By Michael Ellis ’24
Artist: Dariia Kuzmych
Placement: Social media
How can you explain what it is like to live through a war? The headline stories and pictures of rubble can not possibly convey the crushing weight of the tragedy. While the world celebrated New Year’s Eve and the start of 2023, bombs continued to fall on Ukraine. For many, it was an all too familiar feeling of being under attack in their own country. By targeting the electrical grid, the invading Russian forces think that they can end the current resistance by plunging everything into frigid darkness. They are wrong.
In what she tagged “The most precious moment of this year,” artist Dariia Kuzmych was able to capture the reason why the Ukrainian resistance remains so strong. For the first time, in nearly 10 months, her family was able to reunite in her home city of Kyiv and share a meal together. The photograph captures the family sitting in a small circle, raising a toast. It is rendered blurry due to the limited light available. But this only serves to elevate the work by allowing the colors to fade and mix creating a sort of impressionist moment in time. The viewer is present, moving in slow motion, as if trapped in a dream, we see these ephemeral figures raising their glasses to toast.
In a recent phone call with the author, Kuzmych explained how important it was for her to return to Kyiv. She had been living abroad when the invasion began in February 2022, but several months later, she felt compelled to return home even as the war raged on. She spoke of how she felt better once she moved back to Kyiv because tracking the war through foreign news was in many ways caused more anxiety than actually being there. “ She found that experiencing the war first hand, surrounded by her family and friends made the fear and destruction more bearable.”
In a way, the experience of the war and the resilience it has required has become intertwined with what it means to be Ukrainian. Kuzmych is one of many Ukrainians who lived or fled abroad at the time of the invasion in February 2022 but have returned home to a country that still lives under regular air raid sirens, and missile strikes. She explained how she felt lucky because her studio still had access to power while so many did not. She expressed the difficult emotions she experienced because people she loved are being put into harm’s way. With this context in mind, it is clear why Kuzmych’s photographs of a united family are so full of meaning and emotion.
Their expressions are all too aware that this reunion is temporary, for just outside this room is complete and utter darkness and the chaos the conflict has brought home. But, in this little room, with this little light, they are together and there is hope.
The singular light in the family photo illuminates the gathering but does not banish the shadows from view. Whether viewing the family’s faces or just behind them, it is impossible to ignore how close the darkness is to engulfing this happy occasion. The faces, half hidden in shadow, are a mixture of emotions. Some happier, some more serious, but all seemingly reserved. Their expressions are all too aware that this reunion is temporary, for just outside this room is complete and utter darkness and the chaos the conflict has brought home. But, in this little room, with this little light, they are together and there is hope. The lights keep the shadows at bay, and the love for one another is warmth enough through the cold winter months. Dariia’s photographs, and ongoing works explore what it is like to live through an invasion.
Resistance in wartime cannot be completely encapsulated by posters and slogans. In this case, resistance is a young Ukrainian artist who chooses to be where the bombs still fall because her presence, and her artwork are needed more than ever.
Research by Michael Ellis ’24
Photos by Dariia Kuzmych. Shared with permission from the artist.