In February 2022, I started working with the Swedish theater ADAS in Gothenburg on a play called Mama Zoya, Belarus. Through conversations and interviews with my mother Zoya, this play sheds light on her fate, her struggle to achieve her dreams, and the tragic impact of mental illness. And, besides this, about trauma, love, feminine strength, and human life in difficult historical and political circumstances.

The project ended sadly for me. I was suspended from work by the Swedish side. And I was also excluded from my very personal statement, which was supposed to be a declaration of love for my mother.

A brief overview of my background. My experience in independent theater in Belarus spans 23 years. I work as an actress and director in my own theater projects. Someone may know that in Belarus, independent projects may not receive funding, especially if they are included in ban lists by the KGB and ideological departments. Despite this, the Kryly Khalopa theater remained one of Belarus’s most renowned, enduring, and successful touring independent theaters. The KX Space in Brest was established by the theater group in 2014 and has since functioned as a gallery for contemporary art and a platform for cultural events. It was one of the most important independent cultural centers in Belarus. KX was a partner in numerous international projects, and their numbers were only increasing. All these years I led both the theater and the space, which were closed by the Belarusian authorities in 2021. Over the last 6 years, the team consisted entirely of women who shared a similar mindset. Such a situation as happened to me in Gothenburg has never happened in my life before. I am used to thinking of myself as a professional, one of the few female directors in Belarus, and quite a successful one. My Swedish partners tried to make me believe that I was unwell and not suitable for work. Nevertheless, I chose to interpret the events through my own perspective.

My interest in postcolonial studies, combined with three days spent in May 2023 at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin studying the ethnographic collection, helped me understand and reflect on the history of the Swedish-Belarusian project Mama Zoya, Belarus. My numerous meetings and conversations with Belarusians who live in exile, as well as the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden, have made it possible to see the gap that exists between the proclaimed European values and what is happening in practice. A critique of inequality, of the idea of productivity and working conditions in the capitalist system served as another starting point for my reflection.

Some may say that I am making an excessive claim by utilizing tools like this and using words like “colonial” in seemingly unconnected contexts. Perhaps, I might have found more suitable definitions. However, it seems to me that the use of the term “colonial” outside the usual usage nevertheless expands its meaning and allows it to be used in a situation like what happened to me in Sweden.

Collage by Sviatlana Husakova


November 2021, Gothenburg

I’m flying to Sweden for a month of art residency as part of the Swedish-Belarusian project Status. The Swedish colleagues planned to search for Swedish partners to collaborate on projects with Belarusian artists. This is how I meet actress and director Fia and ADAS Theater. It seems that we wouldn’t have found a better partner: a small private theater in Gothenburg deals with very similar topics — women’s stories and feminism. Fia expresses a keen interest in doing something together.

I was very tired at that moment, so I refused. We have just completed the play Frau mit Automat and had the premiere in Poland. It was finalized in Germany and Poland because my theater in Belarus was closed by that time. In the same year, the Department of Financial Investigations came to my house to initiate a criminal trial. I went through searches, interrogations, and the very real possibility of going to prison. This is one of the repressive measures applied to NGOs and media in Belarus after the 2020 elections. I got caught in the gears of a strict educational system, dealing with the challenges of being a mother to a teenager who found themselves in a difficult situation. I faced pressure from the school, the police, the juvenile commission, the prosecutor’s office, and others I can’t even recall. This was followed by the closure of KX Space and my theater in Brest, along with many other non-profit organizations. Antidepressants keep me going. Fia, on the contrary, radiates with energy and enthusiasm, this enthusiasm scares me, and I brush it off even more desperately.

February 2022, Brest

I return to Belarus, several months have passed. As I walk through a snowy forest, I suddenly think about my plans with the Swedes, and Fia’s energy reminds me of someone. I decide that the only thing I’m willing to do with her is a play about my mother Zoya, who has the same fierce power. I return to Zoya’s house, brush the snow off my boots, and turn on the recorder for the first time. And a little later I sent Fia a letter.

Letter to Fia and who is Zoya


Dear Fia!

I am thinking now about a performance about my mother. About her – she is a really unusual woman for post-Soviet reality. She was like an “usual” in Soviet time- normal patriarchy family, she worked in the factory and had all the homework and 2 kids… When the Perestrojka started she decided to prove to her husband that she is great and brilliant. Because she can’t forgive how he considered her much lower than himself professionally and said this openly in front of his friends. She decided that she will become rich! And started to go on shop-tours to Moscow and Warsaw with huge bags… and it was terrible, really terrible and hard. Then she started her own business, and I can call her a very brave self-made woman. She has no higher education but she worked like an economist in big enterprises in the 90-th… and finally she gave me and my brother financial stability… and 10 years ago she gone mad, her nervous system broked. Last 10 years I have patronized her and seen her flat- it looks like the scenography for a performance or film…

What I see in this — the story of a woman who fought with patriarchat by her own method and it was extremely hard. And where there is a lot of controversy in it, for example her heroine and ideal was Zoya Kosmodemjanskaya, the Soviet heroine who was killed by fascists…   She’s really incredible though giving me a lot of worries now.

I talked with Sveta and she agrees that you are the best performer for this role. Also the “mother” topic is important for you, Fia. So I would like to direct the performance with you as an actor.

I started to interview my mom. Playwright I usually work with  is ready to help me with the text.

So what do you think , Fia?

Warm hugs,


Photo from Aksana’s family archive

February 21, 2022

Excitedly, Fia answers “yes” and suggests being the playwright for our project. Together, we will construct it through our dialogues and written correspondence.

May 2022, Gothenburg

I am coming for the second month of my residency in Gothenburg. We start working on the text, gather together, and have conversations for 3–5 hours. I tell about my mother and my family, the Soviet Union, the war, and today’s Belarus. The Swedes are not Poles; they know almost nothing about us. During my journey, I engage in research and read extensively about the daily life of the Soviet Union, as well as other topics that I need to explain to someone unfamiliar with our past and present reality.

I am happy that Fia is so sincerely interested in my history and the history of my Belarus. This is a genuine interest, and I have also discovered a lot about my family’s history. We become friends.

Self-portrait with Fia, May 2022. Photo by Aksana Haiko

Summer 2022, Brest

I record new interviews with my mother and transcribe them into text. After that, Sveta translates them into English. Sveta is an actress and the manager of the Kryly Khalopa Theater and my closest friend, with whom we have been working together for more than 15 years.

I found my mother’s “Turkish diaries”, several thick notebooks. In 2009, Zoya went on vacation to Turkey and did not return. The initial severe onset of the disease occurred while she was at the airport. She remained there for a week, having very little food, and documenting her experience continuously. Then I took her from Turkey and thus began the story of her illness and my custody of her.

I transcribe and translate the diaries, which read like a horror script, into English for Fia.

September 2022, Vitlycke and Gothenburg

The next session with Fia takes place in a beautiful forested area north of Gothenburg. We only have a week and a half to work, we work 8–10 hours a day.

Fia is extremely productive, which makes it challenging for me to keep up, but I’m managing. I look at my Swedish friend and realize that she is over 60 years old, which is 20 years older than me, but she is much stronger. Through discussions with my friends, we have collectively concluded that my physical decline is a manifestation of necropolitics1 and the challenges of enduring in a politically tumultuous environment.

We are creating a scenario plan. Now it has the working title The Three Lives of Zoya, and my mother’s entire life is divided into three parts: childhood, marriage, madness and her experience at the Turkish airport. The history of the country where Zoya lives plays a big role in the script. I love creating stories with multiple layers and weaving performances that span different dimensions: private and political, real and mythical.

We return to Gothenburg and continue to work. We begin to discuss the cast and production process. I immediately refuse to perform in the play; it is beyond my strength to work on the material and perform. Fia persistently suggests a second actress, Lisbeth. It’s clear to me that producing a play where the majority of the script revolves around young Zoya, with two actresses over 60, will be quite challenging. I insist on inviting Sveta as the third actress, and I also want to provide the opportunity for Belarusians in exile to work. This raises questions, but the main concern is transparency (for the first time a word is uttered that will later haunt the Zoya project). Fia is unsure if the process will maintain its transparency considering the involvement of my Belarusian friend and actress, with whom I am very close. These doubts are unreasonable to me.

The process of working on Zoya, November 2022. Photos by
Sviatlana Haidalionak, Andreas Luukinen

October 2022, Brest

I am admitted to the hospital with persistent dizziness. Among other findings, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and strongly advised to restart my use of antidepressants, which I had previously discontinued. A couple of weeks after being discharged from the hospital, I fly to Gothenburg for scheduled work with Fia.

November–December 2022, Gothenburg

Fia and I continue our meetings and work on the text.

At the same time, we are developing a budget and plan for the upcoming production process. Sveta arrives, we all work together. I insist on inviting a composer and set designer from Belarus to the project. All of them are professionals, among the best in the Belarusian scene, and they are all in forced emigration.

We are developing a concept for the work of our international team. We have decided that the participants will work in mixed groups. We are creating a budget. I have noticed that the fee for the Belarusian composer, Sergei (name changed), is half the amount of the fee for a sound engineer. I’ve been informed that the budget is very limited, and Jonas is an excellent specialist who cannot be paid less. It’s obvious that everyone is uncomfortable, but we decide to ask Sergei if he is ready to work for this money. The answer is predictable, “Of course, I’m ready!”. People in exile do not have much disdain.

We are drawing up a tour plan. As I understand it, our Swedish partners do not tour outside of Sweden. I extend the invitation to perform at festivals and with our partners in Poland and Germany, where my performances are much anticipated.

I found out that Fia received a grant for the text we are already working on. This is the most expensive task in the project; they pay more for this in Sweden than for anything else. I haven’t received anything yet except money for living expenses from the travel grant and residency, but the future final fee included in the budget suits me. It will cover my work for a year, I think.

January–February 2023, India

I’m going to India on a long-awaited vacation, but the text of Mama Zoya is not finished yet. I am receiving texts from Fia for editing. We are pressed for time, and production work must commence by the end of February.

During that time Swedes receive money for the production — less than they wanted, but the desired minimum was met!

In mid-February, the draft of the play is completed.

February 2023, Gothenburg

We start on February 27th. The whole team meets in Gothenburg: four Belarusian participants and six Swedish ones. We only have 2 weeks for table conversations, introductions, text discussions, assignments, and questions, and 5 weeks for the production. And we deal with very complex and multi-layered concepts.

The atmosphere is very tense, some might even say nervous. From morning until evening, we are in the theater, and rehearsals begin in the second week.

It’s hard for me. Everyone looks at me expectantly, and all the time there is a feeling that they are dissatisfied with me. I’m trying to find an approach. I have a lot of adaptability. Dealing with censorship, financial struggles, and years of activist theater with no funding, collaborating with diverse communities, navigating the shift to online work due to COVID-19, facing repressions, and constant crisis management — I have learned to find solutions in the face of any challenge. But it seems like I am always doing something wrong here. Suddenly, there was a shift, and amidst all the overwhelming stress, I was finally struck with inspiration. I stay up until night, building the concept of the play, and the work goes on!

