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Cultural exchange inspires hope for Ukraine

Photo provided by Nadija Packauskas Volunteers at the new Community Culture Center for Ukraine participate in creative activities and put together displays featuring Ukrainian and local artists.

There is a new Community Culture Center for Ukraine at 314 Sheldon Avenue Suite 3C in Houghton. It is a place for the community to come in and recognize Ukrainian art, its unique culture, and the history of Ukraine. For two years, Nadija Packauskas, co-founder of Yoopers for Ukraine, has been diligently looking for a brick-and-mortar hub for their events.

Recently, I met Nadija at the space, we sat on chairs from South Range, a table from Michigamme in a room put together by local volunteers to discuss this amazing project. As we spoke together, we were surrounded by beautiful art done by children of Ukraine and well-known artists in Ukraine as well as soldiers from the frontline.

Yoopers for Ukraine has been active in the Keweenaw since Feb 2022. Whether it’s a weekly walk across the bridge, a parade or a rally, a sighting at a festival or seeing them support other local activities, it is easy to see the commitment to Ukraine in action, and even on the “decorated” truck that Nadija drives around town. 

I asked her to tell me more on how this new project came about, and these are her words. 

“We recently attended the fourth summit in DC for advocacy days now put on by the American Coalition for Ukraine. This was our most important summit yet as aid had been stalled in the house for 6 months and Ukraine was in dire need for supplies… There were 500 delegates from 47 states there and we did it. But I always feel like we need to do more, more, more! “

Nadija had been looking for a place for over a year and half. Early in the Spring, she saw the “for rent” sign and jumped to action. Even though she rented the space right before she left for DC, the idea for the space solidified when she met the artist and Ukrainian directors of the film, Porcelain Wars, which had won first place for Documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival and six others. The directors from the United States and Ukraine, the featured artist, and their dog Frodo, all came to DC to speak as a panel after the movie premiered. Nadija and her father met with them and were very moved. 

“Art essential to the Ukrainian people. We bring art to the front lines for the soldiers to hold and feel a bit of humanity and sanity in this crazy world that they find themselves in. It gives us a chance to breathe. Art gives all of us permission to pause,” one director noted.

This moved Nadija so that she felt she had to take the next step and open a Ukrainian Culture Center to share these stories as well as display art from Ukraine. The center is filled with traditional and new age art from Ukraine.

The idea is to show as much diversity as she can in the space. There are two rooms for Ukrainian artists and a room for American artists and local artists who are supporting Ukraine. Art workshops, film previews and discussions will be held there as well. There are great plans for the future.

One of the new Ukrainian artists that is featured at the center said when Nadija asked them why art was important:

“Art is the very essence of the soul. The communication and alphabet of the unknown that is hidden but thriving in all of us. It is the release of humanity often bearing to the world the words you cannot say but somehow always needed to hear. The pain and joy that your heart holds on to. Art is healing. Art is loving. Art is life.”

It is “life” that Nadija wants to display at her center. 

“I am honored to show Ukrainian art by Ukrainian artists in Ukraine in our new center and to emphasis the importance of not losing the richness of an entire culture. When we share art, we share the silent heartbeats of generations. The power of our ancestors. I am honored to help guide folk to understand the richness and soul of Ukrainian art. I am by no means an expert and I am learning as well but, in my learning, I am loving. Many of these artists are on the front lines, displaced from their homes, their works and even their family members are being lost. But they persevere, through the brush, the song, the camera, the ethereal peace that art can bring. And they want to share it with others.”

Many artists have also set up “art trauma” centers for children in Ukraine who have lost their parents and their innocence. Art is healing and through the center here Nadija can connect to such centers in Ukraine. 

“I am making our loving community in the Keweenaw expand its borders and by doing so we are making our community even greater. We will be sending kid’s art back to these centers and other trauma centers in Ukraine bringing them love as they share their love.”  Nadija adds. The center has enriched the lives of over forty local participants in her recent Pysanky workshops, open houses, and art reveals.

When she sent the photos from the events to Ukraine, so many people responded and could not believe that we have such a diverse group sharing Ukrainian culture and caring to learn about Ukrainians. Workshops have had people from Rwanda, Ghana, India, Lithuania, Ukraine, Chad, Finland, Brazil, Venezuela and, of course, Yooperland! They were truly amazed that so many had learned the ancient art of “writing” Pysanky.

“I am thrilled to have so many locals respond so favorably to our programs. I am mostly honored to bring hope through our pictures back to Ukraine. This is my main goal to bring hope to one another and, we truly all can; one voice, one painting, one smile. One shared tear, one heartbeat at a time. I am incredibly grateful for the community we live in. We hope the center continues to grow as a meeting space with purpose but already, it has served its most needed purpose. Hope.”

As another featured artist wrote to Nadija, “I was not able to paint during these dark times and then, you, a stranger in a small town, bought a complete collection. This morning for the first time in 3 years, I picked up my brush. I now know my art is also fighting for our freedom and now, I have purpose and feel like I, too, can stand as a hero for Ukraine. Houghton has given me my strength to see another day. I believe that we are all Light. Indeed, when you enter this space, you feel a little lighter and a little brighter. Art has a way of doing that!”

Nadija will continue to get new paintings, embroidery pieces and other art from Ukraine for the Community Culture Center for Ukraine as the summer continues. They will have a Grand Opening in September and regular hours in the fall. For now, she will do random workshops and events. These will be posted on the Yoopers for Ukraine facebook page. 

To learn more about the center or how to get involved, check out their Facebook page or email them at yoopersforukraine@gmail.com

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