‘Fighting evil with art’: Awareness for Ukraine at Easter art exhibit

‘Fighting evil with art’: Awareness for Ukraine at Easter art exhibit

For many Ukrainians, exhibitions like this are a way to bring home to them, said lead artist Daena Diduck.

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A display of Ukrainian artistry at Southcentre Mall aims to reignite support for the country as it continues to battle a Russian invasion that has stretched more than two years.

The Pysanky for Peace installation features more than 50 intricately decorated eggs — ranging from a few inches to five feet tall — featuring designs from more than 20 artists. Throughout March, the eggs will be sold in exchange for donations to WUNDERfund, a non profit that supports victims of the war in Ukraine.

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Daena Diduck, lead artist for the campaign, said for many Ukrainians, such exhibitions are a way to bring home to them.

“Exhibitions like this are in every single town, village, cities, all over Ukraine every single year,” said Diduck.

Pysanky for Peace
Daena Diduck poses next to one of the 50 “eggs” on display at the Pysanky for Peace installation at Southcentre Mall. Brent Calver/Postmedia

The eggs were put on display Monday and will remain through March 31 at the mall, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

WUNDERfund CEO Evelyn Ofsoske said the goal is to split the funds raised equally between people in Ukraine and those who have sought refuge in Canada.

Over the past year, Ofsoske said donations have fallen as the war has been pushed out of the spotlight.

“I’ve even had some people say, ‘Oh, the war is still happening?’, which is heartbreaking because I see so many people suffering,” she said.

Ofsoske fled Ukraine as a child while it was under Soviet rule, and has been living in Canada since the age of 14.

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“I’ve been to Ukraine a few times since the invasion,” she said. Visiting with military personnel and going to hospitals, she’s been within 11 kilometres of the front lines.

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“They’re all regular people . . . mental health is an issue for sure.”

Started in March 2022 as a response to the Russian invasion, WUNDERfund began by helping extract children trapped by the conflict.

It has also provided soldiers on the front lines with items such as shoes, socks and other thermal gear.

Ofsoske said the group has recently evolved to support the local Ukrainian community, including children whose fathers have been killed in the war. It is also working to establish a mental-health program for people in Ukraine.

Pysanky for Peace
Decorated eggs at the Pysanky for Peace installation at Southcentre Mall. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Origins of the pysanky egg

To decorate the pysanky eggs, artists use layers of melted, dyed beeswax to create colourful patterns. Origins of the eggs extend far back in Ukrainian history.

Tanya Sotnikow, one of the pysanky artists, said the pagan tradition was integrated into various Ukrainian-Christian sects. The eggs signify life and beginning.

The various colours all have meanings, said Sotnikow — yellow for hospitality and family, orange for youth and courage, and red for passion and love.

Pysanky (pronounced PIH-sahn-kih) is derived from the plural “pysanka”, the Ukrainian verb meaning to “write” or “inscribe.”

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“You ‘write’ an egg, and then you write a story, and you write intention into your egg,” said Sotnikow.

Depending on the regions of Ukraine, some pysanky are hollowed out after they’re written and decorated, while others are kept intact to preserve the “spirit” of the egg.

“It’s fighting evil with art,” said Sotnikow.

Pysanky for Peace
A view of the Pysanky for Peace installation at Southcentre Mall on Monday. Brent Calver/Postmedia

She described the legend of a monster named Pekun, who wanted to spread evil throughout the world, and would send henchmen to convert people to “the dark side”.

When coming across a young girl writing a pysanky, Pekun was unable to sway her intentions.

“They grabbed her, and tried to take her, the egg dropped and shattered.”

The shattered egg then magically formed chains that keep Pekun in the mountains, where he can no longer spread evil, said Sotnikow.

“Legend is that as long as people are writing pysanka, evil will be kept at bay.”

With files from Postmedia

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