

The war is happening both on the ground and in the sky.[30]

But what is a landscape?

Here I’ll reply with a quote from artist Anton Saenko:

‘It’s a horizontal line that divides and unites. It’s a landscape with nothing but two planes and light beyond the horizon. It’s a space of objects worn by the element of time. This plane is trying to be soft, like humid soil; like water that engulfs any contact. Maybe this is the landscape of another planet. [The seeker] goes forward, following the glow, but with every step the horizon retreats and becomes inaccessible. And then the seeker stopped and started to examine the radiant darkness and gradually dissolved in it… He knew that the darkness would claim him too.’




[1] Drone photos taken by photographer and aerial intelligence officer Kostiantyn Polishchuk were displayed in light boxes at the exhibition ‘I Dreamt of the Beasts’ (Galeria Labirynt, Lublin, Poland, November 2022 to February 2023, curated by Kateryna Iakovlenko, Halyna Hleba, Artsvit Gallery, Dnipro).

[2] Pavlo Makov is an artist who lives in Kharkiv, Ukraine. His practice began in the late 1980s and involves various graphic arts, in particular printmaking and installation. His key themes are the city and gardens. One of his earlier works, The Siege of Kharkiv, turned out to be prophetic: today the city is subjected to daily Russian airstrikes from a variety of weapon systems.

[3] The idea that Russia’s invasion is a continuation of a hundred years of war was addressed in the exhibition ‘From 1914 till Ukraine’ at the Stuttgart Museum (curated by Past/Future/Art), where contemporary art from Ukraine was displayed in the halls featuring works by Otto Dix about World War I and World War II. The museum removed all the works by Ukrainian artists after the exhibition.

[4] Mykola Kolomiyets, Forgotten Potatoes, 2022. Series of photographs.

[5] The exhibition ‘Holodyny’ [Hunger-versary] at Mizhkimnatnyi prostir [Inter-room Space] in Lviv in February 2023 marked the second anniversary of the founding of the artist-run gallery.

[6] The exhibition ‘Hostynets’ [Treat], curated by Tamara Turliun, was held at the artist-run gallery thesteinstudio in August 2023.

[7] ‘Stravy dlia voroha’ [Dishes for the Enemy], an exhibition of works by Kyiv-based artist Terra Neidorf, took place at the Kharkiv Municipal Art Gallery in December 2023.

[8] The idea of a ‘Museum Without Walls’, which would involve a virtual collection shared by several museums, is the brainchild of the MOCA NGO team in response to the need to archive, document, and preserve the artistic practices that have emerged during and because of the war. The Museum Without Walls is a temporary form, which will change when the opportunity arises to construct a building for the institution. However, the institution itself can exist and continue to develop without a building; the art collection can belong to several networked institutions at the same time.

[9] Artist Tiberiy Silvashi made a landscape painting out of the packaging in which his German publisher shipped his book to Kyiv, thus emphasising the issue of art’s materiality during the war.

[10] The theme of pedestals and their reinterpretation appeared in Ukrainian contemporary art in the second half of the 1980s, amidst a more general rethinking of the Soviet legacy. It is misguided to think that the process of rejecting Soviet monuments and heritage began only in 2014. That said, there was a critical surge of artistic work in 2014, including work directed at working with public space.

[11] Writing the Russian word for ‘children’ on fences, car windows, and outside refugee shelters was a widespread — and rarely effective — practice to discourage invading forces from firing on civilians.

[12] Yaroslav Futymskyi, Untitled, 2022, photograph.

[13] Roger Fenton, The Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855, photographic print, salted paper, 28 × 36 cm.

[14] Anton Saenko, Yaroslav Futymskyi, Body. Background, 2022, oil on canvas, Body: 200 × 100 cm, Background: 80 × 60 cm.

[15] Kateryna Aliinyk, Double Harvest 1, 2022, acrylic on paper, 160 × 210 cm; Everything Is OK Underground, There Is Always Something to Do, 2022, oil on canvas, series of five paintings, 40 × 30 cm; Drawings on paper, 2022, acrylic on paper, 30 × 40 cm.

[16] This is a reference to Serhiy Zhadan’s eponymous poem, which was set to music in 2013 by the group Orkestr Che (the Che Orchestra).

[17] V. Domontovych’s (Viktor Petrov’s) modernist novel was written in the 1940s about the situation in the 1920s to 1930s. Among the book’s themes are how a person loses their personhood, and living in a time of social and political change.

