Art

As Eurovision takes over Liverpool, 'Izyum to Liverpool' reminds us why it can't be in Ukraine

Ukraine should be hosting this year's Eurovision. Ukrainian artist Katya Buchatska's installation Izyum to Liverpool reminds us why that isn't possible

Izyum to Liverpool: Ukraine's Katya Buchatska in her installation - part of the build up to Eurovision

Katya Buchatska’s installation transforms Liverpool Anglican Cathedral into a railway carriage escaping Ukraine. Image: Culture Liverpool

Last year, Ukraine won Eurovision, following a groundswell of support for their entry in the face of the Russian invasion of the country. While Ukraine remains at war, the UK has stepped in to host the song contest on Ukraine’s behalf. In the host city of Liverpool, 24 artworks have been commissioned for a unique Eurofestival, a thought-provoking programme of art and culture. Among them is Ukrainian artist Katya Buchatska’s Izyum to Liverpool. She told us how the video installation will remind visitors of the escape many Ukrainians have taken since the full-scale Russian invasion began in February 2022.

Since Russia’s invasion last February, more than 20.9 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the latest UNHCR figures. But in March, Ukrainian artist Katya Buchatska returned to her homeland and travelled to Izyum, the closest city to the Russian border still accessible by rail. It then took her two days to reach Mostyska, near the Polish border, via her home city of Kyiv, during which time she and her crew filmed their journey. The result is Izyum to Liverpool, a video installation displayed in Liverpool Anglican Cathedral across two rows of six screens, evoking the familiar experience of train travel. Among mundane landscapes, though, are small but poignant reminders of the conflict: ruined buildings; lone travellers; abandoned children’s toys. 

“The idea came to me when I was in a train, looking at the landscapes outside, and I saw this hammer near with a sign that said in an emergency, you need to break the window and go outside, and I realised that I could not go outside any more because that’s dangerous too,” Buchatska explains. “Those changes are sometimes not visible – you sometimes still look out at the normal landscape. That was the starting point for this piece.” 

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An Orthodox Christian, Katya Buchatska feels that the exhibition space befits the themes of the installation, emphasising commonalities between refugees fleeing Ukraine and the biblical exodus. As she notes, though, “the exodus was because people wanted to reach their own country. For us, it’s because we needed to be evacuated from our home.” 

The Very Reverend Dr Sue Jones, Dean of Liverpool, adds that the installation also invites “conversation about being in exile, which of course is biblical as well – where you’re in exile for a number of years and then you come back to your homeland. 

“The sad thing is that in the process of being exiled, of course, the country is being decimated, so when people come back, they will come back to something very different, and for them, there will be two bereavements: the bereavement of having left and then the second bereavement of coming back to something that has changed.” 

While the installation explores the loss of home, however, Jones believes that Liverpool, hosting Eurovision this year on behalf of Ukraine, is an appropriate site for its exhibition “because so many people came to Liverpool at different points in its history. I think what the city has done, quite cleverly, is put that combination of joy and sombreness together.” 

Indeed, the piece was inspired, Buchatska explains in an accompanying pamphlet, by a visit to the city in February, during which she noted “the connections between the Liverpool Blitz of 82 years ago” and the invasion of her country. 

The installation is one of 24 new works commissioned by Culture Liverpool for EuroFestival, 21 of which were produced in collaboration with Ukrainian partners. 

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“What I think will connect [British audiences to the installation] is its spectacular ordinariness,” says Bren O’Callaghan, executive producer with Culture Liverpool. “It’s so familiar and yet so alien and strange at the same time. There’s no barrier to understanding for audiences because everyone has taken a relatively dull, uninteresting train journey, but it makes you think, ‘How would I feel if I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see Crewe again?’” 

For Katya Buchatska, too, this connection between the nations is integral to the piece. “I’m aware that I’m here just because of war and that Eurovision is here just because of war,” she says. “But it’s important to talk about the war, to not just let people forget about it.” 

Izyum to Liverpool is free to experience at Liverpool Cathedral until 19 May. Eurovision runs in Liverpool (hosting on behalf of Ukraine) from May 8-13. Find out more about the EuroFestival programme, which runs alongside here.
@BronteSchiltz

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