How Ukrainians marked one year of Russia’s war from Brussels

How Ukrainians marked one year of Russia’s war from Brussels
Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

Russia launched a war to crush Ukrainian statehood, identity, and culture on 24 February 2022. One year later, Ukraine still stands and its people wave the flag, both at home and abroad.

Brussels, the European capital, has been host to some of the most passionate and creative activism, organised by groups such as Promote Ukraine, the Ukraine Civil Society Hub, and the Ukrainian Representation to the European Union.

As previously reported, civil society groups and the Ukrainian embassy organised a packed schedule of events on Friday across the city, including exhibitions, rallies, and press events.

Grow in freedom

A large crowd of Ukrainian activists gathered outside the entrance of Brussels’ CHU Saint-Pierre in the Marolles to witness the unveiling of a brand new mural painted on a building overlooking the main access to the emergency room.

Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

The project, an initiative of the Ukrainian Institute and cultural agency Port, brought together two Ukrainian artists, the Feldman sisters, and one local illustrator to create an art piece dedicated to Ukrainian and European unity. The mural is part of a larger street art project, which is creating Ukraine-inspired artworks across Europe. One is even set to be created in Nairobi, Kenya sometime next month.

“The idea of the street art project is so important because when you work in a closed gallery or museum space, you stay within walls. Here, you only attract an audience that is already prepared to go see art, ready for a particular subject,” said Iuliana Pianykh, curator of the “Grow in Freedom” project.

“But outside, in the public space, anybody — people who will never go to a museum or will not be that interested in the Ukrainian war — sees the mural.”

Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

The design features a large eye, Ukrainian motifs and symbolism, comic book influences, as well as clouds inspired by legendary Belgian artist René Magritte. The typography of the design was inspired by Ukrainian illustrator Heorhiy Narbut, and conceived in cooperation with Brussels-based graphic designer and silk-screen printer Teresa Sdralevich.

“There are many elements that are really a mix of our two worlds. In the clouds we find Magritte… The eye is something I use a lot in my work. It really calls the viewer to action. There are also the flower, many symbols, but I think the most important thing is the unity of all these different elements,” Sdralevich told The Brussels Times.

The Feldman sisters with local artist Teresa Sdralevich. Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

The organisers of the project noted that they had very little time to conceive the project in time for the occasion of one year of Russia’s war, but that the project received decisive support from Brussels Mayor Phillipe Close and CHU Saint-Pierre’s director, Philippe Leroy.

At the opening event, Leroy said that the inspiration to work with the Ukrainian artists had been driven by Close’s visit to Kyiv and the intensive collaboration between the Brussels hospital and Kyiv’s clinic No.6. More information about the mural can be accessed online.

Together for Ukraine

Dozens of Ukrainian activists, refugees, and well-wishers later gathered on the Esplanade Solidarność outside the European Parliament building to unfurl a giant Ukrainian flag, sing the national anthem, and dedicate a minute's silence to Ukrainians killed by Russia’s invasion.

The event was also attended by dignitaries and European politicians, including the representative of Ukraine to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, and European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.

The importance of the one-year milestone was not lost on Chentsov. Through the resistance of Ukrainians both at home and abroad, “we prove that Ukraine will win, Europe will win. And we will build a new Ukraine,” he told the crowd. “We are fighting. We are working hard and we are reforming our country.”

Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

Reynders told the crowd that Russia will pay for the “reconstruction and the compensation of damage” as a result of its invasion of Ukraine and that the EU would continue its military and financial support of Ukraine. As justice commissioner, he also said that he would work to hold Russia’s top brass accountable for war crimes.

“We want to be sure that it will be possible to bring all the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes of aggression to justice. It’s very important that we are fighting against impunity,” he said.

In total, several hundred people took part in the event. Activists chanted glory to Ukraine and hailed the resilience of the Ukrainian army. The significant turnout led Ukrainian activists to tell The Brussels Times that attendance for a rally on Saturday could reach over 10,000.

Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

Following the event, many activists joined the opening of a nearby art exhibition, which commemorates Russia’s massacre in Bucha through photos and artwork drawn by Polish artists and Ukrainian children. The exhibition was held in collaboration with Poland’s Galeria Sztuki Katarzyny Napiórkowskiej and Remember Bucha.

Illuminating Brussels

Closing Friday's commemoration events, the City of Brussels illuminated the Grand Place and the Gallerie Royale Saint-Hubert in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.

Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

Credit: Dylan Carter/The Brussels Times

The Grand Place previously also set the scene for upbeat Ukraine Independence Day celebrations, which were even attended by President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen.

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