The land of sunflowers 🇺🇦🌻🕊
The food, art and design of Ukraine.
Today’s edition celebrates the vibrant culture of Ukraine, from folk art to food. Like everyone else, we’re watching the war unfold in horror. We stand in support of Ukrainians, and all those around the world who are affected by conflict.
Colour, curses and corncob horses
“I bow down before the artistic miracle of this brilliant Ukrainian,” said Pablo Picasso after seeing Maria Prymachenko’s work at an exhibition in Paris. He was enthralled by her colourful paintings, and so are we. Maria is one of Ukraine’s most beloved folk artists, whose imagination was full to the brim with fantastical and fabulous ideas that poured out to create a vivid portrait of her country’s tales and traditions – favourites include Corncob Horse in Outer Space, Lovely Spring, What Did You Bring?, and Lion Has Broken An Oak. Having lived through so much war herself, the titles of many of her paintings sadly still hit hard today, such as May That Nuclear War Be Cursed!, Our Army, Our Protectors, and A Dove Has Spread Her Wings and Asks For Peace.
Russian troops burned down a museum in Ivankiv last week, and many of Maria’s works are thought to have been destroyed, though there are reports of locals running into the flames to save what they could. Damage to her paintings will never erase her incredible artistic legacy, however, and the lasting impact of her brilliant talent on her fellow Ukrainians – and the world.
Chef and writer Olia Hercules was born in Ukraine, where her family still lives. Her brother has volunteered to fight on the frontline in Kyiv; her parents are at her childhood home in Kakhovka. She is beside herself with worry and dread, and is doing what she can to help from London, including raising money to send flak jackets and helmets to civilian soldiers, sharing vital updates on Instagram, and posting links to charities that are helping those fleeing and fighting.
But she also knows the power of telling stories: of people and places; of everyday life, before life changed forever; of feasts and families. Olia is ensuring that we don’t lose sight of the human beings caught up in this war. And so, she’s turned to what she knows best to help her cause: food.
She’s called upon her food writer friends Alissa Timoshkina and Zuza Zak, and alongside the team that started the amazing #CookForSyria fundraising initiative, they’ve come up with #CookForUkraine. The idea is simple: host a supper club or bake sale for your friends or colleagues, and their donations (via JustGiving) will go to UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal. Olia’s three beautiful books – Mamushka, Kaukasis and Summer Kitchens – will give you plenty of delicious inspiration.
You would be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a photograph of a real flower arrangement here. But those gorgeous petals aren’t real, they’re made of clay. Ukrainian artist Olesya Galushchenko creates every single piece of her arrangements by hand, using a combination of cold porcelain and polymer. Previously a hydraulics engineer, Olesya felt she needed a project during maternity leave and taught herself the art of ceramic model making. Keen to make her pieces different from the decorative styles she had seen, she learned through studying nature – taking flowers apart to better understand their structure, and unfurling the petals to learn about their movements. The striking bouquets can take hours to create and then another day to dry. Every flower Olesya creates is one of a kind and they have an aged beauty to them – you can see their ends almost wilting. Her skills and quest for natural realism over perfection creates something wholly unique.
Seeds of hope
The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine, and has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity since this video of a brave, seed-brandishing woman confronting Russian soldiers emerged last week. If you’d like to plant some in your garden, Higgledy Garden is donating proceeds from sales of their seeds this month to UNICEF’s Ukraine Appeal – their Vanilla Ice sunflower is particularly lovely – and profits from Lazy Flora’s sunflower seeds are going to the same charity.
Other indie businesses and makers in the UK are also raising money for Ukraine. Gabi Reith at Small Stories is selling a limited run of her Peace Please pins, featuring the national animals and flowers of Ukraine and Russia, with £2 from every sale going to UNICEF to support children whose lives have been torn apart by war. Buying one of Hannah Nunn’s laser-cut sunflowers will help Choose Love, who will also benefit from sales of Cressida Jamieson’s specially created embroidered tees, and get the cash raised at vintage homeware emporium By Alice’s online auction this weekend. If you’d prefer to donate directly to charity, we’ve linked to some below.
The art of vyshyvanka embroidery
Although many countries wear their traditional dress on national holidays, the Ukrainian vyshyvanka – an embroidered shirt – is so popular that it has become a part of everyday clothing in Ukraine and they’re worn all over the world.
The embroidery is layered with symbolism and stories that have a significance and meaning that resonates with the wearer and the embroiderer – sometimes a shirt would take months to make by hand. To many Ukrainians, the embroidered shirts are considered a talisman, offering a feeling of protection and comfort.
Every stitch goes deeper than the pattern. A diamond shape is a sign of fertility, a square the sign of peace and well-being. Natural elements feature heavily, with grapes being the emblem for joy, while flowers are symbols of prosperity and purity. The colours and designs vary throughout Ukraine, too. The colours change, some regions favour geometric designs, others more floral. There is history running through each thread.
In her Second Hand series, Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova explores the movement and rhythm of history, creating new works from old. The ceramic tiles that she uses are often repurposed from defunct Soviet-era buildings, and over the years her sculptures have been created from an abandoned silk factory (above), an old film factory in Kyiv and a bus stop in Chernobyl.
Ukraine has a long history of ceramic tile production and Zhanna’s garments explore the juxtaposition between the stark greys of Soviet structures, with the pattern and colours of the ceramics. The Second Hand project began in 2014, not long before the beginning of Ukraine’s official decommunisation. Rather than erase the building's history entirely, Zhanna’s works act as a fresh new layer, giving a purpose and new identity to what stood before.