JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A local nonprofit fought to bring works of art from war-torn regions of Ukraine, and now you can own a part of that story while supporting humanitarian efforts.
Restore Ukraine, a nonprofit run by local East Tennessee State University student Yaro Hnatusko, worked for months to complete the journey of several pieces. Atlant, the organization’s private partner and a supplier of construction materials, hosted artist exhibitions for years as part of their outreach program.
“The idea behind the exhibition was actually for all artists to use plaster in all of their paintings,” Hnatusko said. “Since it was very much based on the construction.”
The artists originally intended for their works to be shown in Kharkiv, Ukraine, but Putin’s “special military operation” meant that the peaceful eastern town became a warzone before they could reach their audience.
“During the war, we started reaching out to all the painters that took part,” Hnatusko said. “With an idea of actually them participating in the auction with their paintings in one of the venues in the United States.”
War leaves nothing untouched, however, including the beauty documented by Ukrainian artists.
“Some of the painters who donated paintings to Restore Ukraine that will actually participate in this series of events here in local East Tennessee, two of them are now deceased,” Hnatusko said. “One died from a heart attack as soon as the war broke out because he couldn’t cope with the atrocities that the Russians were causing, and the second person actually died in the front line.
“So, what we’re possessing is actually the very last touch that people could ever experience from those two painters.”
Each artist went through their own journey to find and retrieve the lost works and give them to Restore Ukraine. The shipping process in Ukraine has completely broken down, and there was no guarantee they would reach friendly ports intact. Once they were there, lawyers with Restore Ukraine had to navigate government regulations surrounding art exports.
“Ukrainian law states that all the pieces of art, no matter where they are, cannot carry any historical or cultural value,” Hnatusko said. “That means it is not to depreciate the meaning or value of the paintings, but we had to work with the Ministry of Art to claim that they do not carry any cultural or historical value so that they can actually cross the border and cross customs freely.”
The law was put in place to prevent the heritage of Ukraine from being carted off as the war progresses, and Yaro’s team secured certification for each painting before shipping them to the United States.
“That also took a month of time until we received them here in Johnson City, where several of them were critically damaged,” Hnatusko said. “But with a very talented specialist here from East Tennessee, we were able to bring the life back to them.”
Now, Restore Ukraine is proud to offer Ukrainian works of art to the residents of East Tennessee. Starting at 6 p.m. on March 3, ticket holders can join the first of several silent auctions to benefit the nonprofit and involved artists. Ravenworks Art Gallery on Springbrook Drive will open to those who have paid a $21 entry fee and will contain Ukrainian food as well.
The first auction features Vitalina Mukhina, a previous winner who creates 3-dimensional images with incorporated plaster. 14 of her works will be sold, and a portion of the proceeds will return to her as she continues to live in western Ukraine and raising her newborn child.
“For each part you can actually experience a little part of Vitalina’s life,” Hnatusko said. “Of how she felt when she was making it.”
Tickets to the event can be purchased online.