Very soon, I start to feel unwell. This is psychosomatics: I know how my body behaves when I don’t get enough rest and time. My back is in excruciating pain. Insomnia begins. I heighten the doses of my pills, consoling myself that the journey will be short and I can persevere through it. I somehow recover on the weekends, but after a few weeks even the weekends don’t help.

The relentless speed and pressure to be productive as quickly as possible isn’t just taking a toll on me. After a while, the whole team begins to feel unwell. Fia doesn’t sleep at night because her husband is sick. One day she gets into an accident and breaks her car. The pressure and stress are increasing and:

  1. I am reminded that I must reply to letters during weekends — our schedule is tight, and we are expected to be accessible on Sundays as well. However, after experiencing burnout in 2014, I made the decision to stop working on Sundays.
  2. We live with Sveta; in fact, there is never an opportunity to be alone. At the same time, Fia has complaints: we are likely discussing the performance together, and this lack of transparency is not good!
  3. In an effort to be more efficient and productive, I assign tasks to Sveta, the main character in the first part who has the most challenging role. Individual task assignments have always been the norm in our theater. We now live in the same apartment and can work from home. There are complaints about this being “not transparent” again.
  4. It is not allowed for us to speak Belarusian, even if I need to briefly explain Sveta’s task to her. This provokes a storm of anger. At the same time, everyone is comfortable speaking Swedish, indicating Lisbeth’s limited knowledge of English as the reason.
  5. We dedicate a significant amount of time after rehearsals to thoroughly explain the play’s developments to all team members, including for some reason the costume designer, set designer, lighting designer, and others. Fia complains that the two of us need to have more discussions together.
  6. Fia decides to use my free morning time for this purpose. All of a sudden, with no prior notice, just hours before rehearsals, she starts showing up at my studio, which is conveniently located next to the theater. I begin to live in constant anxiety and anticipation of a persistent knock on the door. After a few morning visits, I ask Fia to let me have some time alone during my free time — it’s crucial for my recovery, which I really require. Fia apologizes, expresses gratitude for my openness, and within 3 days, the cycle repeats itself.
  7. I require some time to focus on the script independently. I request more time for myself because otherwise, I’ll have to stay up late at night. Fia says she assumed I would take care of it while I was in India — which is puzzling considering the script was released just 2 weeks before production.
  8. Fia is even busier with other important meetings. But in a time when we could be doing our personal work, (or, God forbid, relaxing), we are persistently offered to visit theaters, including children’s theaters. I attempt to decline, stating, “I have an appointment with my therapist!” — “Maybe you can reschedule?” Fia insists. “No!” I answer. With each passing moment, I am becoming more enraged by the pain and fatigue.
  9. My last rehearsal was marked by a hysterical outburst. During improvisation, Sveta suddenly starts crying when she hears the Belarusian anthem, which the Swedes play for inspiration. The Swedes begin to shout (yes, shout) at Sveta. They are yelling that they can’t work in these conditions, Sveta’s crying, which is not the first time interrupting the rehearsal, does not allow everyone to move forward productively! “Use your trauma!!” — they shout — “use it for our work!” Sveta is silent.
  10. Then I start to swear. As the director, I stand by Sveta and refuse to exploit anyone’s traumas. I intend to be cautious not only with Sveta but with everyone involved. I say that I am not Jerzy Grotowski, whom both Swedish actresses are so proud to know, and that in the name of brilliant production, I will not turn anyone into a corpse, as was the case with Ryszard Cieślak. After everyone has gone, I take a stroll in the park until nightfall. I’m furious.

March 21, Gothenburg

Upon waking up the morning after the scandal, I receive a text from Fia in which she expresses great concern for my health. She wants to come over and talk to me right now. The topic of conversation is solely my health, not business. She insists. That day, I must appear at the rehearsal at 13:00. I have decided that it will be better to stop talking for the sake of my health. I suggested meeting after the rehearsal, as I have asked to be allowed to rest in my free time.

Near 9 a.m., there is a persistent knock on the door, I don’t open it. At 12:50, I go out with my folders to the rehearsal and run into Fia on the doorstep. A scene takes place right in the corridor of my studio where she declares that the ADAS theater has decided to send me on a two-week vacation. Fia says that I am sick, unable to work, and I don’t have the director’s vision and the strength to lead. The theater has a significant financial responsibility and cannot afford to slow down the process because of me. I reminded her that two days ago she was happy about how well we were working. No! Badly! I insist that I can handle the job, and a two-week suspension is like leaving completely because there are only 3 weeks left until the planned premiere. I suggest going to the theater where the whole team is already seated and hearing everyone’s opinions; for me, this would be a reasonable decision. To exclude the director is an outrageous decision. “We don’t have time to talk about this,” Fia says. “You didn’t open the door this morning to talk! We don’t have any more time!”

I am being asked to leave the studio and not to communicate with Sveta. I will be moving to the apartment previously occupied by my colleagues from Belarus.

Through tears, I pack my things. In the evening I leave the studio.

March 2023, Gothenburg

Amid my “vacation,” I realize that I haven’t signed a contract yet. It looks like the contract has not been signed by anyone. I am writing a letter to the ADAS producer requesting that the documents be prepared as soon as possible. In Sweden, this is considered normal, he says. I am surprised by this unique Swedish approach because everywhere it is not normal to work without a contract. They finally sent me a contract to sign after a week, but the amount stated was only half of our agreed sum. In response to my question about the amount, they explain that I haven’t earned any more money due to my sickness.

According to one of my diplomas, I am a business lawyer. I observe violations and arbitrariness in this. I insist that the contract must be signed based on a prior agreement, and then we will determine what I have actually accomplished. Furthermore, I also want to point out that the proposed contract for donors may appear to be corrupt. It seems that the producer got scared, I got my way, and the contract was signed. I’m happy (in vain).

Sveta informs me that Fia is actively revising and modifying my decisions and developments in the play.

It won’t be long before ADAS Theater proposes to remove my name from the project, claiming it is for my safety in Belarus. I say that it is sufficient for my safety if all texts are first sent to me for approval before being published, and I request that this clause be included in the contract. ADAS is attempting to persuade me. A bit later I realize that they are trying to untie their hands. But a clause appears in the contract. There is also a clause stating that the ADAS theater does not bear any responsibility for any potential issues I may encounter with the Belarusian authorities.

Within 1 to 2 weeks, all my pain disappears.

April 3, 2023, Gothenburg

After 2 weeks, there is a meeting where Swedes ask me what I want to do. I do not get the question. After all, everything has already been thoroughly redone, and there is a week left before the planned premiere. There are no offers, everyone is waiting for something from me, it seems they are waiting for me to refuse. I refuse. I don’t understand how I can return to the theater where no one said a word in my defense, and I don’t understand what I will do in a production where my directorial decision has no meaning. And I myself mean nothing. Furthermore, I no longer understand the payment situation for my work, and I no longer have any guarantees.

April 15, 2023, Gothenburg

The premiere has been postponed. To bring the play to the premiere, a male Swedish director is invited, and everyone willingly follows his decisions. And even accepts his individual tasks for Sveta.

May 2023, Berlin

I don’t wait for the premiere; I fly to Berlin. I am sending a payment invoice for the contract. They inform me that I only earned half and try convincing me that this is actually very good money. All my further negotiations lead to nothing. I call for justice. I have been working on the project for a year, and my fee is almost equal to that of the sound engineer, despite the fact that this is my project, my idea, and my contribution to the production is immeasurably greater. They repeat that Jonas is a highly qualified specialist and, moreover, supervises his younger colleague from Belarus. I suggest that the donors and foundations that contributed funds for Zoya become a third party in our negotiations. However, the Swedes have stopped responding to my letters. What I continue to receive are declarations of deep and endless love from Fia. Nobody answers any of my questions anymore. I am not receiving the letters sent to all participants in the Zoya project. I don’t receive feedback forms about our work on the Zoya project, unlike all my colleagues (I remember the notorious lack of transparency).

My name as a director has been removed from the posters; now it’s only mentioned as the co-author of the concept with Fia. I’m almost invisible.

I’m flying to the last spring showing of Zoya from Berlin. The performance is not so bad, although my complexity, the most “exotic” ideas, and the wonderful music that we developed together with Sergei have disappeared.

On the last evening before leaving for Belarus, I was reading a Swedish post on Facebook about the play and nearly fainted. This text puts me at risk. It seems that the ADAS theater is not concerned about my safety, as nobody has sent me any texts as we agreed in the contract. I write a letter to ADAS, to which no one responds.

I am going to Belarus, and at the border, I am detained and interrogated by KGB officers. I have been outside the country for a long time, and I am on certain lists.

I’ve never received answers to my questions from ADAS Theater. The theater is bustling with preparations for the upcoming tour of the play and vacations.

Scenes from the play Mama Zoya, Belarus, May 2023. Photos by Aksana Haiko


What exactly happened? I had the chance to attribute all the problems to what might have seemed as Fia’s peculiar character, her workaholic tendencies, and perceived toxic work environment at ADAS theater. But I’m tempted to look deeper.

I decided to explore the difference between European ethical values and ideas and the actual decisions and actions that guide Europeans in their interactions with Others.

I turned to the texts of the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, who advocates “the critique, not of the West per se, but of the effects of cruelty and blindness produced by a certain conception – I’d call it colonial – of reason, of humanism, and of universalism.”2

I thought about colonialism in connection with the Zoya project. Colonialism, after all, consists not only of seizing land, appropriating resources, establishing one’s own order in the occupied territories, etc. The main characteristic is the exploitation and use of resources, as well as making a profit in the capitalist market. My Swedish colleagues utilized me and my resources, and then deprived me of my performance, half of my fee, and basic safety.

The mistrust shown towards the entire Belarusian team from the beginning of the production process signaled that we were not considered good enough; we were seen as Others. The outcome was my exclusion, the halt of communication with the Belarusian composer and set designer after I left, the almost total dismissal of their contributions to the play, and the reassignment of Sveta to “students” being taught by Swedish actresses to perform “well and correctly.”

In their initial public communications about the Zoya project, the Swedes discussed the displaced Belarusians they encountered and expressed their strong desire to assist people who have lost their homes, homeland, and means of livelihood due to repressions. This is also colonial rhetoric: when Germany extracted rubber and ivory in Africa, the colonialists claimed their goal was to help the underdeveloped natives with their comprehensive development. “Colonialism constantly lies about itself and about others,” says Achille Mbembe.3

Our work was subject to rules that were supposedly democratic and pluralistic, but in fact, they became practices of subordination. We could be taught and treated as if we were savages who are not used to proper and productive work. We could have been shouted at outrageously. We were prohibited from speaking our own language, supposedly to promote mutual respect and transparency. However, this did not prevent the Swedes from using Swedish that we didn’t understand. In the end, our European colleagues took the right to PUNISH, grant the opportunity to work or exclude without discussion. To punish is a privilege, and I couldn’t oppose it because I was not in my own country or theater. I was also denied the opportunity to defend myself: they simply stopped answering my letters and made it seem as if I had disappeared and no longer existed.

