A conversation with Gena Titov
Gena Tytov has been at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Women Veteran Movement practically since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. In peaceful times, he is a sculptor, an artist, and, in his own words, “a bit of a writer.” Read more about art during the war, victory and volunteering in this interview.
How has your life changed after February 24, 2022?
I used to work as a sculpting and drawing teacher at a school. After the full-scale invasion started, I had no students left because they were all evacuated. As an artist, I did not want to create at that moment. There was no urge to write either. In fact, I worked as a volunteer all spring. And sometime in June I began to return to my pre-war activities – my students were mostly refugees. I taught them the art of sculpture, I think it helped them.
How did your story of working with the Ukrainian Women Veteran Movement begin?
At the end of February, most of the men stood in line to enlist in Territorial Defense. Many were not accepted, including me. I wanted to help in any way. I knew that Victoria (a volunteer at the medical center), with whom we worked together at school, is a member of the volunteer service. I was in contact with her and I said that I could do something – either drive a car, or just carry something. She said: no problem, come. That’s how I started in transportation and sorting – there was enough work.
It turned out that although this is a women’s movement, the help of men is also needed.
Have you had burnout during this time? If so, did you manage to work it out?
I had burnout. I think this is the problem of most people in the rear. You don’t always understand if you are doing enough or if it is needed at all. But talking to my friends, who are now at the frontline, I understand that yes, it is necessary. They are grateful for our help.
I coped with burnout in the standard way – I turned to a therapist. I am lucky that a member of the Ukrainian Women Veteran Movement is a wonderful therapist — Hanna Stativka, who worked with volunteers online. She works wonders.
What major changes in Ukrainian society did you notice after the full-scale invasion?
It is impossible not to notice the changes in Ukrainian society now. All the “semitones” have disappeared, and consolidation has risen. I think that in peacetime, we look like an incredibly disjointed society, which constantly quarrels with each other, no matter the topic – starting with historical figures and ending with how to cook borscht and how to properly pronounce some words. But it all doesn’t matter, because we are still “our own” for each other. And this feeling of “one’s own” intensifies precisely when strangers come.
And what challenges does an artist face during wartime?
An artist in wartime faces the same challenges as all people. Some of the artists are now at the frontline. I assume they have completely different problems – more about life and death. Somewhere you didn’t finish something, you didn’t dig this trench deep enough – and here it is, you are dead or injured. And some everyday problems, like the most common things, are not at hand, but within a radius of several kilometers. The problems of those who are at the rear are thoughts about whether art is needed at all now, is this what I am supposed to do now. Someone cannot work in these conditions at all, as we (artists) say: the brush does not stand.
Art and war. How does the second affect the first?
War is, of course, a strong, painful, and traumatic experience. One can only guess about the artists who are currently at the front and the impact of the war on them. And I can say for myself – like any strong experience, in the end, it will lead to a certain surge. But not now, later. But such an experience can break some people. And those who stay not broken – get enriched by it in the end. We may recall well-known truths like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But it is not always the case. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you can “bite” a chunk from you.
I think that in the next few years, this experience will result in new works of art, in different genres and styles.
What is the first thing you will do after Ukraine wins the war?
I will not be original here. First of all, you better rephrase the question into “What will you do when you finally sober up after the victory?”. A huge number of us will probably just be celebrating. Moreover, with complete strangers. This is the moment when we will all feel how much we all belong. May God let us preserve this feeling.