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February / March

Office Ukraine Wien

toZOMIA – an art project that attempts to alleviate war trauma

This issue of our newsletter is dedicated to projects about Ukrainian families and children. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of women with children have arrived in Austria. One of the biggest problems was getting into school, kindergartens, and continuing their education. And although many Ukrainian schools continued to operate remotely, it was not easy to acquire knowledge, as well as to settle down on the spot. In various Austrian cities, independent projects addressing these problems began to emerge. The toZOMIA art space is one of them.

© toZOMIA

Children and adults from Ukraine gather every Wednesday in the small but cosy toZOMIA art space in Vienna. Parents bring their children to drawing, painting and other workshops. Before the master-classes start, they start moving tables, arranging chairs and armchairs. In a few minutes the place fills with children’s voices.
While the children are chatting, the adults are talking about their own things, someone is pouring tea, someone is sharing contacts of a hairdresser, someone is waiting for their turn to see a psychotherapist. At first glance, everything seems a bit chaotic, but everything has its own internal logic. Anna Snisar works with adults, Diana Podgorna with the youngest children, Olga Zhurakovska with older children, and Marianna Galytska takes a visitor to a therapy session in a separate room upstairs. All of them came to Vienna after 24 February 2022.

How the toZOMIA project started

Katerina Kolesnikova, a mother of three, arrived in Vienna from Cherkassy on the third day of the full-scale invasion. She says she comes to toZOMIA regularly because here she finds an outlet, companionship and creative energy. Her children have already made friends with their peers, and Katerina chats with other mothers about where to find a good doctor, a sale, a salon for a manicure.

The artist Anna Khodorkovskaya, one of the initiators of the project and a member of toZOMIA, spoke about the first days of the initiative. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Anna regularly went to the main station and helped refugees from Ukraine with translation. She discussed the situation with her colleagues from the solidarity matters collective how to improve help in this situation.
“I noticed that a lot of women with children were arriving. At first, we from the collective thought we would just do workshops and I would translate, but then we decided to do a community meeting and ask people what they need in this situation. Over a hundred people with children came for the first meeting. It was total chaos, someone asked to move a mattress, someone needed a kettle and a bed. At that time there were no schools and kindergartens accepting Ukrainian children. And one mother said that it would be great to talk to a psychologist. We decided to combine these two formats: psychotherapy and art classes,” said Anna.

Activities for children and adults

The toZOMIA project has an artistic and a social direction. Its founders and active participants are Irene Lucas, Christoph Euler, Barbara Eichhorn, Antoine Effroy and Anna Khodorkovskaya. Initially everything was run on a volunteer basis, later the project got sponsors from the solidarity matters team. One of the guests of the first meeting recommended the artist Anna Boyko from the city of Bila Tserkva, who used to give courses for children, but later returned back to Ukraine. Marianna Galytska, a psychologist from Odesa, was found in one of the numerous volunteer-telegram groups. She started running groups for adults.
Over time, the project began to grow and attract new art teachers. Some of them were found through the Telegram channel Office Ukraine. All visitors of toZOMIA communicate with each other through a group in Telegram, now there are more than 300 participants.

© toZOMIA

The community of the house Gleis 21, where toZOMIA is located, provides a library for therapeutic sessions, the artist Ulrich Jordis temporarily provides his studio for workshops. There, a newly formed Ukrainian creative group “Der Treffpunkt” from toZOMIA art space together with Anna Khodorkovskaya made mosaic benches, which were later shown in the exhibition “Über das Neue” at Belvedere 21.

To stay or to return?

Marianna Galytska, PhD in Psychology, arrived in Vienna from Odesa together with her son on 7 March 2022. In order not to sit idle, she decided to run therapeutic groups on working with trauma. She led it for over a year and about twenty people came regularly. After the summer break, the group did not meet and Marianna feels that this is an indication of a job well done, also by the participants. Marianna now works individually, seeing two people once a week, but all places are booked up for months in advance.

