Clash of countries, mix of cultures

Vitaly Kroner, left, and Lyubov Ostrovska are hoping to dispel misconceptions about Ukraine and Russia. Photo by Justin Katz
Vitaly Kroner, left, and Lyubov Ostrovska are hoping to dispel misconceptions about Ukraine and Russia.
Photo by Justin Katz

Lyubov Ostrovska and Vitaly Kroner have shaped their careers based on the needs of the societies they’ve lived in. Ostrovska has worked as a biologist in both an academic and research-based environment developing a method for cancer treatment. Kroner was an electrical engineer for nearly two decades before purchasing a tax office in 2007.

But following escalation in the conflict between Russia and their native Ukraine, the married couple saw a gap in American understanding of Eastern European cultures.

“[There] is a conflict of people who invaded Ukraine and want to impose their rules on Ukrainian society,” said Ostrovska. “Ukraine is not only about war and fighting, it’s about peace and culture. We have a rich cultural heritage that we want to introduce to American citizens.”

In partnership with the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for the Performing Arts, Ostrovska and Kroner hosted an exhibit featuring artistic works displaying the culture of countries across Eastern Europe such as the former Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and the Ossetian region.

The exhibit is showing at Rosenbloom Owing Mills Jewish Community Center until June 17.

“We’d like to show how those cultures have differences and similarities,” said Ostrovska. “They all show the beauty of their countries in different ways, but they still show the vision of peace and love of their land and family. The human values are the same for each civilization.”

The exhibit was the first initiative of the couple’s new nonprofit organization, the Silver Spring-based Federal Cultural Foundation, which aims to introduce Americans to Eastern European arts, music and culture. Ostrovska said much of the art in this exhibit was from Ukrainians because that was a logical place for the couple to start their endeavor, and “we feel Ukrainian culture is underrepresented here in the United States.”

Many of the artists on display were born abroad and came to the United States years ago, such as Wasyl Palijczuk, a retired professor of art at McDaniel College in Westminster. Some are still drawing inspiration directly from their homelands such as Amalia Kachurova, who grew up and lives in Ossetia, a region south of Russia and north of Georgia. Other participating artists included Garry Melamud, Oleksandra Pavlyuk and Gregory Bayda Benois.

“[This was] a great way to partner with the local Ukrainian community to feature the art of so many local Ukrainian artists,” said Randi Benesch, senior managing director of arts and culture at the Gordon Center. “Art helps unite our community and celebrate culture. This was a perfect opportunity to do just that.”

Through the exhibit and other events, Kroner hopes to dispel misconceptions among Americans about Ukraine and Russia.

“What Americans probably don’t understand is that [Ukraine and Russia are] different countries. They say ‘Ukraine? That’s a part of Russia,’” said Kroner. “No, it’s an entirely different country.”

The misunderstandings, Kroner said, goes beyond not differentiating the two countries. While inquiring about the Ukrainian population in Montgomery County, where FCF is based, he was told there is only a Russian population.

“When people say they speak Russian, it doesn’t mean they are Russian,” said Kroner.

Demographers estimate between 1.5 and 2 million people of Ukrainian descent are living in the United States, according to the website of the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States.

Regardless of descent, Ostrovska and Kroner were clear about their goals.

Said Ostrovska, “We want to show that people of goodwill can work together and can restore peaceful relationships.”

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