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Volunteers from creative industries supporting Ukraine during the war

Ukrainian creative professionals have repurposed their passion, intelligence, and hard work amidst the brutal chaos of Russian aggression. Fashion designers are making bullet proof vests to bring soldiers back alive. 

Tragedy brings us all together and reminds us that no matter our profession, we are united by our humanity: we want a peaceful home, our family to be safe… and never again to see bombs raining on our cities. Creatives that only yesterday were focused on art or fashion now seek to reformat their skills to save their country.

Alina Kocharovska is one shining example — the owner of a beloved brand of womens’ shoes in Ukraine. Her business was among the wave of boutique shops that marked a fashion renaissance in the country. She remained in Kyiv when Russian aggression began and shifted from crafting elegant womens’ shoes to making belts and combat boots to keep Ukrainian troops safe and well-equipped.

The fashion industry turned out to be well-adjusted and motivated to supply the army and refugees.

Ukrainian mens’ clothes designer Serj Smolin joined the volunteer corps of Territorial Defence to make camouflage nets. Using stacks of his own cloth, joined by his sister, mother and kids, they formed a whole team to weave nets for the Ukrainian Army. Andre Tan, one of the most famous fashion designers in Ukraine, repurposed his manufacturing facilities all over the country to produce clothes for refugees and even protective vests for troops. Mariya Starchaka designer from Lviv, relays her story of terror in the first day of the attack, then – of the incredible unity among Ukrainians, their desire to defend the country. She and her team are now sewing warm clothes for free and sending them to the front lines where they are sorely needed.

Beyond fashion, many urbanists and creative activists remained in major cities to help people on the ground. The team of Street Culture (creators of three urban parks in Kharkiv) stayed back to deliver food, water and medicine to the worst hit areas in the city. Kharkiv has been teetering on the verge of humanitarian disaster for days. Constant shelling by Russian jets and artillery have left many districts in rubble. But the folks from Street Culture refuse to leave, knowing how many people are in need of help.

Ukrainian poets and writers, voices of the country’s identity during peace, have been some of the most active people in this time of war. Writer Artem Chekh, winner of BBC’s Book of the Year 2021 award (his novel “Who are you?” detailed his childhood in the post-soviet 90s), joined the army to defend his country.  “Their goal is to destroy as much as possible in our country, to weaken Ukraine. It is just absolute evil. It is obvious that our Ukraine does not exist for the Russians, and they are doing everything to make us disappear,” Artem said, sharing his thoughts with one of the TV channels.

Serhii Zhadan, one of the most prominent poets and writers of modern Ukraine, has remained in war-torn Kharkiv, a city under constant and merciless Russian shelling. Serhii has been delivering supplies, food, equipment and other aid to people in need all around the city. As a creative professional, he’s making sure the world sees the resistance of his city via interviews with volunteers, doctors and artists. He also performed concerts in Kharkiv’s subway to people sheltering from Russian bombs. Zhadan has been recently proposed as the next nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature by the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Ukrainian cultural heritage found its defenders as well. As cruise missiles struck churches and universities, as Russian fire engulfed the museum of legendary artist Mariya Prymachenko, Ukrainians came together to preserve their cultural history. A lone man ran into the burning building to rescue 14 paintings. Cultural manager and Lviv museum director Olha Honchar created the “Emergency Museum Assistance” fund to support small cultural institutions all over the country (the organization receives donation/aid requests at [email protected]).

Prymachenko paintings on display at the Mystetsky Arsenal art gallery in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2016. Credit: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

These are just a tiny fraction of stories in a tapestry of thousands. A handful of examples in a country of 40 million. Graphic designers joining the army to defend their homes. Painters driving refugees to safety for days. Writers spreading the truth and fighting disinformation…

Ivan Shovkoplias, сommunications consultant, Ukrainian media volunteer