"Public educational institution of vocational and technical education, Sumy, Ukraine," by Ilya Yarovy. The painting is one of dozens included in an upcoming exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art depicting the ongoing war in Ukraine. Credit: Provided

UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — An exhibit featuring pieces from more than two dozen Ukrainian artists about the war in their home country opens this weekend.

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” opens Saturday at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 W. Chicago Ave. The exhibit brings together more than 150 works by 26 artists from across Ukraine that showcase the literal effects of war as well as its psychological and emotional fallout.

The show was curated by Hanna Melnyczuk, a Ukrainian-American artist and professor based in Massachusetts who began connecting with Ukrainian artists on social media after Russia invaded in February 2022.

Melnyczuk, whose parents came to the United States after World War II, said she was inspired to help artists in the country at a moment when they had few options for showing their work in Ukraine and abroad.

She organized the exhibit with Halyna Andrusenko, a Ukrainian artist who connected Melnyczuk with other artists in the country.

“The idea behind the exhibit was really just to see how an artist is responding to this war and the country that they live in. Just to see the many different ways one creates images in response to conflict and a horrible situation,” she said. “I was looking for imagery that I thought was powerful and maybe unusual in its response to what is going on around the artists.”

“Protected 12” by Halyna Andrusenko Credit: Provided

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” includes a series of Andrusenko’s drawings that depict statues in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. After Russia’s invasion, the statues were covered with plastic sheets to protect them from being damaged during bombings.

“The wrapped sculptures capture the impact the daily threat of bombings has on the appearance of the living world,” Andrusenko wrote in her artistic statement for the exhibit. “The protective material around the sculptures transforms them into new forms that reflect the image of war.”

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” features drawings and paintings, as well as other mediums like “vytinanka,” paper cutouts inspired by Ukrainian folk art made by artist Natalia Kurnosova.

Kurnosova starting making the cutouts shortly after the war began, when she found herself unable to draw as bombings blanketed cities across Ukraine, according to her artistic statement. Her work included in the upcoming exhibit is titled “Stolen Ukrainian Spring 2022.”

“Instead of spring in our country, children saw raw basements. Instead of the sky, they see rockets. Our spring was stolen from us. They take away life every day,” Kurnosova wrote.

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” comes to Chicago after several stops in Massachusetts and on the East Coast. Melnyczuk said she’s also working to sell work by the artists involved, with proceeds being split between the creators and the Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation, which provides military resources to the Ukrainian army as well as humanitarian aid.

Melnyczuk said she hopes her exhibit reminds Americans that while headlines may have moved on, Ukrainians still dealing with the horrors of war have not.

That’s evident in the “Don’t Close Your Eyes” title, she said. It was inspired by a conversation Melnyczuk had with her cousins, who implored her not to forget what was happening in Ukraine.

“I thought, ‘Oh, how can we forget Ukraine?’ But I guess as time has moved on, and it’s almost two years … people do not necessarily forget, but they start to ignore it, and that’s what it is, closing their eyes,” Melnyczuk said. “I’m trying to do something to keep it in the public image.”

The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art is hosting an opening reception for the exhibit 12-4 p.m. Saturday. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” runs through Dec. 21. The museum is open 12-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. For more information, visit the museum website.

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