Meet the Ukrainian women who are making art in the face of the Russian invasion Activists as well as artists, these women are responding in paint, photographs and videos to the Russian invasion.

The Ukrainian women who make art in the face of war

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Stories about the war in Ukraine are told by some of the country's leading female artists at New York's Fridman Gallery and the Voloshyn Gallery in Kyiv. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says the powerful, haunting works prove that art is not just about pretty pictures. And a warning, this report contains mentions of sexual violence and rape.

MONIKA FABIJANSKA: Zhanna Kadyrova. Alevtina Kakhidze...

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Curator and art historian Monika Fabijanska is listing artists in the exhibition.

FABIJANSKA: Lesia Khomenko.

STAMBERG: Before the war, did you make very different kind of paintings, flowers and landscapes and more peaceful images?

LESIA KHOMENKO: (Laughter) No. I didn't paint flowers maybe since childhood.

STAMBERG: Lesia Khomenko is an activist and an artist. She and the others paint history, politics, war and the pain and toll of it all. "Max" is her portrait of a musician and media artist, her new husband. They'd been together before the Russian invasion.

KHOMENKO: We were, like, a couple.

STAMBERG: Max registered with the Ukrainian army. Lesia was able to leave the country.

KHOMENKO: We didn't see each other for several months.

STAMBERG: They got married online. We spoke the day before she flew from New York back to Ukraine for just a week.

KHOMENKO: It's still very dangerous in Ukraine. I have small daughter. And I'm very responsible for her. I can't be with her in Ukraine.

STAMBERG: Three times a day, she'd run to the basement to hide from shelling. You're filled with fear, she says. Max has been sending selfies. Much has changed in the months they've been separated.

KHOMENKO: Now he's totally in a military uniform.

STAMBERG: With a scowl on his face. She paints him standing as straight as possible, saluting - serious expression, determined, focused. His clothes are too big. I wonder if I can still recognize him, Lesia says. Other women show the aftermath of rapes, private parts bloodied by aggression. A mother and small children at the foot of a filthy basement staircase, a psychiatric hospital - this is the art they make surrounded by shelling and death.

FABIJANSKA: Artistic life - under every war, there was artistic life either underground or on ground when only possible.

STAMBERG: Curator Monika Fabijanska.

FABIJANSKA: Art allows us to process and name our feelings, but also find other people who feel it and process it all.

STAMBERG: In drawings, film, writing, on scraps of bed linen, these artists are history's witnesses to the realities of war, its deadliness and the toll it takes.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

STAMBERG: In Washington, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.