[18] Anna Zvyagintseva, Zapillia (Ukrainian for ‘background’ and ‘beyond the battlefield’), 2023, pencil on paper, diptych, 140 × 100 cm, video loop 4.

[19] While artist Yaroslav Futymskyi was working on reconstruction efforts in Chernihiv, he found a mine, took it apart, and stuck a few metal pieces of it into the roots of some vegetables and plants. These small sculptures were shown at the exhibition ‘geography of displacement’ at the Mala Gallery of Mystetskyi Arsenal in May 2023. One of the roots sprouted a new shoot, which the artist planted in the ground after the exhibition.

[20] All these works were made in early to mid-2022.

[21] Katya Buchatska, This World Is Recording, online video recording, YouTube, 27 March 2023, 7’.

[22] The anti-terrorist operation (ATO), launched on 13 April, 2014, was Ukraine’s official response to Russia’s undeclared invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and takeover of cities in the country’s eastern regions using separatist militias. In April 2018, the Joint Forces Operation replaced the ATO.

[23] Yurko Vovkohon, Wounds, 2015, moving image and audio-video installation.

[24] Documentation has become an attempt to comprehend experiences that are hard to transmit and to reflect on. Dreams are one of the ways of reflecting and documenting this experience at the same time. So artists have adopted them as a theme.

[25] Interest in art’s materiality emerged just after the full-scale invasion, when it became clear that the war’s destructive force is being directed first and foremost at culture, which involves the physical destruction of museums, artworks, and artists. Ukrainian artists felt the need to create material artworks. We can also see this in a number of exhibitions that opened in 2022 to 2023, in particular with support from the gallery Asortymentna Kimnata in Ivano-Frankivsk.

[26] During a residency, artist and choreographer Olha Marusyn performed an act: she fell face-down straight into the dirty ground.

[27] See, for example, the photographs of Kostiantyn Polishchuk and Yana Kononova. For more on their work, see: Kateryna Iakovlenko, ‘Image Against Oppression’, e-flux, 133 (February 2023), 3–15

[28] The exhibition ‘Days, Days’ (curated by Stas Turina) was held at the St Sophia of Kyiv Museum (Khlibnia Gallery) in June 2023. This exhibition was ‘an attempt at a total installation through the voices of art’ about the past, present, and future, about those who’ve been forgotten and those whom we remember.

[29] At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, artist and photographer Sasha Kurmaz was documenting the destruction caused by the war: his photos include one of an explosion crater with him standing inside, his arm raised to show its relative height and size.

[30] Daniil Revkovskiy, Andriy Rachinskiy, Sky. Invasion, 2022, two-channel video, 10’.



Kateryna Iakovlenko is a Culture Editor-in-Chief at Ukraine’s public broadcaster, contemporary art researcher, curator, and writer. Her publications include the book Why There Are Great Women Artists in Ukrainian Art (2019) and a special issue of Obieg Magazine on ‘Euphoria and Fatigue: Ukrainian Art and Society after 2014’. She has also published in e-flux and Artforum. The exhibitions she has curated include I dreamed of beasts (Labirynt Gallery, 2022-2023, with Halyna Hleba), Everyone is afraid of the baker, and I thank you (apartment exhibition, Irpin, 2022), and Our Years, Our Words, Our Losses, Our Searches, Our Us (Jam Factory, Lviv, with Natalia Matsenko and Borys Filonenko). She is co-curator of the Secondary Archive project (2022) and Secondary Archive project: Woman Artists at War (2024).


Image: Kateryna Aliinyk, from the specially commissioned Fruits We Did Not Know series, 2024.

Cover Image for Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Issue 2 (2024)

For the eightieth anniversary of the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars, the London Ukrainian Review dedicates its second issue of 2024 to the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula and its Indigenous people’s ongoing fight for justice.

Sasha Dovzhyk
Cover Image for The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

Issue 2 (2024)

The mass deportation of Crimean Tatars in May 1944 is rooted in Russian settler colonialism which Martin-Oleksandr Kisly traces to the subjugation of Crimea by Catherine II. Eighty years after the grievous crime against the Indigenous people of Crimea, Crimean Tatars are under Russia’s occupation and banned from marking this historic date.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly, trans. by Larissa Babij