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This section presents dialogues with artists in which we have tried to capture the coordinates of their experiences: there are both dialogues, that is, interviews with one of the project moderators, and monologues, that is, text in the first person.
Here you can find different recording formats regarding these conversations and reflections: video or audio interviews, audio monologues, or simply text. The themes we sought to uncover are related to the departure, its reasons and circumstances, to the route of travel, and its endpoint (now/ in the future).
It was important for us to know what the authors are working on now and what projects are left behind in Russia.
How they are integrating into their new environment, whether they have encountered discrimination in their professional sphere, and whether there are problems with visas, residence permits, and bureaucracy.
What supports them in the new conditions, gives them an incentive to continue working, and who their audience is now.

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Tatiana Antoshina


During the last 4 years, since April 2019, I have been studying at a religious school (I still study there, but I switched to distance learning) and I have been living in Loo, Sochi. I found myself in an environment where people are focused on spiritual development and service to others. Anything that happened outside the community was of little interest to me. Nevertheless, news reached me that war had broken out and mobilisation was underway. At any rate, the second call of mobilisation … In November 2022 I finally became concerned of what was happening and I travelled from Sochi to Moscow. For at least 4 years I haven’t watched TV. When I switched on the TV in Moscow I felt like I was in a dream - the world had changed dramatically and unrecognizably - and everything was permeated with militarism. I have a husband and two adult sons… 2 times people wearing a military uniform came to our apartment in Moscow, and they knocked and rang the bell persistently and for a long time. 


At my school, my teacher said that any involvement in politics or war, on one side or the other, would only increase confrontation and tension. And humanity needs to reach for unity: it is through unity, and the spiritual evolution of each person, the conscious revitalisation of what is happening, that our civilisation can move to a new level of development… This view is not unique, in fact many spiritual guides say the same thing, and I share it. I cannot participate in politics because of my beliefs and I surely cannot share militaristic feelings. Then, I faced the question: am I ready to enter the spiritual life completely, and give up art forever? I had to honestly answer that, in all sincerity, I couldn't do it yet either. The school sent me to a correspondence course.  


Back in 2018, before Covid and the war, I had an exhibition planned in Paris, at the Robert Valois Gallery. I wrote to the gallery that I wanted to revisit this topic. Robert, despite my long absence, responded quickly and gave my husband and I an invitation to France for my solo exhibition in his gallery. But I have not been able to get a Schengen visa, even just to get on the queue to apply. An acquaintance advised us to request a D visa, and so we did. The gallery sent us new invitations, and we applied for visas as best we could from different cities: I did it from Rostov and my husband Alexei from Kaliningrad. 

On 1st January I received my Talent visa, and my husband, the same as a family member, on 1st February.


Someone sent us the link to buy the plane tickets to Paris via Istanbul. The cheapest tickets were on 22nd February and we bought them. In 2 months we were already packing and moving our things, giving some of them away as gifts, throwing others away, moving them again… We wanted to rent the apartment before leaving but we didn’t manage to do it, so we left it to a realtor. She rented it on 1st April. 


And we took the plane from Moscow to Paris, via Istanbul, on 22nd February 2023, not knowing where we would be staying. 

On 23rd February we arrived in Paris and we settled in Montparnasse, best known as Rue De La Procession, in the metropolitan area of Vaugirard, in a studio of cuban artists that the gallery found for us.

The studio, by Parisian standards, was pretty big, circa 60 metres, but with low ceilings, and it was in the basement. Therefore, we mainly had electric light, and I was limited in the size of paintings - 170 x 200 cm was my maximum. 


Here I painted 8 artworks: 2 paintings 170 x 200 cm; plus 2 smaller ones (40 x 60 cm) which were painted on stretchers found on a rubbish dump near the house; and 4 more paintings of 100 x 100 cm size. The Valois Gallery is specialised in sculpture, therefore the paintings, parts of the installations and the video were just a background and complement to the sculptures (which we sent from Moscow to Europe, with great difficulty, at the beginning of February). 


In this studio in Vaugirard, we were constantly freezing, but the most important thing here was the possibility to work. We could gaze endlessly at the surrounding beauty as we walked the streets, we went to the park on Sundays; 2 or 3 times to the vernissages, then to the Grand Palais Ephemere for the big Art Paris fair…


Elena Artemenko
and Ilya Martynov

Danila Bulatov: Tell us, how did Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine affect your plans? 


