Women Using Art and Culture to Build Peace in Ukraine

Women play a crucial role in peacebuilding as they focus on reconciliation, economic development, education, and transitional justice, according to the United States Institute of Peace. Studies have even found that when women are involved in peace agreements, peace is 35% more likely to last a minimum of 15 years.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, women have been fighting for peace in Europe’s second-largest country. One key way they’ve been doing so is through art and culture.

The power of the sunflower

Sunflowers are Ukraine’s national flower representing peace and resilience. They have a long history of promoting peace and were used in 1996 when Ukraine rid itself of nuclear weapons. When Russia took over Ukraine last year, painted sunflowers started appearing all over the country, including on burned out cars. Female Ukrainian artist Olena Yanko, who was involved in the painting of the sunflowers, told Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, “We want to show that…life will go on. We will win [the war] and we can beat the enemy, whether it’s with a paintbrush or with weapons.”

Dr. Jill Biden

The US President’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, also became involved in encouraging peace through sunflowers. In March 2022, the First Lady wore a blue satin dress with delicate yellow sunflowers embroidered onto the sleeves. Just a few days earlier, she was also spotted wearing a face mask with a sunflower on it. As the First Lady, Dr. Biden has power and influence to promote peace, and these acts showed that she hoped for peace in Ukraine. 

Showing support

Women across the world have been using art and culture in an attempt to bring peace to Ukraine. Author and illustrator Janis Cox sold her artwork at auction to help Ukrainian women heading to Canada, while a Kansas woman held a ‘Sunflowers for Ukraine’ art exhibition last year. Yet another female artists, Carolyn Avalos, has sold her artwork to make money to help Ukranians most in need. After learning how art has played a big role in helping Ukranians get through these difficult times, you may also be wondering how you can show your support. If you want to hone your artistic skills, an eLearning course can help you. On the flip side, if you’re a strong advocate of using art to promote peace and want more people to get involved in the Ukranian efforts, you could create an online course to teach people how they can use art to help. You’ll need a laptop, domain, website hosting, video recording software, LMS software, video hosting, and hardware to get started. But once you’ve got it all in place, you can create and build as many courses as you like.

Women at War exhibition

It’s not just individual women who have been trying to create peace through the art. Large groups have become involved as well. Between January 2023 and March 2023, the Art Gallery at Stanford in Washington was home to the Women at War exhibition. The exhibition showcased the work of 12 Ukrainian women artists who detail conflict and war in their artwork. Some of the pieces were created after the invasion in 2022, while others were designed following the Crimea invasion in 2014. The artists featured in the exhibition included Yevgenia Belorusets, Oksana Chepelyk, Olia Fedorova, Alena Grom, Zhanna Kadyrova, Alevtina Kakhidze, Dana Kavelina, Lesia Khomenko, Vlada Ralko, Anna Scherbyna, Kateryna Yermolaeva, and Alla Horska. There were many different designs shown, including sketches, photography, oil paintings, videos, and sculptures. Each piece was designed to demonstrate how war impacts women, how each woman has her own unique story to tell, and the violent results of war.

Making peace

Over the past year, Ukrainian women have lost a lot, including their homes, jobs, and freedom. And since they’ve had very little say in any of this, art and culture have allowed these women to express themselves and their emotions freely. When women come together and create art together for a cause, as they did with the Women at War exhibition, they show they’re strong, united, and powerful. Yet art isn’t just used to promote peace in the here and now. It’s also an effective way for Ukrainian women to envisage what life will look like post-war, which provides an important way for women to connect with others while envisioning light at the end of the tunnel. Art like this has been effective at maintaining peace in other countries, including India. The Seagull Foundation for the Arts project in India has successfully reduced prejudice among Pakistani and Indian youths with the help of artistic storytelling.

Commending female Ukrainian artists

In March, the UN Women and the Ukrainian Institute hosted the Women in Arts, an event that commends Ukrainian women working in the arts and in culture. Sabine Freizer, Representative of UN Women Ukraine, stated that the awards are about more than celebrating great talent. “This year’s Award is even more special to us. It honors two years of cultural achievements and celebrates Ukrainian women’s contributions to resistance and recovery. It’s our way to celebrate Ukrainian women’s exceptional dignity, courage, resilience, and talent.” A total of eight awards were provided, demonstrating that Ukranian women still possess strength, and that they play a big role in building peace in Ukraine and ensuring that the country will thrive post-war.

Ukrainian women have continually demonstrated their resilience in promoting peace since their home country was invaded in 2022, and they’ve done so without triggering further conflict. It is our hope that female artists will continue to utilize art to ultimately receive the peace they want and deserve.

About the author: Nina Grant is a freelance writer.

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