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A new exhibit in Chicago features artwork by children in Ukraine


Children take in everything. For children in Ukraine this past year, that includes the sights and the sounds of war. Shortly after Russia launched its invasion nearly a year ago, a college student named Yustyna Pavliuk and her mother founded an art therapy program for children in Ukraine. The art produced by many youngsters who are living through loss and fear, bombs, cold and darkness is now on display in an exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago. Yustyna Pavliuk joins us now, along with the exhibit's curator, Adrienne Kochman.

Welcome to you both. Thanks very much.



SIMON: What do we see in many of these works of art?

PAVLIUK: So we can see the story of every kid, what they see, what they feel, how they feel and their happy moments or their horror moments. So we see real life of every Ukrainians right now.

KOCHMAN: I see a lot of images of kind of bombed-out sites, and then nature has overtaken the emptiness and the pits of Earth. A number of the students are looking to a future where nature is bright and hopeful and happy, and there's no real evidence of the kind of brutality and violence that we are witnessing today.

SIMON: Yustenya Pavliuk, tell us how you began to start this program, which I understand was almost immediately when the invasion began.

PAVLIUK: Yes. So from the third day of becoming - of a big war in Ukraine, we understand that we needs to do something - me and my mom, Nataliia Pavliuk. She is an artist, and also she is an lecturer in the university of painting. She have her own art studio. So we know both how to work with kids, and we start to calling to all orphanages or hospitals. In the next day, we come there and start working with those kids.

SIMON: Adrienne Kochman, how did you hear about their work, and what made you think, I've got to bring this for people to see?

KOCHMAN: We learned about it directly through a board member who has family in Lviv. We were able to see the work that the children were producing because Yustyna and Nataliia have been posting periodically on Facebook and other social media channels. So we thought it would be a very poignant and strong exhibit. It needed to be shown because the situation and the voices of children are not getting the attention that they need to be getting.

SIMON: Are there pictures that particularly stay with you?

KOCHMAN: Yes. Some of them drive me to tears, and I need to walk out of the gallery. There's one of a child that drew her father, who's fighting. He's in soldier's uniform. His whole figure is - has a white haze to it. He's looking out into a field. And Yustyna mentioned that. Like, why is his figure kind of whitish? And he said, well, he's not with us anymore. It's his spirit that is guarding Ukraine and is still fighting and helping us.

SIMON: Yeah.

KOCHMAN: So they're images like that, and then the contrast is an image, let's say, of the - this little boy, Sava, who drew a Russian sniper who has been held out for so long looking for someone to shoot that a bird has started nesting on his helmet. The sky looks like, actually, van Gogh's "Starry Night." It's this beautiful, radiant blue with these golden-yellow stars there. And the sniper is just sitting there. There's, like, nothing for him to do. He's become obsolete. And so we - I walk through the gallery, and I look at an image like that, and it brings a smile to my face and a sense of hope. But then I also think of the child that lost her father.

SIMON: Yusteyna, you must sometimes look at these paintings and wonder what's happened to the artist.

PAVLIUK: Sometimes we start crying, but we need to be strong and continue working. It's so helpful for us because we see the bright in their eyes. We see that those kids continue living no matter what's wrong. Those kid find something good, using bright colors and move on.

SIMON: And, Adrienne Kochman, what do you hope people who walk through your exhibit take out onto the street and into their own lives with them?

KOCHMAN: That we can't take what we have for granted, that we're so lucky not to be in this situation, but also to remember the fighting and the spirit of these children. Our awareness brings them hope as well. They know that we are seeing their work, actually.

PAVLIUK: All of the kids say that - after our master classes - says that this is the best day of their life.

SIMON: Adrienne Kochman is curator at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago. And Yusteyna Pavliuk has as an exhibit there. It's called "Children Of War." Thank you both very much.

KOCHMAN: Thank you.

PAVLIUK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURA VEIRS' "CAROL KAYE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.