Blog: Why should Ukrainian culture be supported during the war
March 27, 2023

Blog: Why should Ukrainian culture be supported during the war

In the face of a full-scale invasion, it’s hard to focus on anything other than trying to survive and keep those you love safe. Ukrainians are now fighting for their existence, and for the rest of the world, it may seem that a worse situation cannot be imagined. Constant shelling and rocket attacks, lack of light and communication, occupation and the daily loss of loved ones – all these paralyses,  so that everything that was once important now loses its meaning and seems irrelevant. All this has a significant impact on the sphere of culture. Indeed, art, literature, music and history may not be considered priorities at a time of war. But it is precisely at times such as this that not only should we not forget our culture, but actually develop it.

It may be logical to think that the cultural sector is less important than all others, but for several reasons, this is by no means correct. First, culture helps people to psychologically process what is happening around them. If you are constantly under deep stress, something that thousands of people in Ukraine experience every day, this inhibits people from working, volunteering and ultimately getting closer to victory. Secondly, culture is our primary feature as a nation, it is what identifies us specifically as Ukrainians and separates us from Russia. It is no accident that the aggressor country constantly tries to destroy or appropriate Ukrainian cultural achievements. It does so because the existence of Ukrainian culture undermines its imperial ambitions to deny the very existence of the Ukrainian nation. Thirdly, culture plays an essential role in helping explain to the Western world what Ukraine is like its unique history and its separate national identity.  

All of this is well understood by the European Union, which not only provided substantial assistance to Ukraine from the very beginning of the full-scale war but also realised the value of supporting its cultural sector. The support it provided for the preservation of the country’s national heritage and the artistic development of Ukrainians themselves confirms that the EU sees Ukraine as an equal priority partner and foresees productive cooperation in the future. 

One of the most extensive examples of such support is the 2023 Creative Europe annual work programme, which includes the allocation of €5 million to support Ukrainian artists and cultural organisations to create and showcase their art and works. The EU is also contributing to the preservation of Ukrainian national heritage through the ‘Save Ukraine Monuments’ initiative, a project that seeks to create a digital record of our cultural heritage, to preserve its memory and support its future restoration. Other smaller projects have also been created in an effort to address this problem, including the ‘Emergency response for cultural heritage’ programme, which aims to provide ‘first aid’ for specific pieces of cultural heritage threatened by man-made or natural disasters, or by a conflict situation.  Museums, archives, libraries and art galleries have also been supported.  The Berlin-Karlshorst Museum in Germany provides ongoing support to Ukrainian cultural institutions threatened by Russian hostilities to ensure the preservation of museum collections and archival documents. The project, which covers the whole of Ukraine, began in July 2022 and as of December 5, 2022, has supported 48 institutions.

There is also financial support available to individual Ukrainian writers and artists in the form of grants. Details of many of these can be found on the ‘House of Europe’ website. They range from grants specifically for the translation and distribution of Ukrainian literary work to art residencies in EstoniaGermany and other countries, that are open to Ukrainian artists. This is just a snapshot of the fruitful cooperation that exists between the EU and Ukraine in the cultural sector.

So, it is absolutely wrong to forget about the arts during the war, not least because doing so provides the enemy with an advantage in the information war. During the continuing struggle with Russia for the very existence of Ukrainian identity, culture not only psychologically helps Ukrainians to experience traumatic events around them, but also enables our prospective European partners to improve their understanding of Ukraine.

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