© toZOMIA

“At the therapy group we did a lot of crying, a lot of retelling stories of who left and how, why and how we got here. Over time this enquiry has gone away, it is now extremely rare for me to meet a client who will retell how they left. The most frequent requests are related to adaptation. The most popular question is “What to do?”, “To stay or to return?”. In general, people can be divided into those who have a life, some connections, some work, and the question arises whether it is necessary to return. The second part of people are people who, in fact, do not have a life, but are just waiting for something. These are people who are not learning German, not looking for a job. Not because they are bad or lazy, the point is that they see themselves only at home in Ukraine.

A lot of questions are related to children. What to do when the family is in Austria, the husband is in Ukraine and for so long the family is separated? Moreover many women are singles, they face the question of organising their personal life here. Whether to look for someone like me or to try to understand another culture is a question of mentality,” Marianna shares.

Working with post-traumatic states

The psychotherapist notes that more than 80 per cent of the country’s population was traumatised in the war situation, a trauma for this generation as well as the next. People had acute stress disorder at the beginning of the invasion, but the trauma didn’t go away, it became chronic, so it’s about working with post-traumatic states. “You can help people with art, but you can’t heal people completely. Psychotherapy can also help some people, but not every one. But I see that those who come here regularly get better,” Marianna comments. She recommends psychotherapy and says that if a person is in any condition for a long time, the longer it is, the harder it is to fix.

“A mom in a difficult emotional state will definitely affect her child. It is also important to find the source of your resource, there comes a point when we start living on wear and tear, we only spend energy but do not get it, you need to find something for yourself where you can draw resources and be energised so that you have the strength to move on,” says the psychotherapist. Creativity and the opportunity to express their emotions non-verbally becomes just such a source for some people.

© toZOMIA

Anna Snisar from Kharkiv says that drawing is always psychotherapy. During the lessons, even adults calm down and change their mood. “Here we paint with watercolours, other materials are expensive. And the purpose of the classes is to keep parents busy while they wait for their children to finish their art class. People who are not indifferent to art come to us. We not only paint, but also talk a lot, help each other with contacts and important information. It’s a corner of the house where you can talk freely about various topics of concern,” she says. Anna came here with her youngest son, while her husband and eldest child stayed in Ukraine. She had never travelled outside Ukraine before. The move was not easy for her, but she is grateful to Austria for the allowance she receives with her son and the accommodation she was given in Diakonie for the first time. In Kharkiv, Anna ran an art studio for adults. She wants to return home as soon as possible, but for now she is living in Vienna. Here, as she says, she feels at home.

A bit of distraction

Diana Podgorna from Kyiv has been designing furniture, interiors and construction all her life. She came to Austria by accident. “My children went on holiday and the war caught them not at home, and my daughter was pregnant. I was not going to come here, but when my daughter called and said that she was put in hospital, I came, there was a difficult labour, and for a month and a half I helped her with the other child. Lying in hospital she saw an invitation on Telegram to toZOMIA,” she says. Then she got a call from Anna Khodorkovskaya, and Diana started teaching children from the age of three. “Creativity distracts from bad thoughts. Here children can express themselves and learn, we do not suppress their desire to show their creativity. At first everyone drew only Ukrainian flags, then the focus changed a bit. They have not forgotten Ukraine, this horror that happened to us, but they got a little distracted. We are doing our best to make them recover,” says Diana.

Olga Zhurakovska is an artist with a long history, her whole life was connected with art, but with the beginning of the invasion she had to move from Kyiv to Vienna. She also, like many toZOMIA’s participants showed her work at Belvedere 21. Olga believes that in Austria there is much more freedom in the field of art, there are a lot of exhibitions that make you think. In Ukraine, in her opinion, there is more skill, but in the modern world only skill is not enough. She would like to participate in exhibitions more often, she is constantly painting. Periodically, other artists come to toZOMIAto giving masterclasses aimed at learning different techniques.

