Victims of the war: Ukrainian artists find friendship and inspiration in Belgium

Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and unnecessary invasion of Ukraine, which began in February of this year, and his deliberate targeting of civilian population centres, has led to a refugee crisis unseen in Europe since the Second World War. Belgium alone has recently doubled its commitments, and is on track to host 83,000 Ukrainians, and incredible effort by such a small nation.

The new arrivals are making an impact, and so Antwerp - the city of artists - has been pleased to welcome two Ukrainian artists, Alexander Kudriavchenko, and wife Irene (who works under the name of Irene Ku).

Their journey was not an easy one. Irene writes: “On February 24, my life was divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Our absolutely peaceful life turned into hell - I had to spend several weeks with my children in the basement of the school.

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This basement accommodated 90 people and was not adapted as a bomb shelter. Around the school there were explosions, shooting, constant news about subversive groups of Russians in the city... In this basement, I painted a portrait of a woman and a child who were hiding. I tried to convey the horror that reigned around…”

After a harrowing seven hour rail journey from Kyiv, in horrendously overcrowded conditions, and under constant threat of rocket attack by Russian forces, the pair along with their three daughters and an elderly relative arrived first in Lviv, and then began the journey to Belgium, where they have family connections.

In no time at all they had established a working studio in Antwerp - little more than a stone’s throw from the home of Peter Paul Reubens himself - quite appropriate as it has been written of Alexander that “creating frescos for numerous orthodox churches all over Ukraine, he might have felt himself an old master of the Renaissance epoch.”

Among his many achievements and accolades, his painting “Stop in the desert” was exhibited in the Louvre at Salon SNBA in Carrousel du Louvre in 2004.

Our imagination is really unlimited. But its boldest bursts has long been embodied in the depths of the Ocean. We are surrounded by many of the worlds. As one of them we are facing each other. Faced with the Universe, like us, and sometimes do not even notice it completely envelops and absorbs us, while not changing the structure of our inner world, but certainly putting him influence, leaving its mark on its internal and external appearance. So I feel a meeting point with each of them - Human, Ocean, Universe, what is for me the essence of the One...

Alexander Kudriavchenko.

Irene asked EU Today to emphasise her family's gratitude to the Belgian people for their kindness, and for their hospitality - sentiments that are being expressed by many members of the Ukraine community in the country.

Once, while drawing flamenco dancers with a simple marker, I realised that there is no more lively and driving matter than a line. You can observe the rock paintings of Altamira, or Rembrandt’s painting, or the canvases of Basquiat or Cy Twombly — everywhere we see that artists resort to the line as the main tool of the image. It creates form, and it also destroys it. So I paint portraits of people, experiment- ing with marker lines, trying to tame the chaos they create.

Irene Ku.

The greatest part of their work remains in Ukraine - they left with only what they could carry - however as Alexander has exhibited in Belgium previously, a significant amount of his work was in storage in the country. He has already auctioned work to raise money for Ukrainian charities.

For one month starting Monday July 18th the couple will be displaying their work in a free exhibition at Maison Sensi, an art house and restaurant in Brussels’ exclusive Sablon district. (Rue de la Régence 13, 1000 Bruxelles).

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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