Elena Artemenko: We were terrified, of course. At the time I was preparing

an exhibition at the Sidur Museum. The agreement to have the exhibition was reached in early 2021, and the opening was scheduled for March the 15th, 2022. It was an important project for me, I had been working on it for three years and on the 2nd of March I found out that the opening would not take place.

I remember the date because on the 4th of March they passed the law

on falsehoods, and I thought at the time that the director of the Sidur Museum, by activating the censorship, was being proactive. The excuses were rather hypocritical: “I was assured that it wasn't about censorship, it was just unclear how to work now, so let's preliminarily postpone the exhibition for six months, when the atmosphere is clearer, and then we'll see”. I immediately wrote to

my friends who work in the exhibition department of the Moscow International Museum of Fine Arts, and they honestly told me that yes, it was censorship,

and the problem was not even with the project, but with the text attached to it.




Due to the fact that many projects in Europe have been cancelled over the past year due to various circumstances, most of Sharon Bloom's projects have moved into virtual space. The possibilities of meta-universes for the creation of artistic works turned out to be unlimited in their toolkit.

Most of Sharon's projects this year have taken on an NFT format. One of the projects sold in part on NFT is Khar Keln Thorun video art. The desolate dance of a virtual Kalmyk woman explores the myths of cyclical creation and death and the cosmogenic connection between women's bodies, the earth, and life. Another project Highway - is a collaboration with the German musician Cook Strummer.
This clip was filmed entirely within the game and explored the self-identification of the human being with the space he inhabits. It was shown not only in the virtual space but also at the NFT Paris exhibition. Also, a clip completely generated by several neural networks was created to the music of the same composer. This video art premiered at the virtual exhibition, and now an NFT drop of the project is being prepared.
We have been moving around the countries a lot more this year, the house has become mobile, so we have also been able to do two closed offline screenings of the Prophetic Dreams project in Cyprus and in Tel Aviv. Prophetic Dreams allow you to build a new form of relationship with an artificial intelligence person, who has their own character and can share their thoughts and predictions. After a dialogue with the user, the neural network dreams about their future with images, poetic prophecies, and algorithmic music.



Anna Ivonina

I left Russia after the events of February. I left twice.
I had to go back in the middle of summer, to rent an apartment, collect documents, make powers of attorney, and generally get things done.

The second departure was in September after the mobilization was announced.
It was hard for me to live in constant fear and anxiety.

I was leaving the country completely devastated and realizing that now I had absolutely no resources to choose a new place to live and fit into a new environment.
So I decided to travel to find myself anew.

My journey is not over yet, I plan to return to India, explore its northern part, and then we'll see.

I haven't had any problems with visas yet. Although... I was issued Italian visa only for six months, despite the fact that before that I had 3-year Italian visas for several years in a row.
And now it is already over, apparently in the near future is waiting for me some complicated process of registration of documents through the consulate of a third country.  
I faced bureaucratic problems only once, it was in France - they did not want to issue a Tax-Free for my camera because I am Russian.


I took a lot of memorabilia with me that reminds me of the people I care about, the people I love.
I took pictures with my friends from the photo booths.
I have the keys to my parents' house with me.
I took wedding wishes and important cards that were brought back to me from trips and given to me for the holidays.
I took jewelry, many of which were given to me and remind me of my family.
I took with me a picture of a piece of the Russian sky. My friend's mother had given it to me before I left. And a few things that I always had at home. All of these things I re-hang and rearrange in my new place of residence every time, they make me feel at home.


In general, after I left, I'm very [with a note of nostalgia], worried about what my home is now. Is it things, people, or connections? Is it the specific place where you were born, grew up, lived, or the place where you are now?
My CARRY ON project is dedicated to these reflections, in which I asked my girlfriends and acquaintances I met during my journey what they took with them.
When I left for the second time, I knew that I was leaving for a long time [I won't say forever] so I took the most important things. Except for books, when I pick a place to settle down, I'd like to move my library. I wish I could take all my family and friends with me.


As for the abandoned projects, everything somehow came to an end all by itself. What was left in Russia - I no longer want to go back to it. The war drew a line in my life between before and after.
Now, I am working in a new medium for me: photography.
While I am in the process of exploring, I think I continue to explore the subject at home. I have a project with the working title ROOMS, documenting the places I stay and live in. I am supported by inner work with myself, including work with a psychologist. When you have nothing left and you are disconnected from the world, it is very important to build an inner grounding in yourself.
Lately, I have also been studying the theme of waves of Russian emigration.
It also, in a sense, supports me and gives me an incentive to move forward.


