The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the recipients of the 2023 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent, an award celebrating human rights advocates who unmask the lie of dictatorship through art. Among them is the “Art Residency in Occupation” project created by curator Yuliia Manukian.
Yuliia Manukian, an art critic from Kherson and co-founder of the “Urban Re-Public” NGO, which focuses on urban planning, the promotion of cultural heritage, and contemporary art, spent two months under occupation in 2022. During that time, “six resident artists secretly met in a basement studio at the initiative of Manukian to produce works that showcase the death and destruction in the southern city of Kherson, offering viewers an opportunity to understand the scope of the war. Through this residency, Yuliia Manukian sought to provide shelter for artists and gave them the opportunity to tell stories of war through the language of art. While written journalism can distance an outsider from the reality of current life in Ukraine, Manukian believes that the group’s collection of drawings, paintings, photographs, diary entries, and videos convey the raw truth,” explains HRF.
Yuliia Manukian says that “it is a great honor to share the prize with the conductor of the Kherson Philharmonic, Yuriy Kerpatenko, who was shot dead in his apartment by the occupiers for refusing to give a concert for them. The prize was awarded to him posthumously.”
During the occupation, Yuliia Manukian and Serhii Diachenko, one of the founders and members of the NGO “Center of Youth Initiatives Totem,” wrote the Kherson Diary series for The Observer/The Guardian. “We were risking our lives, but it was a justified risk, so as not to go crazy from the occupation realities,” admits Manukian. Ukrainian Armed Forces liberated Kherson on 11 November 2022. Unfortunately, on 6 June 2023, the Nova Kakhovka dam in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine was destroyed, causing a major catastrophe in the region. Kherson, like many other settlements, was flooded in a matter of hours.
As a partner of the Documenting Ukraine program, Yuliia Manukian together Serhii Diachenko are working on the project “Cultural Heritage Objects of the South of Ukraine during Russia’s War Against Ukraine: Documentation, Significance, Future.” The study covers the combat zones in the territory historically part of the Crimean Khanate. These borders cover the Odesa, Mykolaiv, and Kherson regions, Crimea, the southern Zaporizhzhia, and the southern Donetsk regions.
Manukian is analyzing the developments in the South of Ukraine through the lens of cultural heritage. These territories have quite a complex history, with a mainly immigrant population. One of the aims of her project is research on changing attitudes towards the cultural heritage of the South, with its indigenous peoples (Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks), as well as other peoples historically associated with the region (Armenians, Jews, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Greeks, French, Germans).