The story of this rescue operation sounds like the plot of a feature film: Ukrainian art dealer Oleksandr Shelushenko and Ukrainian gallery owner Katerina Fozyanova risk their lives to save artworks from war-torn Kyiv. They do this not on behalf of the government or any other organization, but on their own initiative and for the love of art.
“It was terrifying”
In February, Katerina Fozyanova, a masterpiece Katrina, fled Kyiv. At that time, she had very little time to save her art. – When the war broke out, I jumped into the car with three other people and drove away. I only had a small suitcase and a small painting by Ewgen Petrow – says the Ukrainian.
Born in Kyiv, Fozyanova before the war collaborated with several art galleries not only in the capital of Ukraine, but also in London, where she dealt with contemporary and pioneering art. She hadn’t expected her life to change completely so quickly.
The surviving paintings of Ukrainian artists are at the ARTMUC exhibition in Munich
With another Kyiv gallery owner, Oleksandr Sheloshenko, I had already planned another large exhibition, which was to include the works of Ukrainian painter Petrov. Dozens of his works were shown at the exhibition “TSEKH” by Szczelushchenko.
The war changed everything
After a short stay in Munich, Wozianowa returned to her hometown – she did not want her art to fall victim to the war.
– She offered me to take our business to Germany, where she has good relations. She was supposed to be a courier that conveyed art and organized everything connected with it, says Szczelushchenko, Katerina’s return to Kyiv.
And so they began the daring rescue operation. While the Russian forces were attacking Kyiv, Shelushenko drove to his gallery and took the paintings from the tires. – When I arrived in Kyiv on March 7, the atmosphere was very tense. Kyiv was bombed. Heard explosions of bombs around the exhibition – he says. He was supported by armed auxiliaries.
“You either act or you die”
Shelushchenko himself learned to appreciate completely new things during the rescue. – For me, it was interesting that everything happened so quickly in the war. You don’t have time to choose: Oh, I like it. Well, no, I like it more. You don’t have time to be sensitive. He says: Either you act fast or you die.
Szczelushchenko while saving paintings
The owner of the gallery was innovative in the packaging of the paintings. Together with his assistants, he collected artworks by contemporary artists Petrov and Mikola Pelosi and placed them in sewer pipes. – There were three huge tubes, almost as big as me – says Katerina Wuzyanova.
While Shelushenko carefully collected the paintings, Fouzyanova salvaged more paintings from her own apartment and collected valuables left behind by her friends while on the run.
Then she picked up tubes full of Shchelushchenko’s artwork, loaded them into her car and drove to Chernivtsi. The city in western Ukraine is about a 45-minute drive from Romania.
40 paintings from Kyiv have been preserved
On the Ukrainian-Romanian border, the war was relatively far away, but Fouzyanova had to face very ordinary challenges. – You can’t just cross the border. I had to provide documents confirming that the paintings are not national cultural goods, and that they are contemporary art – he explains.
At first, the security staff at the airport did not allow her to check in. “They saw me, a little woman with those big tubes in her hands, and they said, ‘What the hell is there?’ Then they x-rayed it to see if there were any weapons.
40 paintings in Munich
The paintings were delivered from Kyiv to Munich unscathed. It is not yet known what their fate will be in the future. Kateryna Wozianowa and Oleksandr Szczeluszczenko want to display and sell them to art collectors. Wuzianova is full of optimism: “We have just received invitations to Art Week in Berlin and Art Vienna in Vienna.”
Katerina Wuzyanova – Ukrainian actress to London art dealer James Patroyk
First, the paintings will be shown at the ARTMUC Art Gallery in Munich. Then you will be able to see it in the pop-up gallery. – It is presented with other arts from Ukraine. In this way, we want to support the artists stuck in Ukraine – says Fozyanova. The art market is no longer there. Many artists became depressed, began to drink and stopped being creative. Shchelushenko, who left Kyiv because he did not feel safe there, adds that the war is casting a shadow over them. She now lives out of town and takes care of her mother.
At Kyiv airport with an unusual transfer of works of art
– We are in constant contact with the Flyers – adds Wozianowa. Mikola Billos is a really strong man. He said to me, “I will protect my house and my studio, and my departure is inevitable.” Nor does Petrov want to leave Ukraine. – None of them want that. But as soon as they change their mind, says the art dealer, we’ll get them out of there at once.
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