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By Cameron Saunders

Victory, Eduard Belsky, 90x49 Acrylic on paper, 2022 Artworks about femininity and victory with blood.

From March 10-13, the Affordable Art Fair will be held in Battersea, where it all began in 1999. Since then, the Fair has spread to 10 cities spanning Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. Next week, the London iteration will welcome 117 galleries from across the world. One of these will be the Lysenko Gallery of Kyiv.

The Lysenko Gallery – which has outposts in Dubai and London – is run by Nataliya Sophia Lysenko and her daughter, Agatha Ryabova. At the Fair next week, the gallery will be showing six Ukrainian artists – Serhiv Rezhnichenko, Katharine Rezhnichenko, Tanya Vasilenko, Nata Levitasova, Nino Murashkina and Eduard Belsky – as part of a themed exhibition called Femininity and Spring.

Since the artwork arrived from Kyiv last month, life in Ukraine has been turned upside down. On February 24, Putin’s military launched an unprovoked attack on its smaller, democratic neighbour to the south. While the progress of the Russian war machine has been slower than anticipated, it has been steady, and the map of Ukraine on the frontpage of every newspaper has the red tint of nominal Russian control inching everyday closer to Kyiv. As resistance to the invasion grows fiercer and better armed, so too have the methods of the Russian aggressors grown in brutality. Cities are being shelled indiscriminately and civilians are being targeted. As of this writing, 1.5 million Ukrainians – mostly women, children and the elderly – have become refugees. The situation will most certainly get worse before it gets better.

One reappraises priorities at a time like this.

Sunrise, Tanya Vasilenko, 80x60 Acrylic on canvas 2021

For Nataliya and Agatha, who are both in London at the moment, among the many things they have to worry about are the fates of the artists they plan to exhibit this week: of the six to be shown, three are in Ukraine and have decided not to leave.

Tanya Vasilenko depicts impressionistic scenes of flowers in bloom, the paint layered so as to be three dimensional and add the illusion of movement on the canvas. Before the crisis, her thoughts were on moving abroad and, indeed, coming to London for this week’s show. She received her visa to travel on February 23rd, just as the invasion commenced. Now she has no thoughts of leaving the country and has remained in Kyiv.

Nataliya had talked to her earlier that day: “She’s not going to bomb shelters all the time. She’s sitting on the 17th floor, in the dark, posting on the internet what’s going on.”

There is no time to work now, nor any will for someone with her chosen subject: “Her paintings are beautiful colors – happiness – abstract flowers.”

She has also volunteered to help in the war effort. What does that look like?

“People are looking for special sand to make barricades at traffic lights. This will help stop the Russians. They’re also looking for strangers with strange behavior.” Tanya’s husband runs a small pizzeria in the centre of Kyiv and is keeping it open as long as he can, distributing food to whomever needs it.

Life goes on, Nataliya says. “We are just saying goodnight and good morning. Where are you? Are you at home or the underground basement? Is the pharmacy open? Do you have some bread? Everyone is taking it day by day.”

Dualism, Katherine Reznichenko, 60x60 Oil on canvas, 2021 Young generation femininity

Nata Levitasova, another artist to be shown in London this week, has also joined the resistance. She paints ethereal watercolors of flora on white backgrounds, as befits the spring theme of the show. Currently, Nata is in her Carpathian Mountain home in the west of the country, where the Russians have not come but through which thousands of people pass daily, fleeing the violence in the east. She welcomes refugees in her home, preparing food, procuring medicine, ensuring that babies have nourishment.

Everyone is doing what they can. All the proceeds Lysenko Gallery makes from this week’s show are going to the Ukraine-based artists and will be matched by the gallery owner and donated to the war effort.

From London, Nataliya keeps an eye on the CCTV in her Kyiv gallery. More paintings are there, waiting to be shipped for other Affordable Art Fair exhibitions: New York at the end of March, Stockholm at the end of April, and London again at the end of May. From the camera she can see the street outside, which is emptier than it’s ever been.

What is the role of art at a time like this?

Agatha offers her perspective: “We were just looking at this quote by Churchill recently about how he was criticized for putting so much funding towards the arts. He said, what are we fighting for if we’re not keeping our culture? I see art as a way to show the souls of these Ukrainian people, that they’re there, and that this is how you show who they are, not as refugees or struggling, but as lives and personalities.”

They certainly still want to be seen. When Nataliya asks her artists how she could best help them through this horrible time, one says “show our work in London, in New York, in Dubai.”

And so she will, at Battersea, this week. “We are very proud to present our artists.”

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