Artist makes stand for human dignityJeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Washington resident Sofia Shatkivska, a native of Ukraine, sits among some of her artworks inspired by the recent violence in her home country.
Sofia Shatkivska stood atop a snowbank, waving a Ukrainian flag. Doubtless the drivers on Route 110 in Washington wondered what was happening, and Shatkivska had an answer for them.
“War in my country!” she told a driver who had stopped.
Shatkivska, an artist originally from Ukraine now living in Washington, has been garnering a lot of attention recently for her drawings depicting the protests against the government currently taking place in her native country.
Shatkivska said she found out about the protests around the end of January and was horrified at what she saw happening to the protesters.
“I saw it around Jan. 24. The war started, I came from Canada and I turned on my computer and I saw all this fire. It’s all gray, and the sounds were horrible. I say, ‘I can’t believe that’s my country. I cannot believe what’s happening in the capital of my country.’ I was watching all night, and in the morning I started painting. I was (drawing) for eight days, day and night. I didn’t stop.”
The charcoal drawings depict Shatkivska’s interpretations of the violence in Ukraine. There are 23 drawings in her exhibit, which is called “standing for human dignity.” Most show a mass of protesters in a large square calling for change, with some of the drawings also including government and police forces committing violence against the demonstrators.
Shatkivska said she tried to do each piece quickly so as to capture what was happening in Ukraine in any given moment.
“Why charcoal?” she said. “I can’t do this in granite. I need to do something very fast. So I grabbed charcoal, and it was very effective on the paper and didn’t take a lot of time. Because I only had a few minutes. Events are moving so fast.”
After finishing the drawings, Shatkivska said, she called some galleries, which told her to bring the art to them. Most recently, her drawings hung in the Aldrich Public Library in Barre.
“Everything happened very fast, in like half a day, and I hung 10 pieces,” Shatkivska said. “Then all night I was finishing the drawings and the next day I hung the rest. I called everybody from my notebook. I didn’t have time to do any advertising or anything. I just called and said, ‘If my friends want to come, this will be the opening,’ because they need to know what is happening now. This show is not good to do two years from now.”
In addition to her drawings, Shatkivska has been writing poems about the violence. The following is a portion of one, translated from Ukrainian into English, directed at the government of Ukraine.
“It is not clear how much you will pay for each of your victims. Will you pay more for a tall person or a heavy person or for a skinny one? Or will you pay for the amount of wounds instead? Who’s more expensive, Bulatov or a Nehoyan?” (They are two victims of the violence.) “For your cruel actions, you are infamous in the whole world, not only in Ukraine. As Cain was known and his mother remembered, your names will be written in a book of blood, because crime has no nationality.”
The protests, dubbed “Euromaiden,” began Nov. 21 in Ukraine’s capital city. The movement was in response to Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to pull out of negotiations to join the European Union. He instead moved for closer economic relations with Russia, accepting a $15 billion bailout from Moscow. Shatkivska said there is widespread poverty in Ukraine and many people believed uniting with the EU would give Ukrainians a better life.
“Ukraine used to be the breadbasket of Europe,” Shatkivska said. “We fed every country in Europe. So why have we become so poor in three years? So when people get so poor they were expecting when Ukraine moves to the eurozone that we will have different rules and different ways to work.”
The majority of the protesters during the onset of the movement were young people, many of them college-age students. Violence has been widespread as protesters call for Yanukovych’s resignation and for deliverance on the promise of joining the EU.
“The students came on the streets to protest and just to say, ‘It’s wrong,’” Shatkivska said. “That is how it started. And then they started killing them and the church opened their doors and they were bleeding and damaged. And then people came on the street because they said, ‘These are our children, talk to us. You can’t kill our children.’ That’s how it started last year.”
During the interview with her Tuesday, Shatkivska had her computer open to a Ukrainian network broadcasting the protests and the violence that has resulted. As we spoke, the protests took an especially deadly turn with clashes between riot police and demonstrators reaching their apex.
Wednesday morning, MSN news reported that 26 people had died and 241 were injured during clashes the previous day. After the day of violence, a tentative truce was brokered Wednesday, but conflict broke out again early Thursday on the streets of the capital, leaving at least 10 more people dead.
Shatkivska said her artwork is her stand against the Ukrainian government and the violence that has turned the Euromaiden movement bloody.
“You ask me why I do it. I can’t not do it. This is my, not written, but drawn statement. My heart is bleeding, and I’m putting that feeling on the paper. You watch that,” she said, pointing to the computer screen showing the violence in Ukraine, “and make your opinion. Because we peacefully stood for three months for our freedom, for our dignity, for our respect. That government doesn’t respect the people. They have a different level of communication.”
Despite her disdain for the Ukrainian government, Shatkivska said she is not a politician or a diplomat.
“I’m just an artist who sees that it’s wrong. And I have this ability to say, ‘It is wrong.’ And then when I share my sorrow, it will be half the sorrow because somebody else might have an idea what to do.”
Shatkivska said the response to her drawings has been monumental, with large numbers of people showing up to see the pictures wherever they hung. She said people who heard her story and saw the artwork were eager to help the people of Ukraine.
Shatkivska grew up there when the country was part of the Soviet Union. She graduated from university and worked as an artist. Eventually she came to the United States for what she thought would be a short trip for an art show. Along with a friend, she arrived in the U.S. with $35 in her pocket, she said, only to discover that promises of people there to meet them and help them with the transition to the U.S. had been false.
Shatkivska said she and her friend struggled to survive in the U.S. They traveled from state to state doing art shows, barely keeping their heads above water. The last of those shows Shatkivska did was in Montpelier, which is how she came to live in Vermont. She now works as a granite sculptor.
Shatkivska has since been back to Ukraine, as recently as two and a half years ago. She said she often finds it hard to get through the day with the knowledge of people being killed in her native country. She said she has seen people being killed on her computer screen, something she’ll never forget.
“It’s so painful. I don’t have the words to express it. This is my better language,” Shatkivska said, pointing to her drawings. “I draw this because I must. When you have pain in your body, what do you do? You scream.”
Many Western countries have condemned the actions of Ukraine’s government, while expressing support for the protesters, and the U.S. government is considering economic sanctions against the government of Ukraine. Various tourist attractions such as Niagara Falls in New York have been lit in yellow and blue — the colors of the Ukraine flag — in support of the citizens.
“This is why I did it,” Shatkivska said of her drawings. “So maybe someone in my state, my new home, will wake up and say something or do something. You have to have a position. You have to stop being lukewarm.”
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