Memories of Home: Interview with Ukrainian Artist & Photographer, Elza Gubanova.

To continue our series of Ukrainian voices, we opened up our platform to Leipzig-based artist and photographer Elza Gubanova, to express her thoughts and feelings about what’s happening at the moment in her home country. Elza is also the founder of Ostov Collective  a Ukrainian-German art collective based in Leipzig with the goal of promoting cultural exchange and increasing the visibility of Ukrainian art in Germany.

***

Below are some links to ways you can help Ukraine right now.

If you would like to support through donations, you can do so here.

If you would like to host refugees, you can find more information here.

To learn other ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner, please see this website.

And if you know of any stories or individuals who you think should be heard on our platform, please reach out to us.

“I’m still in the process of adjusting to the new "normal". Extreme stress caused by the war dulls any senses. It was difficult for me to read, write or watch movies in the first weeks. I had neither needs nor desires. My routine became a list of tasks to complete. But right now I'm emotionally coping way better. I learned to accept my inner state. If today I’m anxious and scared I hope that tomorrow it might be better. This war is beyond my comprehension. It is senseless, like all other wars. However, it’s happening right now and we need to get through it.”

“I moved to Germany at the age of 18, almost 3 years ago. After completing my studies at school, I entered Odesa State Academy of Architecture to study Fine Arts. Finding the approach too classical, I realized that I didn’t feel like painting still lifes and people’s heads for another 3 years, so I left for Berlin to work as a nanny. At that moment, I wanted to separate from my community, become independent, study at the Art Academy in Europe, and try something new. It seemed to me that I could easily start a new life away from Ukraine, and so it was in the beginning. But then I realized that I was missing something incredibly important, that I was much more attached to my country than I had thought. I started living between Berlin and Odesa, it was a perfect compromise. I didn't want to leave home for good. Now the opportunity to come back any time has been taken away from me. In the early days of the war, I realized that I was forced to live in Germany without the possibility of returning home. Since the beginning of the war, I have been constantly thinking about my childhood. As if the fear of losing my home physically activated my memory, my “mental” home only got stronger and no one can take it away from me.”

“My life for the last six months before the war had been very happy. I settled down and stopped being afraid. My boyfriend and I formed an artist duo, we started making plans and working on different projects together. I was very inspired and full of energy… When the war started, I was in Spain with my family. The last time we had a vacation together was five years ago, so it was a very important trip for all of us. After a week in Spain, we all planned to fly to Ukraine together, although overwhelmed with growing anxiety.”

“On February 23, we went to the Sagrada Família, a basilica built by Gaudí. My dad is not a religious person, but I found him sitting in front of the altar for a very long time, I knew he was praying then. I sat down next to him and put my head on his shoulder. Like this, we sat for about an hour. The next day I woke up completely wet, breathing heavily. I picked up the phone, there were several messages of condolence and support from my German friends. I jumped up and saw my dad sitting and staring at the wall, then heard my Mom crying on the balcony. I will never forget this morning, this day. Again and again, I was repeating the words “we are a family, we are safe” as a mantra and felt guilty for not being in Ukraine at that difficult moment.”

“For the first three weeks, I could not sleep and eat, I was constantly calling my friends, who stayed in Ukraine, to support them, or endlessly following the news. Nothing has changed now, except that I sometimes manage to sleep and eat and learned to sublimate my harmful thoughts into more productive energy. It's unbearable to be in limbo, but I try to keep myself busy and help others.”

“Only the realization that everything is finite gives me hope at the moment. As well as the fantasy of me sitting in a plane, surrounded by the Ukrainians finally heading home, singing our national anthem and drinking champagne. I try not to think about possible scenarios and outcomes, but not because I'm trying to avoid reality. I believe it's not the time for global planning, but rather for acting in the field of your responsibility to contribute to our Victory. It is important to evaluate your capabilities correctly so as not to go crazy.”

“I always wanted to do cultural projects between Ukraine and Germany, but I put this goal off until later. Now, due to the circumstances, I came back to this idea, finding it essential and extremely relevant. I can't work as an artist now, everything that interested me before the war became unimportant. Anyway, in order to make art, you need to be focused mostly on yourself, but now I feel like devoting my time and energy to others. Therefore, my friends and I created the OSTOV art collective. Presently, we are organizing a series of events: we are working on several exhibitions with Ukrainian artists, doing print sales, and a conference at the academy with Ukrainian speakers.”

“We want to promote cultural exchange and, in particular, make Ukrainian art visible here in Germany. In this way, we would like to encourage greater cultural understanding and solidarity. It is important for us to create a platform for Ukrainian artists where their art can find a physical place, even in the current situation. And, of course, to support them financially through the sale of their work. We are also working on a sound installation. We organized an open call for the Ukrainians. Everyone could send us audio recordings of what surrounded them, many people sent us music, conversations, and voice recordings. Even though we, the Ukrainians, are now scattered around the world, we all have the same thoughts, we are getting through the common tragedy. I believe sound, as a medium, will help us to unite again. This audio landscape will portray our nation at a turning point. The Ukrainians must be heard by the world.”

“I think a lot about the implementation of all my plans and how to find time in order to fulfill everything. I also think about my grandmother, who stayed in Ukraine, we promised each other that we must meet and hug when it's all over. My head is full of memories of the past. I'm trying to deal with them.”

“Talk to [Ukrainians], ask them questions, try to understand them, donate to Ukrainian charity organizations, and help the refugees… Ukraine is now defending not only its territories but also the concepts of democracy and freedom. I would really like people to understand this. We have been fighting for 8 years now, and I believe that it's time for the West to finally realize the importance of current events, to get acquainted with the history of Ukraine, at least with the events of the past 30 years. That's the only way to change things. Unfortunately, the West has not been concerned with Eastern Europe for a very long time. Fighting for the future of Ukraine also means fighting for everything that is taken for granted in the West: freedom, democracy, peace.”

Thank you to Elza.

Instagram -- Ostov Collective

Translation by Anastasiya Sopilnik.

Photos courtesy of the artist.

***

Below are some links to ways you can help Ukraine right now.

If you would like to support through donations, you can do so here.

If you would like to host refugees, you can find more information here.

To learn other ways you can help Ukraine as a foreigner, please see this website.

And if you know of any stories or individuals who you think should be heard on our platform, please reach out to us.