“Democracy dies in darkness,” declares the motto of the celebrated bastion of American journalism The Washington Post. So too, it seems, do culture and art wither when starved of light. It was perhaps fitting, then, that the launch of the multimedia cultural exhibition Partners on the Frontline: Ukraine-U.S. Fight for Peace, Justice, Global Security, and Cultural Sustainability, hosted by the Meridian International Center in partnership with the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Voices of the Peaceful project and its corporate sponsor, System Capital Management, took place on Nov. 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
The impassioned panel discussion included observations, insights, opinions, and recommendations from those most directly impacted by the Russia-Ukraine war, as well as artists, business leaders, and politicians. Among the evening’s notable attendees were Stuart Holliday, Meridian International Center CEO and the former U.S. Ambassador for Special Political Affairs at the United Nations; James K. Glassman, the former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and Glassman Enterprises chairman and CEO; Evgeny Maloletka, an acclaimed filmmaker and Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist; Vladyslav “Vlad” Troitsky, the founder of GogolFest and a Ukrainian cultural icon; Yulia “Taira” Paevska, a Ukrainian military veteran, paramedic, volunteer, and goodwill ambassador; and Natalya Yemchenko, SCM communications director and a member of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation supervisory board.
“This is a forum about where we are going in the world. Art is a way to see this conflict in such a way as to acutely feel the sacrifices of people in Ukraine. It’s important to move forward and not think of this event as just one evening,” Holliday warned.
Derailing Russia’s Culture War Against Ukraine
The evening’s dialogue focused on Russia’s deliberate strategy to destroy Ukraine’s cultural identity and undermine the core beliefs Ukrainian citizens share with the free nations of the world. Chronicling the damning evidence of Russia’s authoritarian agenda — so clearly manifest in its unlawful incursion into the sovereign state of Ukraine — the galvanizing event spotlighted the importance of solidifying a unified alliance between the United States and Ukraine against a mutual foe that aims to lay waste to democracy around the globe.
Per Dr. Kateryna Smagliy, first secretary of the Ukrainian Embassy in the USA, Russian invaders have destroyed 1,709 historical objects and 92 museums in Ukraine to date. The estimated monetary cost is $7 million. The cultural loss, however, is incalculable. “The best and only way to understand who we are and where we come from is our culture,” Yemchenko explained. “Ukraine is a state with its own culture and history.”
And Russia seems hellbent on crushing that identity beneath the heel of its totalitarian boot.
“They first captured teachers, writers, and cultural figures. All Ukrainian books were removed from the library. They took everything that was similar to Ukrainian culture … The Ukrainian language was a marker for imprisonment,” Paevska, herself a survivor of Russian captivity, recalled. “What civilians endure is beyond the boundaries of good and evil.”
‘Voices of the Peaceful’: How Speaking Truth to Power Preserves History
In these troubled times, now more than ever, we must hope the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” holds true, and that knowledge is indeed power. “This story is about how important and meaningful information is,” noted Maloletka, who has been steadily documenting the atrocities of war from the front lines since the invasion began. “We are journalists; we don’t make steel, but we make facts.”
Billionaire philanthropist and Metinvest CEO Rinat Akhmetov may have built his mining empire on a foundation of steel, but he knows that while the ore he manufactures may forge the backbone of his country’s economy, culture is the heart of the Ukrainian people. When historians look back on the current Russia-Ukraine war, the lessons they learn and the conclusions they ultimately draw can only be as accurate as their retelling by those who lived through its catastrophic events.
In an effort to preserve and document such crucial eyewitness testimony, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Voices of the Peaceful project, under the aegis of the Museum of Civilian Voices, has already collected more than 90,000 first-person accounts and stored them in a central online forum. It’s a legacy of truth that Akhmetov believes will not only stand the test of time, but also hopes will light the way for generations to come.