Ukranian artist reflects on her homeland and new home in Kiechel Fine Art exhibition

L. Kent Wolgamott

In late 2021, Olena Mosiyevych was forced out of Ukraine, fleeing her homeland in the impending Russian invasion.

“We left Kyiv when the Russian troops were on the border,” Mosiyevych said. “It was a couple months before the invasion started. We made the decision to leave because it was too dangerous with small children.”

Leaving behind her parents, sisters and artwork, Mosiyevych immigrated to the United States, settling in Auburn, Nebraska, where her husband, an agricultural expert, was engaged in a farming project.

There, in early 2022, she began painting again.

“I left Ukraine with two small children and some suitcases,” she said. “I brought one small painting, a Ukrainian spring field. It was a little bit unfinished. When I got here, it was snowing, the fields were covered with snow. So it was transferred to Nebraska. It’s two landscapes together.”

“This is my reflection about the war in Ukraine,” Mosiyevych said. “As an immigrant, I’m looking back on my country. It is about the bombing of Ukraine, but with a kind of hope. In our struggle, we need to find sources of strength. We need to engage hope for the future.”

“The First Snow” along with “War Landscape,” a depiction of a Ukrainian landscape drawn from a photograph, are the two pieces in “Resilience,” Mosiyevych’s Kiechel exhibition, that directly reference the war.

But, the remainder of the show — paintings of barren trees, landscapes and abstractions — are also about Ukraine, the devastation of the ongoing war, the resilience of the exhibition’s title and hope for the future.

“It’s all metaphor,” she said. “Trees can symbolize.”

Born and raised in Ukraine, Mosiyevych obtained a PhD in Economics from Kyiv Mohyla Academy, the oldest university in Eastern Europe in 2020. The next year, she immersed herself in artmaking and art history, studying Byzantine sacred art at Ukrainian Catholic University and contemporary drawing and painting at the University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins, in 2023.

She developed her distinctive painting style, which weaves together fine fluid lines of acrylic paint over a base layer of paint that either contains the imagery or is a solid color, for a very practical reason.

“I love oil painting, but this is impossible with two small children,” she said. “I spent a lot of time finding my way of painting with the quicker drying paint.”

And, she said, the precision she has to utilize in playing piano transfers to the paintings via the tightly controlled fine lines.

More broadly, however, Mosiyevych’s work is based on centuries of Ukrainian art.

“The roots of my artistic vision lie deep within Ukrainian culture, from the fantastical pure colors of Petrykivka folk painting to the non-figurative art of Kasimir Malevich,” she writes in her artist statement.

The connection to Malevich is most vividly scene in “The Age of Melancholy,” a five panel polyptych that has a light blue circle in the middle surrounded by darker blue on the end panels.

That piece was shown at one of Ukraine’s top universities before the war and was slated to be in an exhibition at the modern art museum in Mariupol.

“They liked it very much,” Mosiyevych said. “The full-scale exhibition was just a few days before the exhibition was to open. Almost everything in the exhibition was lost. The city, the size of Omaha, is flattened, totally destroyed. It was just fate I got this painting back.”

Malevich, who in the early 20th century developed an extreme non-objective philosophy of art he called Suprematism, was part of a Ukrainian avant-garde that included Alexander Archipenko, Sonia Delaunay and Alexandra Ekster, who are often thought to be from the Soviet Union.

“They were stolen from us; our history was stolen from us,” Mosiyevych said. “No one knows about Ukrainian artists. I am a Ukrainian artist, my work comes from them, from Malevich, from the Byzantine mosaics.”

The Malevich-inspired abstractions aren’t symbolic. But they, too, connect to the exhibition’s theme of hope for the future. The reddish “Magenta B,” the densest, most impressive of the fine lines over the color field pieces, is subtitled in Ukrainian in Mosiyevych’s search for universal harmony.

The vast majority of the show’s artwork was painted over the last two years from the landscape and foliage of Nebraska. Mosiyevych and her family recently moved to Iowa City, Iowa.

“Trees for me are a kind of metaphor of rooting,” she said. “This is my new homeland. It’s very important to show things around us, everywhere. It comes from our life. I try to find something special in that.”

Her ability to find something beautiful in the everyday is most clearly evident in “Pharaohs,” a landscape of a brown churned-up ground that is actually a rural dump. Pieces like “Field Road” and “Field Border” reveal her eye for framing and detail that, along with the overlaid lines, bring the ordinary to life.

“Resilience” will be on view at Kiechel Fine Art, 1208 O St., through May 3. Some of the proceeds from the sale of paintings will go to Ukrainian relief efforts.

Those donations are another part of Mosiyevych’s support for her homeland and its people that’s reflected in the exhibition’s exquisitely crafted, symbolic paintings, and in her heartfelt conversation about her life, work and the war.

“I care about Ukraine so much,” she said. “It’s been 700 days, every day, the war. Seven hundred days of mothers and children being killed, of cities being destroyed, of suffering. It’s hard. Sometimes I cry. I have a very big pain inside. But for people, in my paintings, I will show a sense of strength.”