Interview with Ukrainian artist Ivanka Demchuk

On the cover of our Fall/Winter issue of Response, we featured the work of Ukrainian artist Ivanka Demchuk who was born and lives in Lviv, Ukraine. Demchuk’s art also illustrated our Advent readings and the Christmas card we gifted to our readers. Lviv, located on the eastern side of Ukraine, is just 40 miles from Poland. The city is the cultural and artistic center of Ukraine with its art schools and distinctive architecture that draws from both German and Italian influences.

Lviv is also a UNESCO world heritage site. When the war with Russia began, Lviv citizens rushed to safely remove and store public artwork and wrap monuments across the city to protect them against potential Russian attacks. Earlier this year, Response emailed artist Ivanka Demchuk to find out more about the current situation in Lviv.

RESPONSE: We have been thinking about you during these dark days in Ukraine. How are you doing? What is your situation?

DEMCHUK:  Thank you so much for your message and support during these horrible days! Thank God that I and my family are safe for now. We are at home in Lviv, and all of us hope this war will end soon and peace will return to our land.

RESPONSE: We heard the people of Lviv are working to save the works of art in the town.

DEMCHUK: Yes, that’s true. People in Lviv are trying to protect sculptures, paintings, and stained glass that cannot be hidden in the bomb shelters. Museums and galleries are trying to hide all the collections of art. There are some collections that include works by Goya, Velazquez, and many other famous paintings.

Every day while I’m passing through the city center, I see people trying to somehow protect our important cultural heritage.

RESPONSE: Are you and your family safe in Lviv?

DEMCHUCK: In Lviv, it’s more or less safe at the moment, though there are some rocket bombings here. Almost every night we wake up to alarms informing us about possible air attacks. Our city at the moment is a kind of like Noah’s ark, as people from all over the country are coming here in the search of safety with their cats, dogs, and birds. The city is functioning quite well in this situation, we have access to all the necessities we may need. If Lviv comes under heavy attack, maybe then I will try to escape abroad with my child, but all the men will stay to protect the city how they can.

RESPONSE: We will be thinking of you and praying for you. We were delighted to feature your artwork on the cover of our magazine and also inside the issue to illustrate our Advent readings and a notecard that we created for our readers. How did you become interested in painting?

DEMCHUK: My parents are doctors, so they did not plan for me to become an artist. At an early age, I was diagnosed by an ophthalmologist with farsightedness and astigmatism. My doctor recommended an unusual remedy. I was to cover one eye and paint, color, and sculpt, relying on my other eye to increase its visual load.

I was thrilled with the prescribed treatment. I started to attend children’s art clubs and art school and took an interest in classic paintings. I did not think it would take me so far, but I eventually entered the Trush College of Arts, part of the Lviv National Academy of Arts.

RESPONSE: What did your parents think about you becoming an artist?

DEMCHUK: My parents respected my choices and tried to support me, but nonetheless, my mother saw the art profession as unreliable income-wise. She told me, “Let the painting be your hobby, but it would be better to learn some more popular profession as well.”

Instead of taking up a popular profession after college, I chose an even narrower specialization by focusing on sacred art. It was a spontaneous decision, but I do not regret it at all.

RESPONSE: How do you choose subjects for your art?

DEMCHUK:  My favorite topics are victory and loss; the birth of life and death; motherhood; sacrifice; human transformation. These themes are close to my heart as they often overlap with current pressing issues. In my art, God comes to man again in human form. My saints are placed in modern interiors or imaginary landscapes, close to humans today. We can look at the traditional icons but see in them the people around us.