Solomiya reveals ‘war but art’

by Steve Watson in December 2022
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Current affairs

A magazine made by young creative people from Kyiv and Berlin, Solomiya is themed ‘war but art’. Editors Vsevolod Kazarin, Andrii Ushytskyi and Sebastian Wells use their introduction to explain the significance of their crucial conjunction, ‘but’: “Ukrainians have to keep living but must also remember that death may come at any second… You will see images of destruction but also faces of resistance. You will read thoughts on violence but also on affection.”


It’s a potent mix – the long photo story showing young people photographed around Kyiv in April and May this year is immediately striking for its combination of street style with civilian defenses, with models pictured alongside sandbags, concrete barricades and anti-tank hedgehogs. These are people living in a country at war but who also thought hard about what to put on that morning.

It would be easy for this fashionable aesthetic to feel glib or tasteless, but Solomiya also has some of the simplest and most authentic commentary I’ve read about the experience of being at war. As editor Andrii’s neighbour, ‘auntie’ Olha says as they shelter in their building’s bunker, war does not change who you are, but rather intensifies the qualities you already possess: “The equation is simple: the shitheads will be even bigger shitheads, and those who took responsibility and helped others will be the true heroes of this war.”


Nowhere is that sentiment illustrated more clearly than in the prologue, Surviving Bucha. Placed at the back of the magazine, separated from the rest of the features and printed with a military green background, it details day by day the horrors endured by students Christina and Artem, beginning with the outbreak of war on the 24th of February and the nightmare that turned their quiet, middle-class town into a symbol for the worst atrocities of war.

Christina’s initial response to the Russian invasion felt particularly understandable – convinced that they should stay away from nearby Kyiv because it was more likely to be the target of Russia’s forces, she persuaded her mum that they should stay at home. “I didn’t take the idea of war seriously. I thought it would be like Covid: we get a lot of food, stay home, and just wait until our armed forces do their job, and then it’s over.” Their accounts of life over those days is almost unbearably tense, filled with fear of the enemy but also frustration at the selfishness of neighbours, confusion spread by rumours and misinformation, and occasional moments of hope and humanity.


Separating them from the rest of the features gives them their own space and tone, and similarly a series of profiles is dotted through the magazine, detailing the work done by young volunteers in setting up organisations providing aid, relief and military supplies. The profiles are rotated 90 degrees and printed on a yellow background, helping them to feel brighter, lighter and more optimistic.

Hugely impressive as a first issue, Solomiya has immediately established itself as a voice on the war in Ukraine, and I hope that as long as the conflict has to continue, Solomiya will keep on publishing its unique perspective.

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