Ukrainian gallerist flees with artworks to be exhibited at San Pedro Gallery – Daily Breeze – 71Bait

All Nadiya Nikolaeva had to do to find a clear – and ominous – sign of the coming war was look up at the sky.

But the sign wasn’t what she could see. Rather, it was what she couldn’t see: airplanes.

About a week before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Nikolaeva said, many airlines stopped flying through her hometown of Kyiv.

“It was clear,” she said this week, “that danger was coming.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

That evening Nikolaeva received a call from friends who heard explosions. Nikolaeva was sleeping, so she didn’t hear anything, she said. Nevertheless, she decided to pack her car and leave her homeland.

Nikolaeva, a gallery owner, art critic and art history teacher, fled Kyiv with her 19-year-old daughter Marfa, her child’s two friends and another mother. With Kyiv airport closed, the mother and daughter traveled to Budapest by car – the other three stayed in Ukraine – before making their way to the US

Among Nikolaeva’s belongings were five paintings – which she will be showing during a new exhibition premiering on Saturday, April 16 at Collage: A Place for Art and Culture, an art space in San Pedro. The exhibition, which runs until April 27, will also feature antique women’s dresses and robes, as well as textile art, antique Ukrainian Easter eggs and other handicrafts.

“My goal is to show beautiful Ukrainian culture,” Nikolaeva said, “so that people can understand how it differs from Russian culture, different language, different costumes, different mentality.”

Ever since Nikolaeva fled Ukraine, the world has watched in horror at the violence and bloodshed the war has unleashed in the eastern European country – and sometimes admired the courage of the Ukrainian soldiers who managed to slow the Russian advance . Earlier this week, for example, Ukrainian missiles destroyed the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, an American official said. And Russia has pulled out of Kyiv, Nikolaeva’s homeland and the country’s capital, although Ukrainian officials have warned residents not to return home just yet.

But the war also took its toll: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy estimated Ukraine’s military casualties at 2,500 to 3,000 dead and about 10,000 wounded, according to excerpts from an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, scheduled to air on Sunday.

And since February 24, some 4.8 million refugees have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The journey for these refugees was arduous.

When Nikolaeva and her daughter fled Kyiv for Budapest, the drive was supposed to take eight hours, she said. Instead, it took 24 – just to reach the Hungarian border.

The couple spent three days in western Ukraine before crossing the border into Hungary, Nikolaeva said. Once in Budapest, they took a flight to Amsterdam and another flight to Los Angeles.

But mother and daughter had at least one thing for them:

Nikolaeva’s twin sister and brother-in-law, Barbara and Dmitry Reznikov, live in San Pedro.

They picked up Nikolaeva and the rest of the group at Los Angeles International Airport.

Nikolaeva and her daughter have been living in the Reznikovs’ San Pedro house ever since.

Barbara Reznikov also helped connect Nikolaeva to the gallery where her art is exhibited.

Reznikov introduced her to a friend named George Woytovich, a partner in Collage and owner of the 1920s building that houses the Kunsthalle.

Nikolaeva and Woytovich actually met two months before the war in Ukraine, when the former visited her sister. Woytovich guided the sisters through collage. During the chat, Woytovich revealed that his parents were from Ukraine.

After Nikolaeva returned to San Pedro as a refugee, she had the idea to exhibit her art – to highlight Ukrainian culture.

This concept fitted into one of Collage’s key missions.

Collage, which opened in 2020 as an arts nonprofit, hosted an event before closing amid the pandemic. The venue reopened in July and has had more than 50 events – from live music to magic shows – on different cultures, said Richard Foss, Collage’s managing director at Collage.

Showcasing Ukrainian art is particularly important at this moment, Foss said, as it is a way to refute Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that there is no separate Ukrainian culture.

“Even here in Los Angeles, where the Ukrainian community is quite small,” he said, “people in the community value their heritage and express it through art, music, dance and other media.”

Nikolaeva’s family is an example of how important art is to Ukrainian culture.

Her family, she said, has been collecting Ukrainian art for many years.

Her mother, Tamara Nikolaeva, is a well-known expert on Ukrainian national costumes. Several ancient costumes and a book written by the matriarch are on display during the exhibition in San Pedro.

The exhibition will also feature artwork and other items belonging to Reznikov and her son Zachary, who have lived in the United States for years.

The gallery will also host Ukrainian Easter egg workshops, a bandura concert on Wednesday, April 20, and live music on the last day of the exhibition, April 27.

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