“Colonialism was largely a policy of disciplining bodies, inextricably connected to the desire to increase their efficiency, pliability and productivity”.4 I turned out to be stubborn, too weak, undisciplined, and my theatrical concepts were too complicated. I had complex concepts. I didn’t shout or claim power, as a normal director supposedly should. Likewise, I prevented them from creating a fully commercial product and using today’s stories of Belarus due to the risk of repression.

The equal co-production that Zoya was supposed to be, became a project of exclusion and demonstration of power. “…postcolonial thinking, the critique of European humanism and universalism, is… carried out with the aim of paving the way for an inquiry into the possibility of a politics of the fellow-creature. The prerequisite for such a politics is the recognition of the Other and of his or her difference.”5 Recognizing the Other as different, but equal, opening up to the new experience that the Other brings, expanding one’s borders was beyond the power of my European colleagues. They decided that they could tell my story much better than I could. Instead of being open to the Other, they have chosen, in the good colonial tradition, to speak ON BEHALF of the Other.

It seems like I failed. But based on what Jack Halberstam writes in The queer art of failure, the best thing possible happened to me. Failure, according to Halberstam, can indicate the impossibility of functioning in a rigid capitalist system, “under certain circumstances, failure, losing, forgetting, not doing, not knowing can actually produce more creative, more solidary, more surprising ways of being in the world.”6 My failure in Gothenburg could be seen as a victory: I was able to leave the toxic project, maintaining myself, my health, and my dignity. All 9 of my colleagues at Zoya chose to remain silent, and I don’t blame them. They all have their own reasons to obey and support obvious injustice.

Finally, an indicative fact. During one of the sessions with Fia, I met a Kurdish man named Mardin. Persecution forced him to flee Iran. Mardin came to help me the same day I was expelled from the Zoya project, moved my things and helped me throughout the month that I lived in Sweden. Through him, I became a little acquainted with the Kurdish diaspora in Gothenburg and Stockholm. And something very important happened to me. For the first time in my life, I stopped identifying myself with white Europeans. I have never had any insecurities and have always considered myself equal to the people in any European country. I still consider myself equal, but now I associate myself not with the white Swedes, but with Kurds, Iranians, Syrians, Turks and other Others living in Gothenburg, on the opposite bank of the river — in Hisingen.

Draft poster for Zoya near the ADAS theater, November 2022, photo by Aksana Haiko
Official poster of the play Mama Zoya, Belarus

It is important for me to say all this today, and I regard my anger and my voice as the voice of a woman who was deprived of authorship in her own history, as the voice of one who was exploited and thrown out, as the voice of the invisible and nameless, of which there are millions in Europe today.

I recently read a novel by the Russian writer Oksana Vasyakina, “Wound,” which depicts her journey to bury an urn containing her mother’s ashes across Russia, all the way to Siberia. I read and thought that I was not successful in creating an art piece about my mother and my very personal story — something that Vasyakina did so well. I cannot consider the performance Mama Zoya, Belarus being my own. It seems that I’ll need to approach it differently; perhaps by putting on another play or penning a book. Regardless, I have faith that my artistic statement about Zoya will still happen.


  1. Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian philosopher who introduced the concept of necropolitics, defines it as the authority of those in power to choose which individuals within their jurisdiction are allowed to live and which are deemed unworthy of existence.
  2. (2008). What is postcolonial thinking? An interview with Achille Mbembe. [online] Available at:
  3. Ibid.
  4. Achille Mbembe (2001). On the Postcolony. Univ of California Press.
  5. (2008). What is postcolonial thinking? An interview with Achille Mbembe. [online] Available at:
  6. Halberstam, J. (2011). The queer art of failure. Durham ; London: Duke University Press.


Fia Adler Sandblad is the artistic director of ADAS Theatre, which she started more than thirty years ago at Konstepidemin in Gothenburg, Sweden. Here, she responds to Aksana Haiko’s text about their joint work in 2021 – 2023.

Hello Aksana!

I see it as welcome that you, with your thoughts and postcolonial perspectives, raise the issues that arose in connection with our work Mama Zoya, Belarus. Dialogue is important for all of us, to be able to move forward in our understanding of who we are, what our worlds look like, and for our common future.

We have different views on a number of things, and therefore, out of respect for the work we did together, I would like to add the following to your text.

There was an agreement already in the autumn of 2022, a verbal agreement based on many and long conversations both about the economic conditions of ADAS theatre and about how we, together and separately, would take responsibility for the artistic work in a production process. The agreement was formalized in December 2022 in accordance with Swedish laws and regulations. The financial resources that we, as an independent theatre in Sweden, can apply for, comes from the state and from the region. They come with demands for something in return. This means that we are obliged to complete the work described. In the agreement with you, this was made obvious. We were also outspoken about the ownership, that ADAS theatre must own the project, thus also the power but also the responsibility towards the funders and, in the long run, towards the taxpayers/audience. In these conversations, the ADAS producer was also involved, and in December, your co-worker from Kryly Khalopa whom I call S.

Contrary to what you wrote, Aksana, we welcomed S’s participation in the work with open arms. We were happy to bring her in as a person and workforce. In addition to her personal qualities, with S we brought even more Belarus into the project, which was a big part of the meaning of the whole thing. Another part was to portray a mother from a daughter’s perspective, a mother who was both loved and a perpetrator. A work similar to what I did with my mother and her story, which you saw and expressed your delight over. So, there was a fruitful basis for a good artistic collaboration.

For almost thirty years, I have worked as a trained, professional playwright. I often work with stories that have not been articulated and that are hidden, and I use in-depth interviews as a working method to highlight voices that I believe need to be heard. There is nothing sentimental about this. I do this because it interests me to know what the world looks like through the words and living conditions that these people share with me. I am also careful to make agreements so that when the stories come to me, I make art out of them to the best of my ability, and at that moment the interviews become mine, so to speak.

Me and you, Aksana, sat thirteen days in May and June 2022, often three to five hours per sitting, where you told me things and I took notes. After a couple of days, I returned with my notes, which I read aloud and you added to it and corrected. Together with my questions and thoughts, we deepened the story. In that context, we talked about how I would be the one writing the script and that this would be one of many possible stories about your mother, Zoya. At the same time as I was writing, a work that continued throughout the year, I read about the history of Belarus, on phenomena and events that we had touched on in our conversations, and thoughts that I had on my own. During the years that Konstepidemin ran the Status Project together with Belarusian artists and organizations, I met many people from Belarus. Since I have never been to Belarus myself, it was important to me that you recognized yourself in what I understood and in how I wrote it. 

Like so many Swedes, I didn’t know much about Belarus. But I think I know a lot about human beings. Not least about women and about what it’s like to live and experience oppression. As an orphan myself, I have worked with colonial perspectives based on my own history, with the experience of being on someone else’s land in circumstances and contexts other than those I came from and completely at the mercy of the environment I was placed in. Using colonial perspectives is for me essentially about actually seeing something that can be talked about. But there is also a risk of turning oneself into a victim and demonization of “the Other”. And then the conversation stops.

During our preparatory work, I felt that there was a great tiredness in you, Aksana, but also a lot of power and joy. My impression was that we enjoyed each other’s company. I was happy about our meeting and still feel close to you even though you have chosen to cut off your friendly relationship with me. 

It was complicated in our collaboration, but nothing that we couldn’t sort out, I felt from my side. Our cultural differences became strikingly clear, both in artistic ideas, thoughts such as two older actors not being able to play a younger person, and in how the task of producing a performance was perceived. Me and the producer thought we were clear about it but obviously not enough.

The fact that the Belarusian composer received a smaller pay than the person you Aksana refers to as “the sound engineer” is due to working hours, responsibilities, and tasks. The composer was on site for a couple of weeks and delivered musical themes which the “sound engineer” – who was on site for two months – arranged and then, together with the ensemble, placed into the production. The “sound engineer” was also responsible for bringing out all the technical equipment, recording, mixing, and making all of the audio files ready for the performance.

Yes, we are uncomfortable with the fact that we too often work underfunded, but it is part of our reality. This was communicated to all of our Belarusian colleagues, including you, Aksana. You were also part of the decision-making when we decided on a budget for the project.

The production period was seven weeks with two spare weeks, 27/2 to 30/4. The planned premiere date was April 14, but we communicated at the planning stage that we would like to keep you Aksana, for a couple of extra weeks in case we had to postpone the premiere, which we then did. 

I don’t think there was anyone on the team who didn’t try to grasp how horrible it would be to live in exile. We were all aware of course that we did not own that experience, as our Belarusian colleagues did, but we were full of empathy and goodwill. We felt deeply sorry for the project and for you, Aksana, who was not feeling so well either, neither at our first meeting in the autumn of 2021 nor when you arrived in February 2023. The other three colleagues in the team had left Belarus and were in exile, but the tremendous pressure you must have felt, I think, explains a lot of the difficulties. If we would have had more time and money, we would have slowed down. Moved forward. Thought it all over again. But we didn’t have that. We had time-limited support with planned deadlines so that we could move only a few days in different directions. These conditions were communicated over and over again both in the autumn-winter of 2022 and the beginning of spring 2023.

For us, it was neither strange nor dramatic, just incredibly sad that you, Aksana, became so unwell that we did not feel that it was possible to continue the work without asking you to take a break for two weeks to see if the strength came back. It is neither shameful nor a sign of weakness to get ill – it can happen to all of us – and then we must prepare according to the situation and arrange it as best we can.

It was out of consideration and not ulterior motive that we offered you the large apartment that we rented for the project. Me and the producer understood that you and S thought it was nice to be in your own spaces and not have to share. When you were asked to get back into work after the two weeks, there were almost four weeks of rehearsal time left, not one week.

It was also out of consideration for you and your safety that we took the discussion about how exposed you should be in the theatre’s external marketing. Unlike our other three Belarusian colleagues, you still have your life and property in Belarus, something that we associated with a greater security mindset around you than with the others. The text you reacted to was the same one you approved earlier. How others write in the comment fields on social media is something we can keep an eye on, but nothing we can influence.

We (= me and ADAS theatre) have nothing to be afraid of. It is sad that there was illness in this, but it is what it is. The other eleven colleagues in the project are happy that we have made and are working on a meaningful production. We were very happy that you came and saw it and liked it and yes – of course we were nervous. We so dearly wanted you to think that it was worthy and essential, which you also expressed at the time, and we were very pleased about that. Then, in May 2023, you expressed just that: that you thought we had made a strong and valid performance and that you wanted us to continue playing in Sweden and abroad. You were also to make your European contacts available for this, which you later withdrew without explaining why.

Personally, I’m sorry that you perceive my warmth towards you as cunning on my part. I don’t play delighted other than on stage; when it arises in my life, it is real. I’m not mean. Your claims about my peculiar character, workaholism, and toxic work regime are exaggerated. 

