The concerns and aspirations of Ukrainians are expressed

<span>A dark period revisited … Defense of Sevastopol by Oleksandr Hnylytskyi and Oleg Holosiy (1991-92).</span>Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″ data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Revisiting dark times … Defense of Sevastopol by Oleksandr Hnylytskyi and Oleg Holosiy (1991-92).Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

‘I hope my old friend was killed by a rocket,’ says one message. “I feel ashamed to lose my cats more than my own father,” writes someone else. “I want to kill my father because of his Soviet faith,” admits a third. “I can’t lose,” says one. Another: “I want every day.” And someone else: “I want to have great sex before the nuclear strike, but in two months, I don’t have the emotional resources to even open Tinder.”

These intimate entries are displayed on the wall of the Jam Factory, an elegant arts center in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv that opened, presumably, in the middle of the Russian invasion. They are taken from a collection of anonymous wartime “secrets” compiled by artist Bohdana Zaiats using an online Google form and posted on Instagram. Each provides a comprehensive insight into the most private, unspoken thoughts of Ukrainians reflecting on the heartbreak and displacement caused by war.

It is one of the most tender and vulnerable moments in the Jam Factory’s opening exhibition, entitled Our Years, Our Words, Our Losses, Our Searches, Our Leadership. The show – curated by Kateryna Iakovlenko, Natalia Matsenko and Borys Filonenko – zooms in on such raw emotion, bringing together works that express the tender quiddities of inner life in ways that journalism or documentary cannot. But it also zooms out – on to a historical Panorama that stretches back as far as the 19th century, one that is often disturbing, painful and complex.

You start with the Crimea. Even before you enter the exhibition, the ticket you are given at the front desk is a work of art, entitled I Have No Other Homeland But You. It was created by the Crimean Tatar designer Sevilya Nariman-qizi, “who was never present in Ukrainian galleries, or had anything to do with the world of art”, says Iakovlenko – part of the history of exclusion that has expanded to big now for those Crimeans. Tatars, often labeled as Islamic extremists by the Russian authorities, who remain on the illegally occupied peninsula.

Conservatives know this sadness firsthand. Iakovlenko lost her home when it was hit directly during the invasion

Once inside the show, you are greeted by a panoramic work from 1991-92, made as Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union. The title is The Defense of Sevastopol, a series of five paintings by Oleksandr Hnylytskyi and Oleg Holosiy. Its form and imagery refer to an earlier commemorative panorama of the Crimean war of 1854-55 by the painter Franz Roubaud in 1904, which itself was heavily damaged in the second world war. Going back to the war of the 19th century is a pointed choice, given the traumatic situation of today. “This land has always been desirable,” says Iakovlenko of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. “It’s always been a red line in politics.”

The newer work abandons the historical detail of Roubaud’s panorama, offering instead a vague vision of a contested landscape that could just as easily be set in the 1940s as the 1850s. But it turns out that some artists unknowingly paint the future when they paint the past. The Defense of Sevastopol might as well be a painting of the annex of 2014. Or, for that matter, of the battlefields of Ukraine in 2024. Such is the ability of art to unfold.

What do we remember, what is the point of remembering, what is better to forget? Katya Buchatska, whose work will be featured in the Ukraine pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, considers how the earth itself has been lost in a video work from 2023, This World Is Recording. As the camera pans over chipped fields, one thinks of other voids, other empty spaces caused by war – lives cut short, works of art that will never be made, occupied or destroyed houses that cannot be visited forever. ever Paradoxically, such voids in the lives of survivors do not feel like empty spaces, but are made of grief that fills the body to the point of suffocation. The curators know this firsthand. Iakovlenko lost her first home, in the Luhansk region, to live in in 2014. She lost a more recent home, in Irpin near Kyiv, which was directly hit during the first months of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

Buchatska considers the role of memorials, which are often also warnings. But she notes that it is not always an effective defense against such events happening again. Buchatska’s work ends with the suggestion that one day a garden could be planted over those wounded fields, rather than a traditional memorial – “so that we have something to lose”.

If there is trauma in mind on the ground, make stomachs and mouths. Open Group is a collective of Ukrainian artists who will represent neighboring Poland in this year’s biennale (a last-minute replacement, by the recently elected Polish government, of the conservative painter chosen by the previous far-right administration ). For their work Repeat After Me, they spent time in Lviv recording specific sounds of war, as experienced by refugees who fled the front line.

The film begins with Svitlana, from the Luhansk region, imitating the sound of a Ka-52 alligator – a new Russian attack helicopter designed to take out tanks and infrastructure. After offering a long descending “tr-tr-tr”, Svitlana invites the audience to “repeat after me”: the work is in the form of karaoke. Antonina comes next, with the shrill cry of the air raider, a sound that most people in western Europe only know through second world war movies. Iryna imitates a T-80 tank, and Boris, from Mariupol, imitates the sound of aerial bombardment, followed by a thin tune and resonant tones. “Repeat after me, so you will remember,” he says, because these are historically important memories, and too many for one person.

Another work by Open Group consists of films of two Ukrainian women describing their abandoned homes – one lost during the second world war, the other during the conflict with Russia that began in 2014. the distant love on the faces of these elderly women as one of them recalls a very fertile cherry tree in the garden, while the other recalls the precise angle of a poker that sat by the fireplace that was last warmed by her in the 1940s. As the women talk, the artists draw and use computer imagery to “rebuild” the houses; the congregation later rebuilt the houses as architectural models: the fleeting images became solid memories.

Everything in this exhibition combs with a sense of the power and limits of memory – some fiercely remembered, traumatically preserved, others hovering just out of reach, perhaps forever lost. There is one tiny, non-printed, pragmatic image in the exhibition that was not even intended, at first, to be considered a work of art – especially because the artist, at the time he made it, was entirely focused on volunteer work humanitarian. On one of the walls of the gallery a mobile phone is displayed. On his screen is a photo of a wooden fence bisected by a double gate. It was built by Yaroslav Futymskyi, an artist with an interest in language, while helping to rebuild the northern region of Chernihiv, after its dispossession early in the war.

On the gate is “DETY”, the Russian for “children”. Such signs were commonly painted as an appeal for mercy to the approaching invaders. In this case, the letters are divided, two on each side of the gate, which invites a different reading. In Ukraine, “DE TY” – two words – means: “Where are you?” It could almost be an alternative title for the exhibition, invested as it is to dig up the tribute of a place in time and history – and to find a way to recover, in some way, the things that have disappeared.

• Our Years, Our Words, Our Losses, Our Search, Our Power We are at the Jam Factory, Lviv, Ukraine, until March 10.

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