Giving space for activities

“We had a textile collage with Doroteya Petrova, I held a workshop on mosaics, Cristina Fiorenza on ceramics, Dasha Zaichanka made headdresses from cardboard, posters on climate theme, Irene Lucas did a workshop on solar kitchen, Maria Pylypenko on drawing,” says Anna Khodorkovskaya. Dasha Zaichanka, a designer and illustrator, learnt about the project long ago and wanted to give a workshop for children: “I suggested that children make masks, hats and caps out of cardboard and paint them. At the workshop, I brought a few variations of examples of what could be done. About twenty people participated in the workshop. The result exceeded all expectations. There were those who wanted to repeat the example exactly, and there were those who came up with their own, such as a pot hat or a pumpkin or a knight’s mask.” Dasha says that her task is not to show how to do things, but to give space and time for the children to realise their ideas and give them the opportunity to do wild and crooked things, and cardboard is ideal for this.

According to the organisers, the toZOMIA project will evolve depending on the situation. They are ready to adjust to the changing demands of the public. Many people want it to live on. Now every Wednesday more than thirty people come together here, ready to learn and support each other.

 

 

 

Office Ukraine Graz

Ridna Domivka: A place to call home

Nora Reichhalter

Entrance Ridna Domivka. Photo: Thomas Raggam, Schubidu Quartet

Being a stranger in a new country, with no idea of what the future holds. Creating a home in a new environment: For yourself, for your children, for your family. The concept of homeembodies more than just a specific place; it is a complex network of physical, emotional and social dimensions.

The HOME Residency Program*), which was created in cooperation with the art institutions < rotor > Center for Contemporary Art from Graz and 127 garage from Kharkiv, deals with this very topic. The initiative brings together five artists from Ukraine with five Ukrainian artists living in Graz who are supported by Office Ukraine.

The organization Ridna Domivka in Graz provides the program with its premises for workshops. Participants in these programs are displaced children and families from Ukraine. In the workshops, they deal intensively with the topic of HOME, reflect on its meaning and exchange ideas. The Ridna Domivka association has been committed to offering displaced mothers and their children since the outbreak of the full-scale war not only material assistance, but also a form of home – a place of arrival and emotional support.

The association was founded by five committed women in 2020. Galyna Skotnik, the chairwoman of the association, explains: “We were more and more people in the Ukrainian community in Graz, so we decided to establish an association.”

The name of the association, explains Galyna Skotnik, was chosen carefully: “We wanted something special that doesn’t exist in the German language. The attribute ‘Ridna’ roughly means bodily, physical, native. ‘Domivka’ roughly means home. It doesn’t have to be associated with a house, it can simply be a place where you feel safe and comfortable at the moment. And for the Ukrainians who have fled, this is something they naturally miss, as their home has been left behind somewhere thousands of kilometers away. But the association aims to create exactly this feeling.”

Since the outbreak of the full-scale war, the association has grown rapidly. The city of Graz supported Ridna Domivka by providing space for it in the Annenstraße. Galyna Skotnik remembers: “It was immediately clear to us that we had to help displaced people from Ukraine.” In the early months, the association concentrated on the urgently needed donations in goods provided by Austrians. However, Ridna Domivka soon realized that Graz already had many similar offers. The founders looked for a new way to help displaced people from Ukraine. The idea of a painting studio was born, initially intended only for displaced children. Galyna Skotnik explains the background: “I noticed that many, many children, especially children from the city, attended painting schools in Ukraine. And the parents were always asking if there is anything similar in Graz.”

The courses were a great success. The association now offers six courses for children of different ages. “The painting courses are a place for the children to switch off for a while. I’ve often been told by the moms that it’s like therapy for the child. It allows them to briefly forget what they’ve experienced and to relax. A moment of normality. And in my opinion, this is also a kind of protection for the children,” explains the chairwoman. Ridna Domivka now counts over 70 children.

But mothers also receive help from the association. “We noticed very quickly that people need psychological counseling and that they are looking for it. And for a very long time, this was not possible in Graz in Ukrainian language,” explains Galyna Skotnik. In cooperation with the Women’s Service Graz, a psychological service was created together with female psychologists trained in Ukraine. “There was a lot of interest in a very short time. The colleagues work a lot and the service is really needed. This is the protection that we as an association can offer women and mothers,” says the chairwoman.

But sometimes it’s also simply talking to each other, exchanging ideas, which is what mothers often desire. The women can chat over coffee and cake at weekly meetings and discuss problems or concerns with like-minded people. For many women, it is also a great relief to be able to leave the child for just an hour and simply have time for themselves, explains Galyna Skotnik.

