Ukraine. The Value And Fragility Of Freedom

Written by Julia Kisla, CEO of The Lions (Born in Poltava, Ukraine)

The understanding of what freedom is in modern society is elusive and personalized: maybe it is about democracy; maybe it is about unlimited freedom of speech or the ability to change without constraints. For a Ukrainian, the construct of freedom is palpable and collective: freedom is about the cultural identity and the fight to preserve it runs deep within the ancestral roots of Ukrainian people.

Ukraine’s entire history is a pursuit of freedom. A political and spiritual odyssey to create its own narrative for what freedom looks and feels like and to weave the essence of that narrative into what it means to be a Ukrainian. Ukrainian culture, its arts, songs, folklore, and literature richly depict freedom-loving Ukrainians clashing against major powers that over the span of centuries denied them sovereignty and pushed conformity of imperial collectivism as a substitute for cultural and individual expression.

Today, Ukrainians have risen once again not only to protect their homes and dignity, but also to defend their sacred ideal of freedom that they regard as an indissoluble part of who they are. In the face of insurmountable odds, through city rubble and agonizing loss, Ukraine’s courageous fight for its independence is reorienting the rest of the world into remembering that freedom is the highest of human values that allows us to create life that feels authentically our own.

Nastya Abramova
Nastya Abramova
Nastya Abramova (Born in Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine)

Ukrainian culture is so diverse, deep, and multidimensional. Unfortunately, Russia has been trying to demolish it for ages, adding in fictitious elements that devalue our heritage. That’s led to many Ukrainians having a twisted knowledge of their own history. In reality, we are a very authentic nation that passes our traditions down from generation to generation. It seems like the world perceives Ukraine as an undeveloped minor country that’s barely modern. Now the war has caused the forced migration of Ukrainians abroad and proven that we are modern and technologically advanced. We take care of our environment and normally live in comfort.

Ukraine has produced many genius inventors who improved all our lives. It was Ukrainians who brought you X-Rays, helicopters, rocket engines, kinescopes, plague vaccinations, ecologically cleaner fuel, and much more.

Sometimes it’s shocking to realize that dear friends are just living their lives as normal, with really indifferent and materialistic points of view. I’ve found out who my true friends are and who actually has soul.

I can’t stand the smallest unfair act anymore. The war has been an eye-opener for me and the people I’m surrounded by. A lot of us speak only in the Ukrainian language now, realizing how important it is important to speak in our native tongue, because the use of Russian language in our country is only propaganda—a post-Soviet Union trauma when Ukrainian language was prohibited.

Help us fight Russian propaganda by exposing their war crimes and genocide of the Ukrainian population. After this war, Ukraine will finally sever its Russian ties and influences and rebuild a country where freedom is the fundamental practice and ideal. It will thrive with its own culture and in its own language.

My favorite Ukrainian artists at the moment are designer Bevza, whose laconic collections are always strongly interwoven with Ukrainian culture, and the poet and hand-crafter—amongst other things—Nadiia Shapoval, who marries modern aesthetics with rural life.

Tanya Kizko
Tanya Kizko
Tanya Kizko (Born in Donetsk, Ukraine)

“Ukraine has a lot of sky,” was an interesting observation made by a friend of mine who visited last year. It’s symbolic of the love Ukrainians have for freedom above all else. Now the whole world can see that. When the war started, nothing could really help me get through the day, so my memories of the first weeks are vague. I eventually found some remedy in sports, but the apathy that set in was terrible. Gym and work helped me tremendously. I felt more secure when I was in public, surrounded by people.

My perspective has totally changed since the start of the war. I came to realize that none of us have much time left on this planet and that happiness can be found in trivial things. I should be happy that I’m healthy and have parents who love me. It may seem obvious, but you start to value every moment when you understand that life can be lost within the blink of an eye.

War has united Ukraine in a way that makes everyone feel like a member of one giant family. That spirit gives us an undeniable belief in our victory and independence soon to come. It’s like a fight between light and darkness, where light should always win. I’ve discovered a lot of new feelings and sides of my personality in last few months, and I love seeing people expressing their feelings through art and music. We also try to share the truth on social media. I’m very proud of my country.

I’ve felt a reverence for Ukrainian culture since childhood. I was passionate to learn more about the history of my country from its roots in Ukrainian literature and art. One of the things I love most is how our language sounds in music—it’s magical. When I listen to Ukrainian songs, I experience all my feelings wholeheartedly. I recommend to listening to the song “Stefania” by Kalush Orchestra. It recently won the Eurovision contest and contains Ukrainian folk music motifs. We also have a lot of amazing renowned Ukrainian designers. Check out, ruslan baginskiy, bevza, and cultnaked—my absolute favorite brands.

