With war raging in Ukraine following Russia’s military offensive there, millions of Ukrainians have been turned into refugees who are either internally displaced within their own country or forced to flee abroad and seek refuge in neighbouring countries like Poland or even further westward in other parts of the EU.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian homes and buildings have been destroyed by bombardment that has also taken tens of thousands of civilian lives at the same time and parts of the country are facing shortages of basic necessities like food and medicines.
Responding to the humanitarian crisis there, artists from the Kingdom and from all over the world who are living and working in Cambodia – including some Ukrainians – are organising a charity art exhibition and sale with the proceeds going towards organisations that are actively providing vital supplies and services to the war-torn country and its massive refugee population.
The two-week exhibition will begin on June 5, 2022 and is being hosted by AiR gallery at The Factory Phnom Penh.
The exhibition – called Life Will Win – is hosted by FT gallery and supported by the HBS Foundation. It will include a fashion show by Armada by Abello and all proceeds from the exhibition, fashion show and other fundraising events will go towards supporting the humanitarian relief efforts which are vitally necessary to preventing even greater losses of lives throughout Ukraine.
The idea for the title of the exhibition came from a line in a speech given by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to the European Parliament on March 1 in the early days of the war when most international observers and experts still believed that Ukraine would quickly be defeated by the much larger and better equipped Russian military.
“Life will win over death, and light will win over darkness,” Zelensky said towards the end of a speech that was so inspiring and moving that the translator looked like he was holding back tears as he relayed the president’s words.
“It encapsulates the idea of hope within such a terrible context that our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are currently enduring with the war by saying that in the end, though it may come at great cost, life always wins,” says Miguel Jeronimo, one of the exhibition’s co-organisers.
Zelensky’s words that day carried far and wide, reaching a global audience and helping to rally Europe, the US and dozens of other countries around the world to come to Ukraine’s aid in whatever capacity they could, while drawing favourable comparisons to historic speeches like Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” address in the early days of World War II.
“Zelensky said that the will to survive and thrive always wins out over any acts of oppression or aggression and I felt I had to do something to help, however small,” said Jeronimo, who is a Phnom Penh-based photographer and artist originally hailing from Portugal.
The exhibition was put together in collaboration with Lyudmila Grebenyuk – a Ukrainian educator living in Cambodia – and a group of other volunteers from the capital’s arts community.
They tried to select art that would shed some light on the current situation but also carry forth a message of peace rather than demonising the Russian people – many of whom are against the war, especially those living abroad.
Many of the artworks in the exhibition are actually by Ukrainian artists living in various places around the world in order to show the beauty, talent and culture of their country and give people something to remember Ukraine by aside from the dark imagery and headlines from the war.
According to Jeronimo, there are over 100 different artworks from 40 artists in the exhibition and available for purchase to raise money to help Ukraine in its time of desperate need. The artwork ranges from paintings to photographs to prints of illustrations and other formats, according to Jeronimo.
“It’s a very diverse range of talents and mediums, and we are very grateful that, for instance, many young Cambodian artists heard the call and were willing to donate their art to help with the humanitarian effort,” Jeronimo tells The Post.
Some of the Ukrainian artists who contributed works to the exhibition are still living in their home country but have fled to the western regions such as the city of Lviv.
Grebenyuk, the Ukrainian artist who helped curate the exhibition, has understandably been deeply shaken by the events of the past few months even as she watched them from afar.
“On February 24, when the full-scale Russian invasion started, all of us Ukrainians back home and around the world had the same feelings: Terror, anxiety, shock and despair,” said Grebenyuk.
She says the horrific events like the intentional shelling of dozens of hospitals, schools and other civilian structures, the numerous rapes of women by Russian soldiers, the forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia to live in prison camps and the torture and execution of young Ukrainian men who are soldiers or even just suspected of being enemy combatants are all still happening in her country, though the fighting is now mostly in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine following Russia’s botched attempt to take the capital city of Kyiv in a lightning raid early in the war that ended in humiliation for their military, which was forced to pull back and retreat due to heavy casualties and a lack of ability to resupply their troops there.
“As we all have our families and loved ones in Ukraine, it hurts to see them suffering,” she tells The Post.“Anyone out there who is willing to help my people should attend this event because we’re organising this fundraising exhibition at AiR gallery in Factory Phnom Penh with all the donations and sales to be sent to charities working in Ukraine.”
Grebenyuk is the person who was able to contact many of the Ukrainian artists whose work is in the exhibition and she has been arranging to send shipments of things like medicine to her contacts there.
Many of her friends are artists and aren’t the sort of people best-suited for combat roles, but they are still risking their lives by volunteering in the field and helping refugees and other people affected by the war by providing things like food and medical supplies.
The artwork available for purchase at the June 5 show comes in many different mediums and styles and includes both unique items and prints in partnership with LPC printhouse, according to Jeronimo.
“All of the funds generated by the sales will go towards supporting five organisations and volunteer groups currently helping out in Ukraine,” he says.
The five organisations will also benefit from a Charity Bazaar being held on Saturday June 4 at Coconut Park.
One group with a very fitting background story that the donations will go towards supporting is the Kyiv Angels. They are a volunteer group of 50 young creative professionals and artists who are providing food and medicines in the Kyiv area.
Another of the beneficiaries will be a fundraising campaign set up by Phnom Penh’s own Yulia Khouri, a long-time expat in the Kingdom known for her charity work and philanthropy.
Khouri is currently in Ukraine working with the NGO Between Us in Lviv by helping them raise money to buy food and also baby items like diapers or formula to assist the massive and ongoing outflow of refugees fleeing from the war zone in the eastern regions bordering Russia.
“You can help to save the lives of many refugees and people affected by the war by ensuring that they have the food and medical supplies they need to survive,” says Jeronimo.
“Come to show your support for the refugees and witness the diversity of Ukraine’s talented and vibrant culture that existed before the invasion,” Grebenyuk says.
From 4pm onwards on June 5 at The Factory there will be music and a fashion show organised in collaboration with ARMADA by ABELLO using volunteer models.
“We will have music with DJ’s Bilel, Aaron and Ali, besides the fashion show by Reynier Abello from the brand Armada,” says Jeronimo.
Another event organised by Ukrainians living here in Phnom Penh to help their country and its people will be the Charity Bazaar filled with vendors and performers in Coconut Park held the same weekend on Saturday June 4 from 4pm to 8pm.
“All sales and donations from the Charity Bazaar will go towards the Future of Ukraine charity, helping the most vulnerable children in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees displaced by the invasion,” Jeronimo says.
For more details about the exhibition on Facebook check out: @FTGalleryPhnomPenh
For more info about the Charity Bazaar: fb.me/e/4tYZaXBeY