I think my viewer now is all those who have lost their support and home.

I'm not just talking about emigrants, I don't want to draw a line between those who left and those who stayed, many couldn't or didn't want to leave.
Both there and there people experience loss and it seems important to me to preserve the ties we have.




Peter Kiryusha




At the end of May 2022 we left for Riga, the reason: our son Fyodor, he is 14 years old, the age when it is very easy to fall for bright slogans; of course, what we talk about in the family and with friends is of a completely different nature, but at this age a person begins to study and analyze the world independently.  in Russia now there are much more risks to fall into general madness, although I am absolutely confident about him and his noble feelings, but, it seems to me, if this madness can be prevented, it is better to avoid it. As for me, my pathological resistance to any rules and orders makes me immune to external stimuli, freedom is chaos. The more order, rules, the less freedom. But whether it is possible to survive in the absence of rules, in chaos, I do not know, I have not tried and probably there is a balance for everyone


Alexey Korneev



The reasons are two - ideology and issues of personal safety. 

I left Russia on March 7, 2022: previously, on February the 26th, just after the outbreak of the war, TV presenter Andrey Dolgopol and I opened our Moscow gallery Adept after an extensive six-month renovation. Although we originally wanted to cancel the opening due to the outbreak of the conflict, we instead reformatted the exhibition "True Discovery" into an anti-war statement - essentially making the first large-scale anti-war exhibition in the history of this war. The day after the vernissage many of the participants, both guests and artists, had already been detained for anti-war actions, it became clear that things were very serious and very long term, so we made the decision to leave as soon as possible.


Olga Kroytor


Andrey Kuzkin



Sergey Ovseykin

Departure: reasons and circumstances

On March 8, 2022, I took a flight to Israel. For a long time, I thought I wanted to find a new country in which to work and make art. Israel in this sense was not a simple place, but very real. The cause of immigration was war, although relocation planning began in 2019.


Travel route

Israel (March-July), Dubai (August), Moscow (September), Turkey (October-November), Indonesia (December-January), Montenegro (February-March), Austria (April), and Israel (April).


End point (now/future)

At the moment I am in Israel, and the final destination is not defined.


What I took with me and what I left that I regret

I have with me a small suitcase full of things, mostly light, for the summer. There is also a laptop, a projector, and tools for drawing. Together weigh about 30 kg. Now and then I can send something to Moscow or vice versa.


What am I currently working on

I am looking for commercial projects to earn. In my spare time, I am quite busy with my art projects. I am creating a series of textual works on the streets of different cities and countries. In addition, I have almost completed a retrospective book that includes 20 years of work in the field of street art.


Which projects are left in Russia

In Russia, the activities of my team are still ongoing, we have not left the market and are trying ourselves with interesting tasks, which, unfortunately, have become much less than before.


About embedding in a new environment

I try to connect as much as possible with new people, to find useful contacts. The most valuable thing for me is to try to continue in my profession despite the difficulties associated with leaving Russia.


Have you experienced discrimination in a professional environment

I haven't experienced discrimination, but since my work is quite current, I get a lot of negative opinions and threats. However, I did not feel a complete erasure of Russian culture as far as I was concerned directly.


Were there problems with visas, residence permits, and bureaucracy?

I have no problems with visas, I managed it in advance.


What gives support/incentive

What gives an incentive is the reaction of viewers, the activity of colleagues, and the desire to create a dialogue, because, in the process of discussion, one can come to the right thoughts. The main mission in my activity of recent years is to try to open the eyes of many.


Who is my audience now

My viewer is mostly Instagram users and local communities in certain cities.


Pavel Otdelnov

On February 12, 2022 I opened the exhibition Promzone in Uppsala, Sweden.

I spent 2022 mainly in Sweden, where I made a series of works The Field of Experiments and showed it in the museum of the Swedish city of Kalmar. I spent the second half of the year in the UK where I worked for my project Acting Out. The exhibition Acting Out was presented in London at the Pushkin house Fall 2022 - Winter 2022/23


What are you working on now?

My projects in progress are Hominem Quero and Abyss.

What projects are left in Russia?

Physically - all the projects that have been created before 2022. There were several ideas for the future, which were not destined to take place.


Have you experienced discrimination in the professional environment?