Ukrainian women and children at the painting course at Ridna Domivka. Photo: Thomas Raggam, Schubidu Quartet

The activities offered by the association are wide-ranging and include painting classes, film evenings, fitness and dance for children and women. Galyna Skotnik underlines the value of these activities: “It was important for us to offer a kind of arrival. That the people who come to us have a place where they can come and feel at home.”

*) The HOME Residency Program explores the theme of HOME as a complexconcept combining physical, emotional and social dimensions. The project provides a platform for artistic expression, cultural exchange, and community engagement, responding to the consequences of the war. The artistic projects created during the HOME Residency Program are displayed in 20 light boxes in Graz in February 2024.

The HOME Residency Program is supported by:
“Culture Helps” is a project co-funded by the European Union under a dedicated call for proposals to support Ukrainian displaced people and the Ukrainian Cultural and Creative Sectors. The project is a cooperation between Insha Osvita (UA) and zusa (DE).

Office Ukraine Innsbruck

“For the sake of my children, I had to become strong.”

Interview with Oksana Radkevych

Oksana Radkevych, an artist, mother and displaced person, left Ukraine and came to Austria in 2022, shortly after the beginning of the full-scale war. “The beginning of the war took away the basic need of every person and family, the feeling of security.” The strong desire or, as Oksana puts it, the instinct to protect her children led her to leave her familiar surroundings. “At the time, it seemed safer to go to a country you didn’t know at all than to stay in Ukraine,” she recalls.

Initially, the focus was on acting quickly as there was neither space nor time for analysis and reflection. “It seems to me that the instinct to ‘save the children’ was so strong that I did not think twice, I just moved further away from the danger. I was in an emotional state that did not allow me to think about myself. I did not feel tired, I did not feel sadness and longing for my family, I can say that I did not feel anything at that time.”
However, after overcoming the first challenges following their arrival in Austria, the situation changed. “After a few months, the stress began to subside, and only then did the realization that I had lost my home and my previous way of life bring me to a state of frustration. For the sake of my children, I had to become strong.”

Fortunately, in that difficult moment, she met people who helped her start a new life in Innsbruck. Oksana has fond memories of Marina Biewald and the team at Office Ukraine Innsbruck. Her two children quickly felt at home in their new surroundings thanks to their new friends. “For my children, Austria will always be the country of their friends. As soon as we arrived, my son immediately went to school. He was offered additional German lessons, which helped him to adapt more quickly. He was greeted there with more than friendliness, he never felt out of place or depressed, but on the contrary, he made many new friends with whom he is still in touch.” Her daughter started kindergarten a few months later. “She had a harder time adjusting to the new language, but later everything got better and she also made a friend.”

Some encounters have turned into friendships, Oksana recalls: “Since my children are very active, we got to know many neighbors in our neighborhood and spent almost all of our holidays together. The neighbors created a unique sense of security and home by including us in their traditions and hobbies.”

© Oksana Radkevych

Was it still possible to think about artistic work in this situation? “At the beginning of my life in Austria, there was no artistic practice at all,” Oksana explains. “The loneliness manifested itself in the feeling that the world was empty and there was no need to live in it anymore. The only thing resounding in my head was the Book of Psalms. When Office Ukraine Innsbruck introduced me to the artist Nora Schöpfer, who helped me with art materials, I felt the need to fill the emptiness with Psalms. Inside, I knew that as a mother I had to create a meaningful space here in Austria, because I had no idea how long we would be here and what the future would bring. That’s how the Psalms project was born.” The works from this series were presented at Galerie am Claudiaplatz in August 2022.

In order to be able to devote herself to art, the mother of two first had to solve financial problems: renting a new apartment, paying for her older son’s dance lessons, and dealing with insufficient financial support for displaced people from the government. “All this took away my peace of mind, because for a few months, I actually lived on donations from caring people, for whose support I am very grateful.” Applying for a grant for Ukrainian artists from the Austrian Ministry of Culture was a long wait, but the result was positive. With the grant and family allowance from the Austrian government, Oksana was able to focus on her creativity, and it was during this time that the second part of the Psalms project – Blooming – was born.