Ukrainian artists reflect on war from the safety of LA


Ukrainian artists Roman Khimei (left) and Yarema Malashchuck are in Los Angeles, working on their newest project thanks to a unique international exchange. Photo courtesy of Asha Bukojemsky.

For years, Asha Bukojemsky wanted to present cinema art from Ukraine in Southern California. The local independent curator has family roots there. From a distance, she watched Ukrainian filmmakers win European awards and developed plans for making their work better known in the United States. After Russia’s invasion, Bukojemsky’s ideas gained traction and she was able to put together funds to create a residency.

The program is called Kyiv-to-LA. Over a period of six months, filmmakers and an art historian are traveling from Ukraine to Los Angeles, where they have living and work spaces, as well as opportunities to show their creations and connect with LA artists. “For some, it is simply to rest and research,” Bukojemsky says. “For others, it's to do editing that they haven't been able to do because of the environment of war.”

At the recent kick-off at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, more than 180 people showed up for a potluck and a table next to exhibition catalogues and postcards bent under Ukrainian and Californian specialties: pirogi and borscht next to vegan cookies and avocado toast. 

Guests gather around a potluck table with specialties from Ukraine and California at the screening of Ukrainian films at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Nick Agro. 

The screening showed three short films by Yarema Malashchuck and Roman Khimei, two artists from Kyiv. After the screening, Malashchuck patiently answered every question. “This is now my duty as Ukrainian culture worker,” he says. “It's so far away from Kyiv, which means that people don't really understand. This is a good chance to spread the word and spread some Ukrainian art.”

After Khimei arrived in Los Angeles at the end of January, he and Yarema got to editing their newest project about the Museum of Local Lore in Kherson, a city at the Ukrainian-Russian border. The film shows nothing but museum walls — all empty except for nails, hooks, and pedestals, while a soundtrack of explosions rolls underneath. Russian soldiers looted the museum during their occupation from May until November, the artists explain. “We were actually at the crime scene. We were not allowed to touch certain things, because they still needed to go through the whole list of looted objects,” says Yarema.

Zhanna Ozirna is another filmmaker who will come to Los Angeles with the program. She had to postpone the filming of her latest project because the locations, a mine and a region close to the Belarussian border, are now under continuous attacks by Russian artillery. Ozirna is still waiting in Kyiv for her papers. She is coming to Los Angeles to get a new perspective on her projects and looks forward to making new connections. “Because being in Ukraine, you always see more or less the same visual language. For my project, it will be super cool if I can collaborate and be inspired by different visuals,” she said in a Zoom interview from Kyiv.

Those Ukrainians who have already been working in LA expressed both excitement to be here and a sense that they are too far away from what is happening at home. This is the most important time in their lives for their country, the artists say. They look forward to practicing their art in Ukraine again after their residency — whether it is safe or not.