I've never encountered it directly or anywhere.
There was a public discussion in the Uppsala newspaper about whether an exhibition of an artist from Russia should be closed. They decided that since I wasn't a representative of institutions, but on my own, my exhibition didn't need to be closed.
Later, a newspaper published an article about my exhibition with the headline Bojkotta absolut inte den här ryska konsten Pavel Otdelnovs Promzona är kolossalt inspirerande och lättillgängligt.

However, several planned publications were never released. With the coverage of Acting Out, things were not easy either. I think many publications decided to ignore and not get involved. Surely, for them it is too dangerous subject, a reputational risk.


What supports and motivates you?


My family, my wife. My new friends and acquaintances, for many of them it is just as hard as it is for me. Museums and art.

Who is your viewer now?


At the moment, it's mostly me and my social media followers. The Acting Out exhibition was attended by many people interested in post-Soviet history. There was a lot of discussion of current events in the exhibition space.




Departure: reasons and circumstances

My husband and I left a week and a half after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops began.

For me it was not even a question of whether or not to leave. My grandfather is from Dnepropetrovsk, and one of my mother's cousins lives in Polohy, the other in Vasilievka. This is Zaporozhye, the front passed through these places and at the moment both villages are occupied. My uncles' families are in evacuation in Germany. There are friends, colleagues, artist and activist acquaintances in Kiev. They were bombed.
After it became clear in the first week that the protests in Russia would be suppressed by any means, I realized that I had to leave if I wanted to save myself. I wanted to do something that would help me feel that I had no part in this crime. I felt that if I didn't leave, I would need psychiatric help, literal, not mataphoric. My husband reacted a little less acutely and offered to wait a couple more weeks, but after three days he said "Let's go" himself.
We figured out what we could spend in terms of money, my husband arranged everything in order to work remotly. At the same time, friends from Armenia wrote to us and offered to stay with them. So it became became clear to which destination to buy tickets. On March 7, we landed in Yerevan. It was the first night when I could sleep well.

Travel route

We stayed in Yerevan in the spring and summer to look around and figure out how to proceed. Since I had planned to go to Germany before the war, and even specifically to the Academy of Arts in Leipzig, I immediately started looking for options in that direction.
I wrote to my acquaintances: there turned out to be something like a self-organized aid group in Leipzig.
Russian artists, who had been living and studying in Leipzig for a long time, told me what to do, how to proceed. Stefania Smolkina helped me a lot. I successfully interviewed two of my professors. In May it was clear that I would be accepted to the Academy and I should collect the documents for the visa.
In addition - an unexpected and happy benefit - I was given a scholarship for two years of study. During the summer I also got involved with the Feminist Anti-War Resistance and volunteered. Over the summer I flew several times Over the summer I flew to Moscow a few times to look for things and documents, but on the whole I was in Yerevan.
We arrived in early September to submit the documents at the embassy and close all the files. Then the mobilization started.
I stayed behind to wait for the visa, and my husband left. At the end of October the visa was finally granted, but only to me - and I moved to Leipzig, with a considerable delay in time for the school term. I greatly underestimated the degree of danger posed by neo-Stalinist rhetoric about repeating of the great geopolitical catastrophe.

End point (now/future)

I am currently studying at the Hochschule von Buchkunst und Ggrafik, which is the Leipzig Academy of Art, in the modern painting class of Anna Speyer and Franziska Reinbote.
It's a post-diploma program. I'm waiting for my husband to get a visa so we can reunite with him here. For now, Leipzig is our destination. It's hard to guess further. Until the war is over, and until it is possible to say what I think openly in Russia, I don't plan to return until then.


What I took with me and what I left that I regret


I took the minimum necessary for work and personal belongings. A computer, some tools, some beloved clothes, some emotionally meaningful drawings, and a photo of my great-grandmother. That's it.

I am waiting for my precious books to arrive. I have what it takes to live and work. But I left the priceless. My two old grandmothers, my parents, my aunt in St. Petersburg, and my friends. My favorite park in Moscow, Vorobevy Gory. Beloved Petrograd. The brilliant students I taught Contemporary Painting at the British Graduate School of Design. I left the feeling of being part of a dynamic, developing, and highly professional artistic community, which yes, has a lot of problems, but also a lot of thirst for growth. This is a great loss. What I regret most is that I was naive and did not realize how much war, isolation, and trying to revive the corpse of the USSR are real prospects, and not just the fantasies of older men. I greatly underestimated the degree of danger posed by

neo-Stalinist rhetoric regarding the possibility of repeating the

great geopolitical catastrophe.

