Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

On the Ukrainian Festival in Dnipro industrial region,

or Why cultural promotion should begin in small towns
9 August, 2016 - 10:58
Photo by Pavlo KOROBCHUK

There was a festival recently, “From a country to Ukraine.” That was a tour of musicians, poets, artists, modern technology professionals, and certainly cultural managers across the cities of east and south. The tour included concerts, workshops, readings, competitions, and other events. Its purpose was to once again show the cultural and technological amusements of modern Ukraine to the denizens of those territories, which have long been exposed to eradication and discrimination practices against everything Ukrainian. Everyone participated voluntarily in the festival.

During that tour, I personally made it to three industrial cities of Dnipro region – Nikopol, Kryvy Rih, and Zaporizhia; before that, the tour had visited Pokrovsk, Kostiantynivka, Bakhmut, Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, and Starobilsk. In every place, the locals enjoyed rock concerts of several Ukrainian bands – from Kyiv-based Nesprosta and Drunk&Drowned, to Geneza from Kryvy Rih. Apart from that, the festival brought demonstration of technological innovations, libraries, lectures, fire shows, and other events of culture and entertainment. I, together with poet Bohdan-Oleh Horobchuk, organized small-scale poetry readings.

The three cities are located nearby, but they are very different from each other. The smallest one, Nikopol, has seemed to distinguish itself by the most numerous audience, across all the events. The city, which is located on the banks of Dnipro, the river boundless in these parts (there is a historic site nearby, near the city of Pokrov, with Tovsta Mohyla kurgan, a place where the legendary Scythian Pectoral was found), looks pretty Russified and not too rich in cultural events. Whereas the former circumstance might have interfered in some way with the perception of contemporary Ukrainian product (however, some of the rock bands were Russian-speaking), the latter only incited the interest of the local audience. I noticed that some of our literary readings’ visitors were not too equipped with a broad understanding of modern poetry as such, but they were curious enough to know, understand, and feel it.

Kryvy Rih, to my opinion, is the real capital of Ukrainian industrial style. The city of incredible size and span (“as long as life,” as the graffiti on local trolleybuses say), full of mines and plants, of buildings in bizarre and brutal “spacey” architecture, of unusual vehicle combinations such as “metro-trams,” but at the same time, the city is full of parks, lakes, and idyllic paintings on the walls. It seems less Russified compared to Nikopol and Zaporizhia. And it looks like that “From a country to Ukraine” festival has found the most of its actual target audience – people who know what they are interested in, what they want to hear and see.

Zaporizhia is a city of Khortytsia, of historical romance, of constructivist architecture, and of industry. Here we camped in Oak Grove Park. Interestingly the largest city of the festival tour had not the greatest number of visitors. However, the literary scene in Zaporizhia had not only visiting poets, but local authors as well. Unfortunately, we missed an interesting group called “99” – writers who belong to the literary phenomenon of “two-thousanders.” However, we had the opportunity to listen to the lyrics of their younger colleagues, such as the poets from the “Platform 9.” Another interesting thing about the city is that there was a local Dnipro riverfront near the park, and a small river by a funny name of Mokra Moskovka.

This several-days-long festival tour has left several impressions with us. First, it is certain that now we have a good moment of time to promote Ukrainian culture in, so to speak, the provinces. This is the place which combines the lack of information and experience with interest and desire to fill in the gaps. Oblast centers and big cities have access to more information but demonstrate less interest. Therefore, it is necessary to initiate, to continue, and support such initiatives – and there is more of them every day; these days a major literary event “Metro to Kybyntsi” is going to be held in a village of Poltava oblast. Perhaps, something similar to “Independence Day with Makhno” in Huliaipole, which was held in mid-2000s, would have a better response today.

Second, contrary to stereotypes, the festival was not accompanied by any symptoms of Ukrainophobia or Kremlin propaganda. At least I had never seen or heard anything about this, and a scandal of that kind would probably have gained publicity. Of course, Dnipro region is not among the most risky regions in this regard, but it still has a strong reputation of a “politically eastern” one.

Finally, it is important that such information projects grow and branch out. While powerful media still move in a foreign cultural orbit, horizontal initiatives emerge and grow, and they potentially might change a lot. It’s great that more and more people understand it, that these initiatives involve community volunteers. The festival “From a country to Ukraine” was finished by events in Berdiansk and Mariupol, the places where everything uttered gains even more importance.