Nataliya Zozulya

Fears and hopes for Ukraine

Fears and hopes for Ukraine

Kingston-based Ukrainian artist Nataliya Zozulya on watching the horrors of war unfold…

Nataliya Zozulya is a Ukrainian painter who is resident in both Kyiv and Kingston. She trained at the Ukrainian National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture where she was subsequently a Senior Lecturer and is currently Associate Professor in Painting. She tells us about her concern for her friends and family back in Ukraine, how she will help, and her hopes for the future…

I don’t know how to put into words what I feel. I can tell what is happening to me: the body is trembling for the sixth day, I don’t feel like eating, I frantically scroll through the Internet in search of answers and information and I have no time to sleep… I come to my studio to work, I can’t concentrate, instead I leaf through the news again, and my profession as an artist seems meaningless when there is war.

I call my friends and acquaintances to see if they are alive. And I call my 80-year-old parents in Kyiv several times a day. My mum is just recovering from Covid and pneumonia, she just started walking slowly again. A year ago, my dad suffered his third stroke.

This is the sixth day the cities of my independent Ukraine are being bombed. The first days after the attacks of the Russian army on airfields and on military facilities started, it seemed that everything and a little more would make Kyiv fall. Not from my distrust of the Ukrainian army, but from my ignorance of its capabilities and potential. After all, we are used to believing that the Russian army is one of the most powerful armies in the world.

Then there was information about the destruction of a colossal amount of Russian military equipment, as well as the surrender of Russian soldiers, military assistance from the West, speeches by world leaders, negotiations, and regrouping of troops. And now, for several days, there have been photos and videos of dead residents of Ukraine: those who were shot in the streets, those who died from rocket attacks or dropped bombs. Videos and photos of pregnant women and newborns in bomb shelters. And the flow of refugees…

My friend, an eye surgeon, is in their dacha (second home) outside Kyiv with her granddaughter and daughter-in-law, and not even 500 meters away from them is a Russian unit with rockets.

Another of my friends is one of the People’s Artists of Ukraine and is with friends outside Kyiv. Her son went into the territorial defense force.

Another friend is in the country with her daughter and her two-year-old granddaughter, without electricity, almost next to the line of fire. Someone else decided to leave for Western Ukraine, someone else stayed in Kyiv, going down into their basement multiple times a day when the air raid sirens howled. Someone else was able to escape into another country.

A few years ago, I worked on a project to help refugees from Syria. I got into a conversation with a young woman who had a three-year-old son, and she showed me photos of her family: a beautiful apartment, a nice car, happy faces against a backdrop of wonderful architecture. And then she showed me what was left – she was forced to leave two of her sons behind, and her home was in ruin. The same thing is happening in my country… and again with Russian weapons.

Two weeks before the war, I was still in Kyiv: I walked along its beautiful streets, went to museums and theaters, and met with friends for coffee. I even went to my National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture, where I worked as an assistant professor for many years before I moved to London, and saw my colleagues. I wonder, how are they now? Where are the students? I dread to think that they are on a battlefield. “When guns speak, art is silent.”

I am worried for my parents, and I am angered that they cannot spend the last few years of their lives without misery and pain. My father was the vice president of  the metro, under his leadership 36 stations were opened in Kyiv. My mother has a PHD in radiology, she treated irradiated people from Pripyat after the Chernobyl disaster. I remember how scary it was, even more so since I was a pregnant student. 

I also fear for the future. One person dictates to millions how they should live and what they should do.

There is no justification for war. Any war. There is no excuse for someone who thinks that he can control the life of another person. There should not be forgiveness for someone who sends thousands and millions of people to be slaughtered

How, why did humanity allow this war? Why did we allow this dictator to be in power for so long?

Tomorrow is a new day and after another sleepless night monitoring the news, I will try to help my Motherland: take humanitarian aid to collection points, pack boxes, post my artworks on social media to sell them for donations…

And I will continue to live with confidence that we will win!