We carried out collaborative work that resulted in a strong and important production. You are not made invisible and you are not deprived of anything that you have not given yourself. You stand with me as a creator, and you have been offered customary royalties which you have not accepted. I never asked you to scream. You were not forbidden to speak Russian, but we very much needed English in the working space. You were not expelled without discussion; we had conversations, but I regret that you now choose to account for them in a way that diminishes their significance. For various reasons, which you have explained so well in your text, you found it difficult to be accessible for conversations and discussions. In the end, this all made it impossible for us to carry out the project with you at the steering wheel.

I really understand your disappointment in not being able to fulfill your work on the project. Let us try to find a way forward where we do not distance ourselves from or alienate each other, whether it’s from postcolonial, gender, ethnic, or intersectional perspectives. Your account and my response to it are a possible way to continue the dialogue in order to become wiser and to be able to meet again, which I hope we will do. 

Gothenburg, November 3, 2023
Fia Adler Sandblad


Svar till: 


Akanas text på’

Fia Adler Sandblad är konstnärlig ledare för ADAS teater som hon startade för mer än trettio år sedan på Konstepidemin i Göteborg, Sverige. Här svarar hon på Aksana Haikos text om deras gemensamma arbete under åren 2021 – 2023. 

Hej Aksana! 

Jag ser det som välkommet att du med dina tankar och postkoloniala perspektiv lyfter de frågor som uppstod i samband med vårt arbete Mama Zoya, Belarus. Samtal är viktigt för allas vår möjlighet att komma vidare i vår förståelse av vilka vi är, för hur våra världar ser ut och för vår gemensamma framtid. 

Vi har olika uppfattningar om en del saker och därför vill jag med respekt för det arbetet vi gemensamt gjorde tillägga följande till din text. 

Det fanns ett avtal redan under hösten 2022, en muntlig överenskommelse baserat på många och långa samtal både om ADAS teaters pekuniära förutsättningar och om hur vi tillsammans och uppdelat skulle ta ansvaret för det konstnärliga arbetet i en produktionsprocess. Avtalet formaliserades i december 2022. I avtalet var det tydligt att ADAS teater inte kunde lova pengar som vi inte har – de måste sökas – och att vi bara kan få betalt för arbete som faktiskt utförs. Vi var också tydliga med att ADAS teater måste äga projektet, därmed också makten men även ansvaret mot anslagsgivarna, från stat och region, och i förlängningen mot skattebetalarna/ publiken. I dessa samtal var också ADAS producent med och i december även din medarbetare från Kryly Khalopa som jag kallar S. 

Tvärtemot vad du Aksana skriver så välkomnade vi Ss medverkan i arbetet med öppna armar. Vi var lyckliga över att få in henne som person och arbetskraft. Förutom hennes personliga kvaliteter fick vi med S in än mer Belarus i projektet vilket var en stor del av meningen med det hela. En annan del var att som dotter skildra en mamma som man både älskat och varit utsatt för, ett arbete som jag själv gjort med min mamma och som du sett och uttryckt din förtjusning över. Så där fanns en fruktbar grund för ett gott konstnärligt samarbete.

Sedan snart trettio år har jag arbetat som utbildad, professionell manusskrivare. Jag arbetar ofta med historier som inte artikulerats, som är gömda, och jag använder djupintervjuer som arbetsmetod för att lyfta röster som jag anser behöver blir hörda. Det finns ingenting sentimentalt i detta. Jag gör det för att det intresserar mig att veta hur världen ser ut genom de ord och levnadsomständigheter som dessa intervjupersoner delger mig. Jag är också noga med att i samtal med intervjupersonerna avtala att när historierna kommer till mig så gör jag efter bästa förmåga konst av dem, men där blir intervjuerna så att säga mina. 

Jag och du, Aksana satt tretton dagar i maj och juni 2022, ofta tre till fem timmar per sittning där du berättade och jag antecknade. Efter ett par dagar återkom jag med mina anteckningar som jag löste högt och Aksana kompletterade, korrigerade och fördjupade historien. I det sammanhanget talade vi om att det kommer vara jag som skriver manuset och att det här blir en av många möjliga berättelser om din mamma Zoya. Parallellt med att jag skrev, ett arbete som fortsatte hela året, så läste jag på om Belarus historia, om fenomen och företeelser som vi hade berört i våra samtal och om egna funderingar och tankar jag fick. Under åren som Konstepidemin drev statusprojektet tillsammans med belarusiska konstnärer och organisationer så träffade jag många från Belarus. Men eftersom jag själv aldrig varit i Belarus var det viktigt för mig att Aksana kände igen sig i det jag uppfattat och i hur jag skrev fram det. 

Likt så många svenskar kunde jag inte så mycket om Belarus, däremot tror jag mig om att kunna en hel del om människorna. Inte minst om kvinnorna, och om hur det är att leva och uppleva ett förtryck. Själv barnhemsbarn har jag på min egen historia också arbetat med koloniala perspektiv med erfarenheten av att vara på annans mark i andra omständigheter och sammanhang än de jag kom ifrån och helt utelämnad till den miljö jag sattes in i. Jag tänker att jag känner det väsentliga i att använda sig av de koloniala perspektiven för att faktiskt få syn på något som går att samtala om. Men det finns också en risk att själv göra sig till offer med demonisering av ”den andre” som följd. Och då avstannar samtalet. 

Under vårt förarbete upplevde jag att det fanns en stor trötthet hos dig Aksana men också mycket kraft och glädje. Min uppfattning var att vi trivdes i varandras sällskap. Jag var glad över vårt möte och känner mig fortfarande nära dig även om du har valt att avbryta din vänskapliga relation till mig. 

Det blev komplicerat i vårt samarbete men ingenting som vi inte kunde reda ut, kände jag från mitt håll. Våra kulturella skillnader blev slående tydliga, både i konstnärliga tankar som att två äldre skådespelare inte skulle kunna spela en yngre person och i hur uppgiften att producera en uppsättning uppfattades. Jag och producenten tyckte vi var tydliga men uppenbarligen inte tillräckligt.

Att den belarusiske kompositören fick längre ersättning än den person som du Aksana benämner ”ljudteknikern” beror på arbetstid, ansvar och arbetsuppgifter. Kompositören var på plats under par veckor och levererade musikaliska teman som ”ljudteknikern” som var på plats i två månader arrangerade och sedan tillsammans med ensemblen placerade in i uppsättningen. ”Ljudtekniken” ansvarade också för att skaffa fram teknik, spela in, mixa och lägga ljudfilerna i körbart skick. 

Ja, vi är obekväma med att vi alltför ofta arbetar underfinansierat men det är en del av vår verklighet som vi också kommunicerade till våra belarusiska kollegor inklusive dig, Aksana. Vi brukar kunna ta igen det när vi väl börjar spela för då kommer det ju in pengar också.

Tiden för produktionen var sju veckor med två veckor i ”reserv”, den 27/2 till den 30/4. Planerat premiärdatum var 14 april men vi kommunicerade på planeringsstadiet att vi gärna ville ha kvar dig Aksana ett par extra veckor ifall vi skulle få flytta fram premiären, något som vi sedan också gjorde.

Jag tror inte det fanns någon i teamet som inte levde sig in i hur fruktansvärt det skulle vara att leva i exil. Vi var alla medvetna om att vi såklart inte ägde den erfarenheten, vilket våra belarusiska kollegor gjorde, men vi var fulla av empati och god vilja. Vi led med dig Aksana som ju heller inte mådde så bra, varken vid vårt första möte hösten 2021 eller då du kom i februari 2023. De andra tre kollegorna i teamet hade lämnat Belarus och befann sig i exil men den oerhörda press du måste ha känt tänker jag förklarar mycket av svårigheterna. Hade vi haft tid (=pengar) så hade vi saktat ner. Flyttat fram. Tänkt om. Men vi hade inte det. Vi hade tidsbegränsade stöd med planerade deadlines som vi skulle kunna flytta men bara några dagar åt olika håll. Dessa förutsättningar kommunicerades om och om igen både under hösten vintern 2022 och början av våren 2023. 

För oss var det varken underligt eller dramatiskt bara otroligt tråkigt att du Aksana blev så pass dålig att vi inte upplevde att det gick att fortsätta arbetet med mindre än att be dig ta en paus på två veckor för att se om krafterna kom tillbaka. Det är varken skamfyllt eller ett tecken på svaghet att man blir sjuk – det kan hända oss alla – och då får vi laga efter läge och ordna det så gott det går.   

Det var av omtanke och inte baktanke som vi erbjöd dig Aksana den stora lägenheten som vi hyrt till projektet. Jag och producenten uppfattade att du och S tyckte det var skönt att vara i egna rum och slippa dela. När du efter de två veckorna fick frågan om att komma tillbaka in i arbetet var det nästan fyra veckors repetitionstid kvar, inte en vecka.

Det var också av omtanke om dig och din säkerhet som vi tog diskussionen om hur pass exponerad du skulle vara i teaterns marknadsföring utåt. Till skillnad från våra andra tre belarusiska kollegor har du ditt liv och dina egendomar kvar i Belarus, något som vi förknippade med ett större säkerhetstänkt runt dig än med övriga. Den text du reagerade på var samma som du godkänt tidigare. Hur andra skriver i kommentarsfältet är något vi kan hålla ögonen på men inget vi kan påverka. 

Vi (= jag och ADAS teater) har inget att vara rädda för. Det är sorgligt att det blev sjukdom i detta men det är som det är. Vi andra elva kollegor i projektet är glada för att vi gjort och arbetar med en meningsfull uppsättning. Vi var mycket lyckliga att du kom och såg den och tyckte om den och ja – såklart var vi nervösa. Vi ville så innerligen att du skulle tycka att det blev värdigt och väsentligt vilket du också gav uttryck åt då och det gladde oss mycket. Då, i maj 2023, gav du uttryck för just detta: att du tyckte vi gjort en stark och konstruktiv uppsättning som du ville att vi skulle fortsätta spela, i Sverige och utomlands. Du skulle också upplåta dina kontakter på kontinenten för detta, något som du senare utan att förklara varför tog tillbaka. 

Personligen är jag ledsen att du uppfattar min värme visavi dig som list från min sida. Jag spelar inte förtjusning annat än på scenen, när den uppstår i mitt liv är den verklig. Men dina tankar om mig, att jag skulle lura dig med mina känslor, får mig att tänka att du blandar samman något som inte skulle blandas samman. Jag är inte gemen. Dina uppgifter om min säregna karaktär, arbetsnarkomani och giftiga arbetsregim är överdrivna. 

Vi genomförde ett gemensamt överenskommet arbete som resulterade i en stark och viktig uppsättning. Du är inte osynliggjord och du är inte berövad någonting som du inte själv har gett. Du står tillsammans med mig som kreatör och du är erbjuden sedvanlig royalty som du inte accepterat. 

Jag bad dig aldrig skrika, du förbjöds inte att tala ryska men vi behövde också engelska i rummet. Du blev heller inte utvisad utan diskussion, vi hade samtal men du väljer att redogöra för dem på ett sätt som förminskar dess betydelse. Generellt kan man väl säga att du inte var särskilt disponibel för samtal och diskussion av orsaker som du själv redogör för men det blir då väldigt svårt för oss att genomföra projektet med dig vid rodret.

