VEMU Brought the Ukrainian Frontline Photography Exhibition to Canada

May 10, 2022

On May 6th, a photography exhibit documenting the current war in Ukraine was opened at VEMU (Estonian Museum Canada), where it will be available for viewing until the end of July. The exhibit could also be seen at Toronto’s City Hall from May 7th-13th and from the end of May through June at the Cotton Factory in Hamilton. The exhibit made it to Toronto thanks to the collaborative efforts of curator Kateryna Radchenko in Ukraine and Temur Khvingia from the Okapi Gallery in Tallinn, where it was opened on March 9th. Present at the opening of the exhibit at VEMU and Toronto’s City Hall were several leaders from Canadian Eastern European organizations, politicians, diplomats, and media representatives. The exhibition at City Hall was visited by over 50,000 individuals and people have already expressed interest in it on the west coast of Canada and Alberta.

On the morning of February 24th, Russia began its full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. Though the Russian government has been calling it a “special demilitarization operation”, it is in fact a real war taking place in the middle of Europe, the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. Russian troops launched missile strikes targeting various peaceful Ukrainian cities, as well as the temporarily occupied Donbas and Crimea, and the northeastern region. Military objects are being targeted, as well as peaceful homes, orphanages, and kindergartens. The nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya, the biggest in Europe, was attacked. To date, this war has already lasted over three months. Throughout these months, we have not only experienced and seen the unbelievable bravery and extraordinary defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian people and their soldiers, but we have also seen the Putin regime’s horrific war crimes directed at innocent civilians. Over 5 million people have escaped Ukraine and more than 30,000 of them have made their way to Estonia.

“Ukrainian photographers are bravely doing their job in the Ukrainian cities during the war. Now they are not only professional journalists and photographers — they are citizens who capture their beloved places ruined by Russian troops and bombs as well as people standing fearlessly for their land, homes, and families. What’s more — Ukrainians are fighting now for peace in the whole of Europe,” says Kateryna Radchenko, director and curator of the International Festival of Contemporary Photography Odesa Photo Days, who is actively seeking opportunities to reflect the local situation in the international cultural arena. “Photography is a powerful tool and media, to tell the truth about what is going on in the centre of Europe now,” Radchenko says.

Odesa Photo Days Festival is a Ukrainebased international festival and educational platform. It pushes forward Ukrainian photography and connects artists, curators and researchers from different parts of the world: Western Europe, the USA, Eastern Europe, and Central and Northeast Asia. The eighth edition of the Festival was scheduled to take place in Odesa on 19-22 May 2022. Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February, however, has changed everything. Now Radchenko and the festival team are working to spread the word about the situation in Ukraine and support Ukrainian documentary photographers and photography-based artists affected by war.

The photographs show crushed municipal and civil buildings, vehicles, and bridges; soldiers and ordinary citizens with all kinds of weapons and Molotov cocktails; carrying the deceased and rescuing domestic animals; rolling suitcases on ruined streets, fire, and smoke in snowy trenches. These photographs were taken by known local photographers Yurko Dyanchychyn, Serhiy Hudak, Mikhail Palinchak, Oleg Petrasiuk, Alina Smutko, Yana Sidash, Sergei Ylyashenko, Mstyslav Chernov, Sergey Korovayny, Volodymyr Petrov, Pavel Dorogoy, Viacheslav Ratynski, Oleksandr Ratushniak.

In addition to the Ukrainian photographers, the exhibition also features fresh shots from the front line by their Estonian counterpart Dmitry Kotjuh. Then photographer for the Järva Teataja, Kotjuh’s work was recognized in 2015 as the best Estonian press photo by the Estonian Newspaper Association, and last year he was awarded the 5th Class Order of the White Star – an Estonian State Decoration. At the moment Kotjuh is working in the ranks of the publication of Postimees media.

Estonian Museum Canada/VEMU wishes to thank partners: the Odesa Photo Days Festival in Ukraine, the Okapi Gallery in Tallinn, the Central and Eastern European Council and Cotton Factory in Hamilton. Financial support for the project was provided by VEMU and Cotton Factory.

VEMU created t-shirts in support of Ukraine, the proceeds of which, along with donations from visitors to the exhibit, will go to the Charity Foundation East-SOS, which has been helping war victims since 2014. Now they are working not only with Donetsk and Luhansk regions but with all of Ukraine. They buy and distribute humanitarian aid to those who are affected by the shelling of their settlements.