Cultural Diplomacy: Cases from Ukraine
Hi, my name is Volodymyr Sheiko, I am Director General of the Ukrainian Institute. In this video, I would like to talk to you about some notable cases of cultural diplomacy of Ukraine.

100 years of cultural diplomacy

This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ukraine’s cultural diplomacy.

On January 24, 1919, Ukrainian Republican Chapel led by conductor Oleksandr Koshyts was established by the government of Ukraine’s People Republic, and in the following years it toured around the world to promote the Ukrainian musical culture.

In the first two years, the Chapel gave 200 concerts in 45 cities, mostly in world-famous music halls, and enjoyed immense press coverage.  

As a result of the tour, Ukrainian song “Shchedryk” written by Mykola Leontovych became a world-famous composition better known nowadays as "Carol of the bells".

In then-extremely difficult historical conditions, the first Ukrainian state showed how culture can become a powerful tool to protect and build the country’s international recognition.

One hundred years later we can see how today’s cultural managers continues to build Ukraine’s international image. Let’s take a look at some of them.

The first project I want you to tell about is called “SEE Ukraine”.

Since 2016, it has been organised by the team of the Docudays UA International Documentary Film Festival. The project has already taken place in Paris, Hamburg, Munich, Athens, Milan and Madrid.

See Ukraine is not just about films. Of course it includes documentaries, but also exhibitions and discussions. This creates a much-needed context for the films, which often depict the reality of today’s rural and urban Ukraine. Exhibitions are often integrated into local venues such as museums or galleries.

Several iterations of See Ukraine were dedicated to acute themes of informational, political and geographical aggression; decommunisation, historical memory and identity.

Such events are valuable because they don’t just project a positive message but create an open platform for honest discussion, reflection and interaction between people.

The next case I would like to highlight is the Ukrainian band Dakha Brakha.

This famous ethno-band was formed in 2004 by Vlad Troitskiy in the “Dakh” theatre. Using authentic Ukrainian tunes, the band shows how traditional culture can be transformed through modern music and blend with the world music scene.

In recent years the band travelled all around the world: from Korea and Australia to the USA and Latin America, and performed at world-class festivals: WOMAD and Glastonbury in the UK or Sziget in Hungary.

The band has more than 100 international concerts annually, and is among the best known Ukrainian bands in the world.

Another great case of Ukrainian cultural diplomacy is its literature.

Over the past few years Ukraine has started to participate in major international book fairs in Frankfurt, London, Paris, Prague, Bologna.

International prizes also strengthen the attention to our artists in the world. For example, only in 2018:

  • Tanya Malyarchuk received the most prestigious award in Austria, the Ingeborg Bachmann Literature Prize,

  • Felix Austria by Sofia Andrukhovich was nominated for Jean Monnet Prize (France)

  • Volodymyr Rafeenko was awarded by the Visegrad Literary Prize of the Eastern Partnership (Slovakia)

The triumph of Sergey Zhadan's "Internat" novel at the Leipzig Book Fair or the "Bologna Ragazzi" Prize awarded to the design-studio "Agrafka" attracted a lot of attention and dozens of contracts and commissions in many countries.

For sure, investment in translation is vital - namely workshops, educational programs, systematic work with world publishers, state programmes for literary translation ​​- is one of the most effective instruments of cultural diplomacy in the literary sphere.

Another bright example of cultural diplomacy comes from archive films.

The Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Center (Dovzhenko Center) is the largest Ukrainian State Film Archive. Not only it stores films, conducts researches and restorations but also rediscovers the unrevealed heritage of Ukrainian cinema of the 20th century.

In 2018 alone the Dovzhenko Centre undertook 29 international projects took place in Europe, Nothern and Southern America, and Asia, so that 57 Ukrainian avant-garde films and other retrospectives were presented internationally. The largest of these was recently devoted to the legacy of late Ukrainian director Kira Muratova: a great retrospective in Bonn (Germany), at the Yale University (5 films) and in Buenos Aires at the International Film Festival of Independent Film (7 films).

Ukrainian Institute

Of course, there are much more projects organised by activists, Ukrainian diaspora, artists, national institutions and many others.

Now there is also a state institution which can support these ideas but also takes a strategic and longer-term take at cultural diplomacy. I am talking about the Ukrainian Institute - a fairly new national organisation where I work.

We aim to bring Ukraine and the world closer together through culture, language and education, and aspire to make Ukraine an exciting place on the world’s cultural map.  

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