Jag förstår din besvikelse men jag tror inte att vägen framåt är att ta avstånd från och främliggöra den andre vare sig det sker med postkoloniala, genus, etniska eller andra intersektionella perspektiv. Din redogörelse och mitt svar på den är en möjlig väg till fortsatt samtal för att bli klokare och för att kunna mötas igen vilket jag hoppas att vi gör. 

Göteborg den 3 november 2023
Fia Adler Sandblad

I Can’t Imagine, Or Why My Relatives Cannot Become President

Since February 24, 2022, I have been harboring hatred inside me. Normally, I don’t wish harm on anyone, but from this date onward I began to wish all the worst on one person — President Putin. It literally ate away at me, burning holes inside and twisting my internal organs. I wanted to breathe fire and brimstone; I wanted to destroy something. I guess I wasn’t the only one in such a state of mind.

Once I left Russia and cried my first tears, I started to think of how to deal with this hatred. I remembered what my mother kept saying about the customary Nenets’ attitude towards others: if someone is very annoying and provokes dark desires, try to imagine they are your relative, and treat them like a family member. Well, I tried to imagine Putin as my brother or second cousin. What kind of story could this be? While contemplating, I realized that writing a text might help me see that story clearly. Basically, writing and the entire artistic process for me is an experiment in shifting the gaze or even decolonizing the consciousness, which I understand as the ability to follow new paths and explore familiar narratives from a different perspective.

At first, I had vague suspicions that my endeavor was too dubious, but I was already absorbed by reflections on how the imagination can refract reality and literally build new worlds. What is also curious is how this idea was met by those with whom I shared it: they expected it to be an example, which would end with the punishment of evil. Yes, I would like that. But for me, artistic research happens when it’s difficult to predict the end, so the question provoked curiosity in me. But I didn’t want to deceive or disappoint anyone, so I warned the editor, and then surrendered to the unknown and started writing.


Well, I kept ruminating over my hatred for Putin and my desire for him to experience a painful death. I was thinking of my mother’s words, and about the fact that for such peacefulness and willingness to resolve pressing issues non-violently, the Nenets are considered weaklings who cannot stand up for themselves. But if you look closely, what does it mean? It means that in a world ruled by hierarchies, power and brutal force, people / populations who behave differently and practice non violence, they are perceived as fools who cannot defend their independence, therefore they themselves can be blamed for their extermination. And in order to be respected, you need to become as bloodthirsty as those who attack you, and only then will you earn the right to self-determination, language, territory, and life. I suspect there is some nasty trick here. And the problem is not that someone gets involved in these relationships, but that someone attacks, tries to take over by force and considers it normal.

But isn’t it possible to live our truth and have rights simply because we are who we are? And what if we do not assume the survival of the fittest, and the world is ruled by power and brutal force as a life basis? If we imagine that it is not necessary to dominate in order to survive, what would the world be like then? And how would the management, regulation, and interaction of societies perform?

Perhaps then we would need the following statements:

The most delicate is the one who survives in this world.

Empathy and mutual attunement are above all necessary.

Share power — share responsibility.

Everyone is important and has a right to be.

Norms and traditions are not what they seem.

The world could be different.

The world should be more flexible.

But it feels that what is left for us is just…:

to watch closely, to wait,

to think and to act,

to stay safe, to preserve our mind and health,

to keep kindness and gentleness in one’s heart

to be in touch with ourselves, and with others,

not to repeat, not to become the same,

not to reproduce, not to imitate.

To find one’s voice, to grow a soft wool of solidarity,

to cling sideways to each other and bask,

to dream, to gear imagination,

to nurture alternative ways to exist in the world,

to become bigger, more numerous, more important

so that the methods of brutal force lose their relevance and stay in the past.

But not to get stuck on one thing,

listen to the new, look to the old,

to ask questions,

to let life happen

to be alive.


Does having power imply not belonging to oneself?

I believe that power in itself is not always something bad, it simply exists as a phenomenon. But at what point does it discredit itself? When does it become worth something to be avoided? Power is a great responsibility, a burden, and when you are carrying it, it is important to remain sensitive to others, to yourself, to have references beyond its paradigm. But how is this possible?

I talked with a friend about Putin. She proposed to try to think about what it’s like to have such incredible resources at one’s disposal. The only goal of the one who possesses power is to keep it. This is hard work, and this experience is so inaccessible to us (and equally to many people living in this country) that it is even hard to envision. Imagine that you have absolutely everything, and your whole life is governed by the only desire — to preserve what you have. These are completely different tasks and a different dimension of one’s whole being. What would you do then, what fears would you have?

I tried to imagine then, but I still can’t. And even more I cannot understand: what is it all for? Why, if no one is eternal, if natural resources are limited, and if everything is going to change one way or another? How can you be happy if you do harm to others? How long can it last? I refuse to explain this, and I am terrified of the emptiness that lies behind it. However, what do I understand? I can’t even imagine…


I’ve been thinking a lot about Putin recently. I imagined his career if he were my uncle the reindeer herder, imagined our conversation if he were my twin sister. I had a dream where we discussed art and watched the sunset. Perhaps he could be a different person… but I realized that he could not be my relative. It must be a very different country, or I should have been born as someone else in a completely different place in Russia. Otherwise, it is too unrealistic, fabulous, dreamy, almost surreal. And I don’t know how much time must pass, how many generations of those in power must change, how the country should be transformed so that some Nenets woman could claim to rule it, so that my relatives could become president.

Unfortunately, as the days went by, I started to lose the ability and desire to dive into dreams about a new relative. The power regime is a rusted machine, an outdated phantom of the past. What is it fighting and why?


Today I will have my last dream about the president. We will meet in a glass castle on the shores of the bloody sea. In the most hidden secret room, he will be trying to make the phrase SPECIAL OPERATION out of a set of cubes with the letters W, A, R on them — unsuccessfully. At some point, he will break into tears out of impatience, hatred, and loneliness and will keep on crying so long and so hard that he will begin to melt, and then disappear right before my eyes.

Images are generated by a neural network with the prompt “Putin Reindeer Herder” 

The Story of One Backyard, or Total Recall

In the summer and autumn of 2020, “The Square of Changes” was perhaps the most famous place in the rebellious Minsk geography. At first glance, it is by no means a remarkable patch of land with a modest playground and a gray transformer booth, which suddenly became the epicenter of a series of dramatic events: from spontaneous acts of solidarity and unconditional support, to tragedies that led to the death of a young activist and ruined the lives of anyone who stood against the regime.

Photographer Yauhen Attsetski has a direct connection to the people’s “square” that was named after one of the informal hymns of the protest 2020 – a Viktor Tsoi’s1 song “Changes!”. Living in one of the high-rises nearby, he was fast to realize its historical potential for the annals of the last presidential elections and started his photo project. In his case, however, the neighbor’s perspective gradually transformed into that of an observer with a camera, and later – into an archivist of the history that Lukashenko’s regime would try hard to erase from collective memory. Two years later, Yauhen’s images would be seen by 3 million readers of The New York Times, and it would take his team only a fortnight to raise more than 12,000 USD for the publication of the photobook about neighborhood protests demanding change.

In a special interview for the Status Platform, Yauhen Attsetski speaks about a difficult journey from the Tsentralny District Police Department of Minsk, where he ended up after being arrested at a rally, to the Ukrainian town of Lviv, where he is now based with his family in exile. After a search conducted by the KGB, he packed his entire life in several suitcases and in the midst of war, the photographer nevertheless continues doing his job: resisting Lukashenko’s regime to destroy the collective memory of Belarusians and finding reasons to be proud of his people and their struggle for a better future.

Yauhen Attsetski

Belarusian photographer, citizen journalist. Works mainly in documentary photography. Collaborated with the UNDP, UNICEF, Red Cross. His photos and photo series were published in The New York Times, Sapiens, TIMER, Kultprosvet, etc. ‘He has participated in numerous exhibitions in Belarus and abroad. In 2021, facing political repressions, he moved to Kyiv, and with the outbreak of war – to Lviv, where he is still based.


People relax in the playground located between Buildings 1 and 3 Smorgovskiy Trakt and Building 62 Chervyakova Street, Minsk.

– I got involved in the political life of Belarus back in 2006 and 2010 when the presidential elections were held, both times ending in a violent suppression of street rallies. Since then, my hope for the country’s different future has been fluctuating: fading with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2015, and strengthening with the “parasites” marches in 20172, but never could I think where and with what thoughts I would enter 2021.

Initially, I was fairly neutral about the 2020 election campaign, but the queues for collecting signatures for alternative candidates at the polling stations quickly brought me back to my senses. It became clear that something very interesting was about to start. So, in May I grabbed my camera and went out to the city – and it was on the streets, documenting the unfolding events, where I remained for almost a year.

Often it is not you who bumps into a story, but a story that bumps into you. After the events of August 9, 20203, Belarus was in a state of shock. It became obvious: the elections had been rigged, and police clubs beat the desired result into people’s heads. However, too many civilians found themselves under the pressure of violence and faced repression, and the strategies of consequence-free aggression successfully tested in the previous elections this time did not work.

On August 11, I heard some noises coming from the backyard and saw my neighbors shining flashlights from their windows and chanting political slogans – actions for an ordinary Minsk neighborhood rather unusual, if not to say “out of the ordinary”. I remember shooting my first video that evening – a reel that later would become part of my project. Further events unfolded very rapidly: the appearance of a mural featuring the opposition DJs on “the Square of Changes”, its endless destruction and restoration, the death of Roman Bondarenko murdered by plainclothes police, Stepan Latypov’s4 arrest. As a documentary photographer, I recorded everything, realizing the extreme importance of not leaving any moment out of my sight.

After the start of the election campaign in Belarus, I always carried my camera around. Almost every day I shot political campaigns and actions held in the city or in my backyard. Finding a common language with my neighbors took some time – initially, they treated me with caution, as they usually do when spotting a man with a camera. Switching between two impulses (the roles of a neighbor and a photojournalist) was not easy, I should admit. The internal conflict was resolved when I realized that the government began to openly break the law. It was then when I made a decision, and my involvement in shooting ceased to be a hindrance, as I began to define my work as citizen journalism. I keep an eye on the documentary element, but at the same time I do not hide my political views and attitudes to what happens in the country.

While shooting, I constantly ran into policemen and tikhars5, and these encounters often ended in verbal disputes. It was difficult to hold back, seeing my neighbors under attack or symbols and objects important for our community destroyed. During the debates, I tried to address policemen not as functions and performers, but as citizens of the Republic of Belarus. I requested them to explain their behavior and asked them if they really wanted to live in such a country and whether they considered what was happening to be normal? These conversations were based on my assumption that doubt could provoke change – and to make tikhars question the adequacy of their actions was what I really wanted to achieve.

In November, after being detained on a Sunday march, I ended up at the Tsentralny District Police Department, where I unexpectedly saw patrolmen and tikhars from our yard. Despite the fact that all of them were either in balaclavas or masked, we recognized one another. I felt a bit uncomfortable finding myself on their “territory” this time. Also, among those working there that evening, there was one man who did not hide his face. Taking me aside, he said, “If I see you in that backyard again, you will pay all your neighbors’ fines!” His face is what I still remember well.

