In the first eight months after Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, 2.4 million Ukrainians lost their jobs. 33% unemployment is a problem for 2.4 million families. How dire of a problem is it, exactly? We once evacuated a Bakhmut family–everyone but the father. As artillery shells hit a nearby neighborhood, I asked him why he wasn’t coming, too. His answer: “I have a job here.” Helping those 2.4 million workers helps the individuals, it helps their families, and it helps Ukraine.
One way to help: support Ukrainian artists. This is a good way to contribute because the money goes to individuals, and because it spreads that money out across a lot of families. Most importantly: it is not charity. You are not donating money–you are giving an artist the chance to exercise their profession, and receiving something in return. Buying Ukrainian art lets the individual artist earn a living, versus accepting something for free.
There is a wide variety of kinds of art available for purchase. At one end of the spectrum, you will find a number of volunteer organizations that raise money by selling drawings done by children. At the other end of the spectrum, you will find galleries selling fine art. In between are many degrees of professionalism, and many kinds of media. Small “ACEO” paintings at $10 each, stunning old portraits from the Soviet period at $900 dollars each. Paintings that express hope and pride; paintings that show the sadness of being a refugee; humorous paintings of Russian tanks being towed by a Ukrainian tractor (this has actually happened), or of a lone Ukrainian soldier flipping off a Russian warship. Some themes are more common than others: paintings of young maidens in traditional clothing; paintings of yellow fields of grain or sunflowers with the blue sky above; paintings of Cossacks playing the bandura; paintings of Patron (“Bullet”), the bomb-sniffing dog.
There’s something for everyone here. How do you find art to buy? I suggest eBay. Paintings by Ukrainian artists can usually be identified by where they come from. Ukraine, of course; often also Poland, Canada, or other countries where large numbers of refugee women and children now find themselves. Start with search terms like “Ukrainian painting” or “painting Ukraine” and you will find plenty. And having purchased several pieces of Ukrainian art this way, I can assure you that all of them have arrived in the US in excellent shape. Війна війною, “war or no war,” Ukrainian artists respect their work and their customers.
There is a story to be told some day about the role of art in this war, and about the influence of this war on Ukrainian art. As the graphic artist Svitlana Yurchenko, our coordinator of evacuation requests, told me: “Over the past year, essentially all of my paintings have been about the war. I would love to get inspiration elsewhere, but alas, right now, this is our reality.”
You can be a part of that story, and help individual Ukrainians while you’re at it. As we say here: все буде добре, everything will be fine!