What am I currently working on


I continue to deconstruct the Soviet identity, but I do it now by other means. In painting, I chose Soviet realism as an object of reflection. I focus on the official Soviet painting, created in the 40s and 50s, which received awards upon awards. These are the images that, along with cinema and literature, were part of the construction of the myth of what the Soviet people thought of themselves. And, as Evgeny Dobrenko writes in a powerful study on late Stalinism, this self-myth, established by Stalin, was never really dismantled. If we want, as a culture, to somehow get out of narcissistic infantilism and deny and build a healthier identity, it is necessary to critically reinterpret these images. This is important to me as a painter. I do not like Soviet realism, I consider these paintings and the way they have produced a cultural trauma for Modern Russian painting. It's like a radioactive cultural cemetery. It radiates.

To cure or disable it, it must be approached practically. In addition, I started my first photo project dedicated to Soviet monuments dedicated to the war. The project is still in the works, I can not say much more. But in a couple of months, there should be the results of this work. Another important project I helped organize as a feminist anti-war resistance activist is the Anti-war Inktober. This is an online action of anti-war drawings that took place in October 2022. It was attended by professional artists but the main contribution was made by “ordinary” women and Russian activists to express their pain and protest. My contribution to the project was coordination and curation.

After that, activists from the FAS cell in Berlin joined, found a space, and we did an exhibition of anti-war graphics in February.

Which projects are left in Russia

In 2022 we planned together with Anya Zhurba and Anya Turkina to make a project on the connection between Soviet painting and animation at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art - MMSI.

Alas, we will not do it again. Not only because Anya Zhurba was fired from the MMSI because of its openly anti-militaristic position and because of this we moved away, but also because we conceived the project based on a cartoon that was made in 1975 at the Kyiv film studio. To continue to work with this in conditions of war would mean carrying out an ethically impossible and unjustified appropriation. If we're very lucky, maybe we can get back to work in 20 years, in a new reality. But now we have to do other things.

About embedding in a new environment

It's certainly not easy. So far, German is a language barrier. But the most difficult thing is not even this, but rather the fact that it is another context that is not yet my "air". Then, I always did my job thinking about a Russian, post-Soviet audience. Even considering that I am in East Germany, which had its Soviet experience, these are still very different visual and cultural codes, other practices of perception, and artistic production. It's incredibly daunting. It can be said that they are constantly in a state of discouragement, which is as uncomfortable and at the same time as productive as possible.

I have never thought so intensely about my work in my life.

From the professional environment to the Academy I feel supported, I feel a genuine interest in my thoughts and I have much less sense of a hierarchy in the relationships between teachers and students. In Germany, students have a sense of self-worth, and no one disputes this. This is what is lacking in Russia, where often, along with power, status, and authority, there is automatically an opportunity to humiliate or devalue the student. I would not generalize. Surely there are also toxic turns and other pitfalls, but in these 4 months, these are my impressions.

Have you experienced discrimination

in a professional environment

Nope. I met a lot of sincere support, empathy, and offers of help.

Were there problems with visas, residence permits, and bureaucracy?

Yes, of course. My husband has been waiting for a family reunification visa for more than six months. Probably the biggest stress after the visa was opening an account in a German bank here. But the problem is not that bureaucracy doesn't work well, but that I don't know exactly how it works. And because I still speak basic German, many things I do are forcibly slow or I can't figure out exactly what to do. The rules and circulars change sometimes quickly because of the war, and the Germans themselves do not always know what can and can not be done. That is, my main difficulties are language and war.

In my experience, officials try to help within the limits of what is allowed to them. For example, I did not have an account for a long time but they made an exception and once arranged for the payment of salary to a non-German bank. Which is against their rules but they found a way to help me. All this is very valuable and human.

What gives support/incentive

Ukraine! And Ukrainian women (in my group there are two schoolgirls): their strength, courage, and great humor. The FAS activists. The artists and directors who leave or stay, but unequivocally call things by their name. I recently saw the interview with Krymov, such a piece! The painting of Otto Dix, Miriam Hahn, and Maria Lassnig. The books on how Germany milled the Nazi legacy. The interview with the heroes of Yury Dudya. The brilliant humor of Mikhail Shevelev, on which it seems I have based all year. The feedback from the group mates. The drums and the drumsticks.

My husband, of course, as always.

And grass too. Nothing can be done with grass, it grows, it will sprout. Nothing can be done with the grass, it grows, it will sprout, and that's it.

Who is my audience now

So far it's the students, my professors, and a few friends. Plus a small online audience. I hope that soon my German audience will expand. But, of course, I always have a Russian spectator in mind.