November 15, 2020 – the day of the attack on the “Square of Changes” – became the culmination of my backyard’s story, which made me seriously reconsider the form of my future project. I sent a proposal to create a photobook with a Swiss designer to Pro Helvetia and was selected. The work was carried out in a team: Melina Wilson helped us with the design, and the editor Alesya Pesenka – with the texts. In addition to photojournalistic storytelling, we decided to focus on eyewitnesses’ accounts and already then (in early 2021) I began collecting materials and shooting the portraits of the protagonists.

Since I immediately saw the project as a composite, consisting of exhibitions, a website and a photobook, I also approached shooting portraits in a complex manner. At first, I was planning to photograph all the participants with their faces in the open and hidden, thinking I could use the open variants, in color, in the book, and the closed ones, black and white, on the site. However, observing the repressions only growing in scale, I soon realized that the time to reveal my protagonists’ identities had not yet come.

But the materials I was collecting included not only photojournalistic documentation and interviews – to get a wider picture I also addressed my neighbors asking them to share mobile snapshots and videos of the main events that had occurred on “the Square of Changes”. This archive made it possible for me to almost completely restore the timeline of the mural’s creation and destruction. It turned out that the image of “the DJs of Changes” appeared on the wall more than 20 times.

I am very glad to have managed to collect my neighbors’ stories at the beginning of 2021, when the residents of “the Square of Changes” were still full of hope and shared their experiences very sincerely. Now, after almost two years of terror, people are extremely careful about being vocal and are very much prone to self-censorship. Fear seems to have consumed the whole country and its people. Today, making such emotional interviews would be impossible.

Portrait of a resident of “the Square of Changes”.

The goal of our project is not to let history be rewritten. In one of his speeches, Lukashenko said that he did not mind “turning over a new leaf”, which implied that he wanted to forget the events of 2020 and continue living “as before”. However, turning the page with one hand, the authorities use the other one to impose the regime of political terror, closing all the NGOs, all educational and cultural initiatives, liquidating independent media and giving unthinkably harsh prison sentences for any manifestation of dissent. My team and I, like many other Belarusians, consider it unacceptable to turn a blind eye to what is happening, and the project represents our attempt to remember and document the events of 2020-2021.

I see a photobook as an ideal form of such documentation because the book itself is a physical object that one cannot so easily cancel from the material world. In our case, the texts will be in two languages ​​– in English and Belarusian, which we believe to be important. In 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it became clear that confronting the eastern neighbor, with its imperial ambitions and a pronounced resentment, is a central goal of the entire region, and here language becomes one of the tools to distance ourselves.

In addition to the release of the photobook, we are planning to launch a site in four languages: in Belarusian, English, Russian and Polish. We have held more than 10 exhibitions across Europe. The most expressive, by the way, was the exhibition in Riga, where the festival’s organizers built a full-scale mock-up of the booth from “the Square of Changes” with a flag, a mural with “the DJs” and my photographs.

When working on the project, for the first time in my life, I also played an art manager’s role. As a manager, I had to deal with correspondence and meetings, fundraising, and accounting (searching for ways to finance my team’s salaries). Many of the team members (most of them are Belarusians, but there are also guys from Switzerland and Ukraine) were ready to work at reduced rates, some – for free. However, I believe that paying decent salaries to culture workers is extremely important, so I did my best to find ways to reward them for their input, which was not always easy… We addressed various organizations, called up embassies’ representatives, but many of our applications were never answered… I clearly felt the art world’s bureaucracy. Understanding that I did not want to change my project to fit every grant, I suggested organizing a crowdfunding campaign and reaching out to the community.

We managed to collect the requested amount in about a fortnight. We received a lot of orders from Poland and the USA – countries with strong Belarusian diasporas. Of course, I would really like the book to end up in the homes of Belarusians in our homeland, but so far, unfortunately, it is too dangerous. Ordering books from Belarus is possible, but delivery there is still questionable.

So far, we have received orders from 33 countries, and we also would like to send copies out to libraries. In April 2022, the issue of The New York Times came out with my photo on the cover – more than 3 million readers got acquainted with a story of our yard. I am very glad that so many people learnt about the events taking place in an ordinary Minsk backyard. This prevents Lukashenko’s regime from just turning over a new leaf. My neighbors were arrested and beaten, searches were carried out in their apartments, some are still in prison, many were forced to leave the country. How can you turn a blind eye to this and pretend that nothing happened? The Belarusians have demanded and are continuing to demand justice.

In July 2021, the KGB came to my wife with a search warrant (fortunately, she was not at home). This episode forced us to pack up and leave Belarus, and Kyiv became our new home – but not for long. On February 24, Yulia woke me up showing a video of Russian tanks entering Ukraine through the Belarusian border. This pushed us on the road again, and a few days later we arrived in Lviv. Of course, the war greatly unsettled me, but I managed to pull myself together and continued working on the project. The final variant of the photobook was sent to the printing house from Ukraine – the most important place in our region at this historical moment.

People gather at the mural on the day of Roman Bondarenko’s death. They light candles and bring flowers.
“J:MORS” performing at the balcony of one of the houses at the Square of Changes.

One day, on a bus I met a woman from Kharkiv. The trip was long, and we had enough time to discuss a lot of different topics: from politics and her life in Kharkiv to the former Khirkov governor Dobkin and “Ahnenerbe” research society, founded in 1935 by Himmler in order to search for artifacts of the ancient power of the German race. Like many Ukrainians who I had a chance to communicate with here, the woman was fascinated by Lukashenko’s animal-like resourcefulness, in which I often saw a reflection of a certain internal conflict. On the one hand, people in Ukraine hate Lukashenko for letting Russian tanks into the country, and on the other hand, they cannot but recognize his vitality and cunning.

To help my travel companion better imagine what many Belarusians had gone through in 2020, I showed her a still unfinished site about “the Square of Changes”, where one of the videos clearly showed hundreds of people gathered to honor the memory of the murdered artist Roman Bondarenko. After watching the fragment, she exclaimed, “And did it really happen in Minsk??”

I have been living in Ukraine for a year, having numerous contacts with the locals and I understand that many people have a very vague idea of ​​​​the events in Belarus in 2020-2021. Most often, they admit to having actively followed the very start of the protests, then their interest faded, and later they only saw the headlines of individual tragedies, such as a plane landing with Roman Protasevich. And such a reaction seems natural to me: the Belarusians showed the same level of interest in the Maidan in 2013-2014. Unfortunately, the Belarusians and Ukrainians still know each other very poorly and do not always understand the peculiarities of the contexts. If I manage to stay in Ukraine (the Belarusians are now facing a lot of difficulties with legalization), I would like to do joint projects with local cultural figures. I am sure that something interesting might be born out of the dialogue between these two cultures, and we will begin to better understand our peoples.

  1. Viktor Tsoi was a Soviet singer and songwriter of Korean-Russian origin who co-founded “Kino” – one of the most popular and musically influential bands in the history of Russian-language rock music.
  2. A series of peaceful rallies held in 2017 in Minsk and a number of reginal centers in Belarus as people’s spontaneous reaction to a tax levied against the unemployed (or “parasites”, as Lukashenko would define them).
  3. Belarus security forces viciously beat and detained protesters over the country’s presidential election outcome on August 9 and 10, 2020. The security forces used stun grenades, rubber bullets and slugs, blanks from Kalashnikov-type rifles, and tear gas against demostrators who gathered in Minsk and a few other Belarusian cities to protest the official election results, which were largely recognized as rigged. See, for example, here
  4. One of the most famous “Square of Change” residents, an arborist who was attacked and heavily beated by plainclothes police force members in his own yard and later sentenced to 8.5 years of prison for giving flowers to female protestors in Augist 2020 in Minsk. During the trail Stepan tried to commit suicide with his last words being “”GUBOP [the most infamous police unit in Belarus] promised that if I don’t plead guilty, there will be criminal cases against my relatives and neighbours”.
  5. Plainclothes policemen on duty


Partner of the STATUS platform, Brest Space KX presents its virtual incarnation — The website, as the KX Space today, includes the KX Gallery and the Kryly Khalopa Theater. The KX Theater part is still under development, but the KX Gallery is now fully functional online. As before, the presentation and promotion of contemporary critical Belarusian art remain the main task of the KX Gallery online.
“Despite challenging circumstances, this site is an endeavor to continue our work, to maintain contact between artists and the public, to make Belarusian art “seen”, to preserve and develop it, in the conditions of a total rupture of ties and an almost completely scorched field of art in Belarus.”
The space of KX is an independent cultural platform created in 2014 in Brest (Belarus) by the team of Kryly Khalopa Theater for communication, research, and production in the field of contemporary theater, critical art, and non-formal education. In June 2021, KX Space was forcibly closed by the Belarusian authorities – as did hundreds of other non-state institutions. Since then, KX Space has renewed its gallery activities online and presented Belarusian art offline outside of Belarus.

Image: Valentin Duduk

Open Call: for anti-militarist, anti-dictatorial, anti-colonial artworks for platform International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War in Ukraine

Open Call: for anti-militarist, anti-dictatorial, anti-colonial artworks for а International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War in Ukraine

April-May 2022

#antiwarcoalitionart is an open online platform that collects statements against war and dehumanization created by artists from all over the world. Driven by the Russian aggression and war against Ukraine, this platform presents an opportunity to protest against war, massacres, and inhuman punishment of civilians, dictatorship, and patriarchal power structures. shares artists’ and culture workers’ voices to public spaces and art institutions all over the world through a sequence of public presentations. The carefully programmed platform enables viewing and sharing art statements online.

It is an opportunity to express solidarity with those in Ukraine who are affected by military aggression, colonial, patriarchal, imperialistic, and political repression and those resisting terror.

The aim of is not only to present the artworks online but also to distribute them offline, by means of different events and presentations to bring the voices of artists to public spaces all over the world.  

We stand for a global, open, and engaged network of solidarity that is not subjected to territorial, national, and any other borders. We are appealing to cultural workers worldwide to publish their anti-war, anti-dictatorial statements and artworks such as posters, videos, audio etc. on our platform. 

What are we looking for? mission is to organize networks of solidarity in the fight against Russian aggression, support Ukrainians, and also show that the war that is taking place in Ukraine today is part of the global colonial, imperialist processes that take place politically, economically, culturally. We are looking for artists from all around the world who are willing to join the International Coalition of Cultural Workers Against the War in Ukraine, show support for Ukraine, and, most importantly, connect their anti-colonial actions and experiences with the war that Russia unleashed.

How does the platform work?

We are appealing to art institutions, curators, cultural workers, and any democratic institutions worldwide to use the contents of the platform for practices of resilience. 

We know that many institutions would like to join or are already actively joining in supporting Ukraine and condemning the war. Institutions are always looking for new ways to participate and new content to draw attention to the issue. platform invites the art institutions to connect to the platform and host quality, moderated content representing the reaction of artists around the world.

How can I join?

