I’m an artist and a citizen cultural ambassador from Ukraine. I’ve received a Fulbright scholarship and currently pursue a graduate degree in Art and Social Practice at Portland State University. On this page, I share the cultural exchange activities I engage in during my stay in the United States .
Ukraine has become widely present in the American media and political discourse since the Maidan Revolution followed by the Russian intervention, and the recent impeachment inquiry. But how well do people in the United States know about Ukraine, about its history, politics, art, and culture? People often ask me about the food we eat in Ukraine but rarely about the Maidan Revolution or political issues Ukrainian artists, or society, are dealing with in their work or everyday life. Currently Ukraine is facing Russian intervention, war, other global and domestic challenges and is desperately in need of being supported as an independent country with its own political agency and representation.
Ukraine was always hard to grasp, define, subject or subjugate, and it often served as a destabilizing factor for the imperialist politics of Russia and the Soviet Union undermining it from the inside. Sometimes it is even challenging for Ukrainians to define their own identity and find a consensus on what their country should be like. But instead of seeing it as a negative factor, I propose to recognize it as an endless horizon of possibilities consisting of constantly changing identities and openness to social diversity and inclusion that is foundational for a sustainable democracy.
I hope this resource will help to establish a deeper mutual understanding between the people of Ukraine and the United States.
This webpage is a social practice artwork. It is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this webpage are entirely those of the artwork participants and do not represent the views of Illia Yakovenko, the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.
Cultural Exchange Reports
Eastern European Groceries Tour with Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr.
My student mentor Artist Michael Bernard Stevenson Jr. took me to visit Eastern European grocery stores in Portland. During our trip we visited approximately five grocery stores. A map of the stores is coming soon.
Storefronts (visual analysis)
Most of the stores appealed to recognizable Soviet and Russian images in their design. Only one storefront had a sign written in Ukrainian. Although people inside that store were mostly speaking Russian. Whereas some staff members at the store that had an image of St. Basil’s Cathedral at the storefront were speaking Ukrainian.
I very rigorously examined the products available at the stores. Most of the things are being imported from the former Soviet countries including Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, etc. We found the same brand of candy Chervony Mak (UA) or Krasnyi Mak (RU) currently produced in both Ukraine and Russia but that has originated in the Soviet Union. The Russian candies are continued to be produced at the formerly Soviet Red October (Krasnyi Octyabr) candy factory. Ukrainian candies are produced at the Roshen factory that belongs to the former president of Ukraine Victor Poroshenko. I told this to Michael and later to other people while they were tasting the candies. I personally think the Ukrainian version tastes better. We also spoke about the war in Ukraine and the Russian intervention.
The topic of war emerged again when we were trying condensed milk. We got a can at one of the grocery stores. The can had a very recognizable Soviet design even though it was produced in the United States. Condensed milk associates in America with Vietnamese coffee and the Vietnam War.
We further had a dinner made out of boiled potatoes, pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, Moldavian white cheese (brynza). I told that people in Ukraine are usually having this food during the winter because it is more accessible. Everyone was positively impressed by the food!
A curated series of two-work monthly exhibitions taking place online and offline in Portland. Every exhibition consists of one work from Portland, Oregon area, or neighboring states and one work from Ukraine. Each exhibition addresses a specific theme and is accompanied by a discussions, a display or a screening at a specific place relevant to the theme.
PSU Art & Social Practice graduate student
SoFa Journal editorial board member
Social Practice Club student administrator (PSU’s Student Activities and Leadership Program)
Student Art Mentor at KSMoCA (volunteer position)
PSU Science and Education Center (SEC)
2130-2136 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97201-4908
illia.yakovenko @ fulbrightmail.com or iy2 @ pdx.edu
PSU Art Building
2000 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97201