We Ukrainians are immensely grateful for all the help we’ve received from countries around the globe. To everyone who gave us a helping hand, we’ll remember it forever. It’s been proof that our world is full of beautiful souls that know what empathy is. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who helped our refugees.

When the war is over, I’ll go home and hug my mom.

Anastasiia Chuhunkina
Anastasiia Chuhunkina
Anastasiia Chuhunkina (Born in Tetiiv, Ukraine)

When the war first broke out, everyone was caught by surprise. Those first few days I worked, I barely got any sleep. My phone was glued to my hands on set. I’d smile for a few shots, then direct my eyes right back to the news. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life and after a month my health deteriorated. Weirdly, the only thing that kept me levelheaded was modeling. My appointments forced me to get out of bed, brush my hair, wash my face, and leave the house. As the weather has gotten nicer, I’ve been jogging and spending more time outdoors to help my overall health.

I’d like to believe that one day I’ll be the same person I was before the war: naive, optimistic, and careless. But I feel like I’ve aged fifty years overnight. I’m strong and selfless, but at the same time I’m traumatized and tired. Losing my childhood illusions was a painful process and I don’t enjoy the results. The positive takeaway is that I care much more about the people around me now and appreciate their love and support on a totally new level. I feel like the whole Ukrainian nation senses that too.

I believe Ukraine will come out of this stronger than ever before. Today, Ukraine is fighting for freedom, democracy, and human rights. Those core values of my nation will remain its driving force for the future. It’s going to be one of the best places in the world, not just to visit, but to live a happy and creative life.

My cultural touchstones are the melodies of Ukrainian songs, which have always fascinated me. They honestly reflect the family and social life of Ukrainians with great sensitivity. They reveal people’s inner worlds and recount historical events. They have an uncompromising attitude toward injustice, the oppressed rights of the working man, and the arbitrary nature of power. Many Ukrainian songs express the ardent dreams of the people.

I’m very grateful to every person supporting Ukraine during these extremely hard times. We are united, not just against this militaristic evil empire that spreads murder and hate, but for love, truth, and fraternity. The bright side always wins.

Helga Hitko
Helga Hitko
Helga Hitko (Born in Kherson, Ukraine)

Ukraine has such diverse geographical and natural attractions that very few people know about. From Lviv, one of Europe’s most photogenic cities, to Kiev, which had become so dynamic before the war. We have so many wonders to show off. The fact that we’ve been standing tall for our independence speaks to our culture. We are a simple, proud people that love our country.

We have a strong Ukrainian community in New York and being able to connect with each other on a daily basis has made a big difference. I’m mostly just so grateful for the fact that my family and friends are alive.

I had never really been interested in the history of my country, but since the war I’ve devoured history books and have become much more curious to learn everything that has shaped the world we live in. I also feel a stronger connection to my homeland. I hope my country will come out of this stronger, but I can’t even imagine how much needs to be rebuilt. For now, my thoughts are on my family’s safety and the hope that they will be able to return to their rightful home in Kherson.

I understand that our allies are doing a lot, but I’m frustrated that it takes so much time and that the whole world fears Putin this much. It’ll be a huge relief when the war finally ends. 

UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom
UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom
UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom
UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom
UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom
UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom
UKRAINE: The Value And Fragility Of Freedom

Photo Jens Ingvarsson (Born in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine)
Creative: Alexei Key (Born in Mariupol, Ukraine)
Casting: The New Cast


Razom, Inc. is a non-profit organization supporting the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of a democratic society with dignity, justice, and human and civil rights for all. Razom coordinates groups of volunteers and fundraising efforts to build a prosperous Ukraine project by project.

Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund can help provide children and families with immediate aid, such as food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support, and cash assistance.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is an independent, neutral organization ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. Together with its partners in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the ICRC remains active in Ukraine, saving and protecting the lives of victims of armed conflict and violence.

Vostok SOS is a Ukranian-based organization that partners with German-Swiss NGO Libereco to provide immediate evacuation support to Ukrainians attempting to flee their homes. Vostok maintains a hotline for Ukrainians in need and, going forward, hopes to provide trauma support to victims of the war.

United Help Ukraine, Inc. is a charitable organization receiving and distributing donations, food, and medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees, people of Ukraine affected by the ongoing war, and families of those who have been wounded or killed.

Voices of Children is a Ukraine-based aid organization that provides psychological support to children who have witnessed war. They use art therapy and storytelling to support children’s wellbeing, and provides financial support to families who have suffered as a result of war.

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