You can upload your artwork (it can be audio, video or images) directly on platform and give your permission to spread and show your works online as well as in cultural institutions and other possible ways of distribution of the platform.

We want our voices to get united and to ring out loud and clear! 

About us

This platform was initiated by Ambasada Kultury and a group of Belarusian artists and cultural workers: Anna Chistoserdova, Oxana Gourinovitch, Valentina Kiselyova, Aleksander Komarov, Lena Prents, Antonina Stebur, Maxim Tyminko, who left the country between 1994 and 2021 due to dissent with the political regime. Later two Ukrainian curators Natasha Chychasova and Tatiana Kochubinska joined the team.  

Ambasada Kultury is the initiative of Belarusian culture workers and activists with a goal of supporting and developing connections within and outside Belarusian cultural community, promoting cooperation and collaboration of artists and activists from different fields of culture. Based in Vilnius (LT), Berlin (DE)

Join us! is a part of The European Pavilion, an international programme of the European Cultural Foundation that brings together art and culture initiatives that encourage critical thinking and radical imagination,  and fuel bold perspectives on Europe and our common future. 

The European Pavilion is developed in collaboration with, and with the support of, Camargo Foundation, Kultura Nova Foundation, and Fondazione CRT. The participating organizations includes: Ambasada Kultury (Lithuania/Belarus),  ARNA (Sweden), Brunnenpassage (Austria), INIVA (London), OGR Torino (Italy), State of Concept (Greece), Studio Rizoma (Italy), and L’Internationale (Ljubljana, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, and Poland).

Platform is also supported by The Danish Cultural Institute in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.




In times of peace or conflict, culture is an essential part of everyday life and human relations. And in times of war and oppression, the importance of the free voice expands. Artists and cultural actors play an increasingly important role in communicating stories, raising awareness of present social situations, and standing up against injustices. They have been continuously inventing spaces for dialogue between communities and networks, those who stay and those who choose exile. Culture not only keeps people connected but also insists on the humane form of these connections, and we need to stand up for this.

For five years, Konstepidemin has been running STATUS – The Role Of Artists In Changing Society – an exchange project involving independent artists and non-governmental cultural centers from Belarus. Since 2020, the oppression of artists in Belarus pushed many to leave the country. Often, the first place of refuge was Ukraine – a country that opened up and helped the artists, both on personal and institutional levels. Now is the time to support Ukraine, Ukrainian artists, and cultural organizations.

Konstepidemin, together with the STATUS Project, has initiated a project to raise funds to support fellow artists and cultural actors in Ukraine. Belarusian artists and their Swedish colleagues, with whom we have been recently working within the residency program, will present a limited edition of artworks for sale. These artworks will be available for purchase online: at Konstepidemin and, and will be on view offline from 23rd of April through the end of May.

All proceedings from this campaign will go to Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund for cultural workers and organizations in Ukraine. The fund is established by (MOCA) Museum of Contemporary Art NGO, in partnership with Zaborona, The Naked Room, and Mystetskyi Arsenal – all of which are independent cultural actors.

Participating artists:

Olga Bubich, Axel Karlsson Rixon, Ulyana Nevzorova, Patricia Vane, Johan Wingborg, Yauhen Attsetski, Natalia Katsuba, Ekaterina Lukoshkova, Bazinato, Ilona Huss Walin, Ilona Dergach, Dorna Aslanzadeh and guest appearence from Annika von Hausswolff.


Image: Valentin Duduk


I’ve been re-reading your text for a while, and what I concluded is  that the adverb “not,” at the beginning of your statement, doesn’t hold at all: “We do not [author’s emphasis] agree with colleagues that everything we’ve done in art for the last 8, 14, 20, or for some more than 30 years, has been to decorate bombs.” If you remove ‘not’, it would read more plausibly. It’s not the silence or the Aesopian language in the early days of the war from the majority of Russian intellectuals that struck me.  The most striking thing was the public posts about this being the end of their career, “I should have left earlier”, “it’s infuriating that scholarships are being rescinded” (for example, Ilya Matveev’s post with many comments). And, now, it is clear to me how culture functioned in Russia. You had huge opportunities and resources in  comparison to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or Kyrgyzstan. When you write about the courage it takes to be engaged in contemporary culture in Russia (an insensitive/problematic statement against the backdrop of the bombing going on in), it sounds pretty funny, because it’s clear that you don’t know anything about the courage it takes to be engaged in contemporary culture in Ukraine and Belarus, Kazakhstan, or pretend that you don’t know about it. What kind of courage are we talking about if you have always worked “regardless” of the borders, having a certain historical “farsightedness”, although everything was happening before your eyes? How many collaborations have you had recently with artists from Ukraine, Belarus, or Georgia? 

The readiness with which the contemporary Russian culture is willing to commit suicide is amazing, and yet it becomes clear that the connection of art with capital and embellishment was so strong that without it Russians do not know how to survive. The way cultural workers live in Belarus (the entire cultural infrastructure was financed with their own funds or NGO money, and there was no state funding in principle) and in Ukraine (conditions were slightly better) is incomparable with the amount of money and resources poured into Russian culture. You urge people not to retire because it’s still possible to do something but how can it be done if at the beginning of your statement you claim that it didn’t work out? This is a delay of at least twenty years.

I have always wondered why after 2014, Russian artists don’t put the war with Ukraine i.e. the annexation of Crimea on their agenda? Why are there no projects about Georgia, the war in 2008, and after all, about Chechnya? One of the few artists working with these issues is Aslan Goisum. What else could be more colonial than this silence? Of course, there are other examples — for example, the works of Anastasia Vepreva and others, but they are extremely rare. I remember that the map of the Garage Triennial included the Crimean peninsula, and this obviously caused a critical response from Ukrainian artists. There were no critical comments from Russian artists and only responses that Crimea is not the most important topic and there are more significant things. Sasha Obukhova, on the instructions of The Garage Museum, went to Crimea to explore Russian contemporary art and was surprised to admit that there were no contemporary artistic practices there — and Ukrainians responded to  her that all art was expelled during the annexation in 2014.

Kateryna Lisovenko, Propaganda of the living world. Paper, watercolors. 40х50. 2022
Kateryna Lisovenko, Propaganda of the living world. Paper, watercolors. 40х50. 2022

About anti-war Russian cosmism. We have always been annoyed by labeling cosmism as Russian. We cannot understand for what reason it is necessary to insist on its ethnicity. Why do with it what was done with the avant-garde, namely tightly gluing the adjective “Russian” to it and suppressing the universal internationalism of the avant-garde?  Russian cosmism, with all due respect to your work, when viewed from the perspective of the former Soviet republics, has always looked like an imperial and chauvinistic concept, where “Russian” referred to self-exotisation and souvenirs. Nikita Kadan wrote about the realism of the pit — and this is where Ukrainian cosmism is now, while Russian cosmism shines out from the black hole of mobile crematoriums that the Russian army brought with them to burn the bodies of slain soldiers. We think that in the past twenty years, Russian art has been working not “against history”, but in the fog of history.

From the outside, work “against history” looks completely different. Here is an excerpt from the recent interview by the artist Vitaly Bespalov with Sergey Guskov (02/21/2022):

SG: Since you’ve mentioned the “inclination towards the right,” explain what your interest is here?

VB: As a rule, the extreme left believe that any engagement with totalitarian aesthetics by default makes you a supporter of certain ideologies. Although, in my opinion, this part of the political spectrum is not sufficiently studied in terms of imagery and aesthetic form. This engagement doesn’t mean that I am flirting with such aesthetics in some way. In general, I’m curious why it causes such a flurry of emotions in people. It is obvious that such ideologies are unlikely to seriously influence anything ever again, and their supporters are unlikely to gain power.

As a non-citizen of the Russian Federation, I am deeply frightened by the blindness of such statements. “The fog of history” has settled in so tightly — now you can understand why Putin decided on military aggression since statements of this kind come from the contemporary art scene. I’m not even talking about the hypocritical position of the authors of the TZVETNIK who made a dumb publication only on the 4th day of the war, but on the 11th day, they removed the blue-yellow mark from their Instagram profile and deleted their posts dedicated to Ukraine.

Imperial tropes become even more visible in an interview with the artist Daria Kuznetsova made by Anna Karpenko. The whole interview is indicative of what I mean; I copy a few quotes here:

Q: Is Russia’s aggressive policy towards the so-called indigenous small-numbered peoples and the appropriation of neighboring lands accompanied by the destruction of local culture, language, traditions, part of the history of Russia at the “center of world history” for you?

A: I look at it a little bit differently. From my perspective, which is grounded in the historical and fiction literature that I’ve read, the policy of the Russian Empire was not aimed at oppressing the small peoples who inhabited it (their cultures, traditions, and religions), while the communist government even invested a lot in their development. The small people who lived on the territory of the Russian Empire and were part of it were not oppressed, their culture and religion were not destroyed. In particular, mosques, Buddhist pagodas, Catholic and Greek Catholic churches, synagogues, and Orthodox churches existed and were preserved — all this coexisted in all its diversity. Of course, there were more Orthodox churches, because there was a larger Orthodox population. Of course, the Soviet government didn’t support religion, not only small peoples’ one but also Orthodox — none at all. Which in my opinion, of course, was a mistake. <…>

Q: Aren’t you getting confused with the dark side of the great project of “friendship of peoples”? In Belarus, for example, in one night, October 29–30, 1937, the entire cultural, scientific, and civil intelligentsia (more than 100 people) were shot. In the period from 1937 to 1938, Stalin’s repressions against Belarusians reached its peak: more than 100,000 people were arrested, repressed, exiled to camps, and thrown into prisons. The Belarusian language was actually supplanted and replaced by Russian at the state level.

A: I don’t know the specific situation in Belarus, as far as I remember, Belarusian was taught at school along with Russian, the same was true for the Ukrainian language. National literature was published in these languages and translated into Russian. Stalin’s repressions, like any other repressions, are terrible.

Statements of this kind were the norm: they weren’t openly criticized or condemned. I know that this is not a representation of the entire art scene but in a certain sense it is mainstream, and the apolitical nature of TZVETNIK and Serkova’s theoretical texts were set up precisely to bypass critical thinking, and at the same time to represent “the newest art” as something completely new, where the old political schemes don’t work and clearly defined political positions shouldn’t be heard. I think all this was a fair representation of how things were in Russian culture before February 24, 2022. Responsibility turned out to be dispersed in the form of “peace doves” on avatars or vague “no war” statements (what war? — there are many of them). The avoidance of a clear designation of the aggressor, the vagueness, and instrumentalization of the concepts of reaction, fascism, and nationalism hung in this fog. The fact that Russian institutions have done almost no anti-colonial work over the past years is obvious: rare and small attempts to do it have not become part of the broader discussions. Now your resentment of exclusion through voiced boycotts is striking, like Katya Degot’s under Nikita Kadan’s post. Kadan published an image with the caption that the Russians are bombing Babyn Yar. Degot wrote: “not Russians, but Putin.” This is the diagnosis that you need to work with, and take responsibility for both personally and collectively.

Yes, I think it is necessary to boycott all Russian state and oligarchic institutions, as well as all those who are not working against the war now, and remain silent. Only then will the “great Russian culture” feel how cultural workers have lived and are living in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. 

Kateryna Lisovenko, A coffin on wheels. Paper, watercolor. 20х35. 2022


The day after Uladzimir Hramovich’s essay was published, Arseniy Zhilyaev sent us a written response to it. We post this text here in full and translated from Russian. 


Let us start by pointing out that we can understand and agree with the majority of statements that Hramovich brought up in his text. Nevertheless, some things require additional commentary and clarification. We want to emphasize that we see this mere exchange of opinions as very valuable nowadays. Not the least as a dialogue between the two artists united by their mutual status as being from aggressor countries (although the Russian and Belarusian roles in this conflict are disparate). We will try to briefly react to the criticism and, to some extent, dispel “the fog of history”.


Unfortunately, we fully share the surprise associated with the first reactions to the war coming from Russia. Letters, written at the end of February, despite including demands to halt hostilities and sometimes especially harsh criticism of the authorities, contained language that read as imperialistic or inappropriately petty. Even in those letters that had the best of intentions, the shock to what was happening activated deep set patterns that had been cultivated in specific local space and time. Thinking about self-preservation, survival; hoping, perhaps in secret, for authorities and/or the greatness within a culture to reconcile everything and everyone, is a very understandable mode of life in Russia. Here we do not exclude ourselves in any way: we are not an exception, and we fully share the accountability with our colleagues.

It is particularly complicated to assess this situation from the inside. There are no ready-made answers here. Without underestimating the collective accountability and the amount of work to be done, we should note that Russia has been a country where people have not been free for a long time. While accepting varying kinds of criticism to compromises we have made, we note that today within the informal dialogues there is a widespread opinion that the relationship between people and Russian authorities resembles the dynamic between a victim and a rapist. “Like it, don’t like it, be patient my beauty”1 is a principle that has long become the norm both in Russia and in Belarus. The discourse of guilt, the popularity of which is understandable from a psychological standpoint, is applied to people who already have a long and complicated history of traumatic relationships with an abuser. This should not be forgotten.


By inertia, The Russian discourse mostly continues to maintain the idea of its superiority in relation to the former USSR countries. Although, in fact, considering the depth of integration with and its value for the international context, its profoundness and self-righteousness, art from Russia was most often seen as inferior to art from neighboring regions well before February 24. At the same time, it does not seem to us that the measure of anti-colonial work should be based solely on the number of joint projects or direct critical appeals to the political undertakings of the authorities. It seems that artists from Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine – countries that have faced military aggression from Russia, have recently had more significant things to do than work on joint projects or increase visibility in Moscow. And money, which is cited as an aggravating circumstance for the absence of that decolonial work that was not carried out, cannot unequivocally correlate with the reflexivity, complexity, and development of artistic production.

Yes, it is tough for many to come to terms with the loss of the “beautiful Russia of the future”2 with its bike lanes, cafes, contemporary art centers, and liberal values, but here and now, it hardly matters. There will be no more contemporary art in Russia, or, at least, it will be incredibly far from what we have seen here for the past 20 years. During the war, it makes no sense to talk about it. After that, those who remain at large or will not be broken by the situation will have a chance to start from scratch with a clear understanding of their priorities and values, without anesthesia, without untenable hopes.


The philosophy of the “Common Cause” by Nikolai Fedorov views the war as one of the main enemies. War is the conductor of death and suffering. It is possible to perceive terminology, rhetorical devices, religiosity, utopianism, and other often contradictory aspects of Russian cosmism in various ways. But the obvious cannot be denied. If there is anything significant in cosmism for the current moment, it is its fundamental pacifism and opposition to any form of discord and violence. As for internationalism and Russianness in cosmism, no one has ever, except for the ideologists of imperialism like Prokhanov, emphasized its ethnic specificity. It has always been about internationalism and openness. “Russian” in the phrase “Russian cosmism” indicated a particular cultural specificity, which arose due to the peculiarities of the Russian and Soviet contexts. Simply denying it would not remove these features; and if one were to assume that it did, it would hardly have been a liberating gesture.

There should be many cosmisms, as well as futurisms. There is a corpus of texts and artistic works which can be characterized as “Ukrainian cosmism”. And here, in addition to the references brought up by Vladimir in his text, we refer to the latest issue [of “Cosmic Bulletin”] containing bright voices from the Ukrainian context. Over the past decades, a constellation of new futurisms has emerged, and each of them articulates the future in its own way, based on the local views and peculiarities. There is Ethnofuturism, which came from Tartu and is associated with Finno-Ugric culture; there is Gulf futurism, Sinofuturism, and other futurisms. All of them, thanks to deliberate work with their own cultural specificity, can be perceived as critical, anti-colonial projects that oppose any colonial and imperial violence. We see Russian cosmism, like all other cosmisms, as part of precisely this liberation movement. At times of war, it is particularly tough for the parties of a conflict to engage in any dialogue. The dialogue of cultures, the dialogue of art, is no exception here. Any association with the aggressor country induces a negative reaction. These emotions are understandable and certainly justified at the moment. We hope that the cooperative work for the sake of peace will make the conversation about different versions of cosmism, different versions of futurism, and, in principle, radical artistic projects of the future more appropriate.


The call to boycott Russian institutions and artistic initiatives that do not openly declare their anti-war position does not sound harsh. This demand looks like a more balanced reaction that differs from the voices of the radicals who call for the complete isolation of everything and everyone associated with the Russian and Belarusian contexts – regardless of whether a person in question is arrested and subjected to violence for participating in an anti-war rally or calling for the destruction of the whole world to restore the Russian Empire. Calls for complete isolation, ethnic destruction, and alike also exist, but we will not comment on them. Just let us point out that now, the list of boycotted art institutions in Russia includes those who openly and unequivocally demanded an end to hostilities in Ukraine. It is clear that people have something to do besides tracking the social media of Moscow museums and centers of contemporary art. Just let us remind you once again that the overwhelming majority of cultural and art workers in Russia spoke out against the war. It applies to both employees of institutions and people who have nothing to do with them. Yes, the directness of their position varies. Everyone now assesses the risks for themselves and their loved ones. In the conditions of this new reality, people who express their opinion about what is happening, face up to 5, 15, or 20 years in prison, depending on the inventiveness of the authorities. However, despite everything, the slogan “No to war!” endures.

  1. This phrase, popular in mainstream culture and traces back to either an obscene anecdote or a song, was used by Putin during talks with French President Macron on February 7, 2022 [ed.]

  2. Initially, the expression “beautiful Russia of the future” was used by Russian politician Alexei Navalny when he spoke about the potential transformations he would carry out if he came to power [Ed.]


‘Hi, it’s okay. It’s been quiet here, no bombing yet, and only when we hear sirens do we hide in the cellar. Don’t worry, everything will be alright soon.’

My name is Tasha – I am a Belarusian artist, and I am currently in Ukraine. It’s been snowing today, and that makes me happy because it feels like I don’t want spring to come while the war is going on. THE WAR! The Russian military is bombing Ukraine, killing civilians, 2022!

March 5th, morning. Last night I had a wonderful dream, I dreamed of my whole life: from the village where I grew up to Kyiv, where I spent the last six months. The dream was very bright and sunny, as if all the most precious moments of life suddenly decided to come back in flashbacks. When I woke up, for a couple of minutes, I didn’t understand where I was at that moment. It gave me an unpleasant feeling that I dreamed that my death was already waiting for me around the corner.

I moved to Kiev in the summer of 2021 and a couple of months later fell in love with a Ukrainian. I have never felt so peaceful and secure with anyone, as good as with myself. One person has become a whole home for me, and I think it is now clear that I do not want to leave my home here, and I have firmly decided to stay in Ukraine and will be here until the very end. For the first time in my life, I can’t care exclusively only about myself, about my safety.

I’m not scared at the moment. We have been living in a small town in the center of Ukraine for ten days already, and these have been the longest ten days in our lives. Emotions are in flux: from anger to guilt, from anxiety to calmness, but we keep up cheerfully. I personally spend every day with the thought that in a couple of days I will be able to return to Kyiv, to my workshop, and continue working on my projects. All my belongings, materials, equipment, and paintings remained there. And we all have learned how few things a person needs, or rather, that things are not necessary at all.

February, the 24th, night. I woke up from a loud sound and the rattling of windows in my room. I recalled explosions I heard and saw in Minsk, but that time it was even worse. The whole earth was trembling. I got up, gathered everything I needed and left home. I walked to the subway, people of different ages were sitting on the platform, some of them were crying. It was the most horrible day in my life. On the same day in the evening we left Kyiv, and it was terribly scary to go, scary to be on the street, scary everywhere and always.

Now I am not scared anymore.

Self-portrait from the catalog of Tasha’s clothing collection “Spring”, made a few weeks before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine
Self-portrait taken in the times of the invasion


Tasha Kotsuba became one of the artists selected by our project to participate in the residency program in Gothenburg in 2021. First due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now due to the war in Ukraine, the artist is forced to postpone her trip to Sweden. We hope that Tasha will still be able to get to Gothenburg in the coming months. And until the physical stay at the residency becomes possible, we decided to work with the artist remotely.


…On behalf of the Brest theatre Kryly Khalopa, we declare that we condemn the military actions of Russia on the territory of Ukraine and we want peace!

 In 2003, our theatre staged an anti-war performance for 3 weeks as a sign of protest against the war in Iraq.  In 2017, we created a performance audio documentary guide about the extermination of the Jewish community in Brest in 1941-1942.  In any country in the world, anyone can download the Brest Stories Guide application to their phone and hear eyewitness’ accounts of how much horror and death war brings.

For 20 years we have been trying with our art to respond quickly to the political situation and social injustice.  This is our way of changing the world and expressing our position.  Today we cannot give a quick theatrical response to what is happening in Ukraine: all theatre participants are scattered around the world.  But we are looking for ways, and we also protest against the war and support our Ukrainian friends in all available ways.

We grieve and are appalled that the land under our windows in Brest has become a training ground for military operations.  War is destruction, death, violence, misfortune for people, loss of a home.  All generations of Belarusians after World War II repeated as a mantra “if only there was no war.”  We were taught to fear and condemn war.  It is hard to believe that we are inside a new war.  Today, thousands of people are becoming refugees, fleeing their cities, spending nights on the subway, seeking asylum, losing their homes. For women who never choose war, war also carries the threat of rape, as history shows.

Belarusians, who lost every third inhabitant during World War II, cannot want war.

Today, Belarusians are actually deprived of the opportunity to take to the streets of their cities and protest.  Jail may await them, like many of our brave people who are in prison today.  But today we see that people from our community condemn military actions in Ukraine, help Ukrainian refugees, collect aid, and are ashamed that the Belarusian land has become a testing ground for aggression.

We want to say “NO!” to militarism and war!  We want peace in Ukraine and in our home!  We want men not to kill other men and also women and children!  We demand an end to hostilities!  We demand Peace!

On the cover: Maria Prymachenko. May That Nuclear War Be Cursed! (1978)