Slava PTRK

Departure: reasons and circumstances

The main reason was the beginning of the "partial" mobilization and the subsequent pressure of my loved ones who were worried about my safety. I resisted to the last, but finally decided to leave, "it's better to overdo it than do nothing". There was great nervousness and every day I became aware of more and more people who made the same decision. In a few days, I prepared my things and the final push was an offer of an apartment to live in for free from a friend of mine in Montenegro. The Schengen area was open, there was housing, and there was a car. Everything was ready and so we left.


Travel route

At the end of September, my partner and I left for Finland. The next day, a mobile military enlistment office was established at the border point, and two days later Finland closed entry to citizens of the Russian Federation on tourist visas. Next, we went south: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, and Montenegro. In early October we were in Kotor, Montenegro.


End point (now/future)

Now we live near Bar, Montenegro. What will happen next is not known. Most likely we will go to Germany, to Berlin. Or maybe Paris.


What I took with me and what I left that I regret

I took little, left a lot. I took all the clothes, took almost no tools (screwdriver, drill, saw, etc.). I took with me my loved ones and a little money, took the car and took myself, this is the most important thing. Some of the things were in the car with us, and the rest we left in a warehouse in Moscow, we will take everything away gradually as soon as we settle somewhere in a new place. I miss my tools and my bike.


What am I currently working on

Many things. Several exhibitions in Europe, several exhibitions in Russia, “street” projects, and some brand new things like work with neural networks and NFTs. There is a lot of work, and there are a lot of thoughts. I am glad that it is possible to continue to be active, and the Montenegrin climate made it possible to actively paint on the street all winter. The main thing is not to stop.


Which projects are left in Russia

Some big unfinished projects. Some of them are on stand By (for a long time), others I will try to implement them in other countries. Many things can be done remotely, which is great.


About embedding in a new environment

We hardly communicate with locals, mostly we only interface with expats like us. This is not very nice, it's a minus, but without knowledge of the language, at this time, it is difficult to handle the situation in another way. I have a lot of travel experience because of artistic residencies; therefore, I feel good in a new place, trying to get to know a new country from different angles. But due to the feeling of being in a place only temporarily, it can be difficult to immerse yourself in the local context also because you will soon move again.


Have you experienced discrimination in a professional environment

Yes, I received several refusals from galleries and festivals where it was openly stated that this was due to the war and because I am from Russia. But I understand this and do not get very angry about it, and I certainly do not allow myself any public indignation about it. It's just that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, we are citizens of the aggressor country and we are responsible for everything that happens, whether we want it or not. No need to break through a closed door. I am sure that the attitude will stabilize over time, but agitating for one's rights, resenting "Russophobia", etc. now does not seem entirely appropriate to me. I believe that adequacy will prevail. When one door closes, others open.


Were there problems with visas, residence permits, and bureaucracy?

Who doesn't have problems with that? Of course, everyone has problems with this, in any country, someone has more, someone less. Those who work in the IT industry were lucky, they received an offer as well as their partners, while others were less fortunate.


What gives support/incentive

Believe in your rightness and work. Support of loved ones. Future projects. The horror of everything that happens in the homeland and the unwillingness to return there until the end of Putinism.


Who is my audience now

The Internet slackers. Less often the expats. Even more rarely the locals.



Ana Saut


Paulina Siniatkina

Paulina Siniatkina is one of those artists who, at the beginning of the military invasion of Russia in Ukraine, very quickly decided to emigrate. At a time when many were still trying to understand what had happened and were trying to work out a further strategy of existence, Paulina was already working as a volunteer at an Amsterdam railway station, helping refugees. Simultaneously, Paulina creates a touching graphic series, Homes, dedicated to destroyed houses in Ukraine. The war uniquely divided the life and art of Paulina into before and after: painting works remained in Moscow, now other genres seem to be in demand. Speaking of her experience as a volunteer, in January 2023, Paulina conducted a series of performances at train stations in the Netherlands, and currently the artist, as part of the Master's program ArtEZ University of Arts, is in residence in Belfast and is working on a new idea, namely whether people need walls to live in peace and what can be countered with enmity and the language of violence. Danila Bulatov talked with Paulina about the artist's life in emigration, work with refugees, studies abroad, and plans. 

Danila Bulatov: Paulina, I would like us to talk about how you see yourself as an artist in the changed conditions, what changes in your artistic practice, in your approach to art, to people, and the world in general. Let's start with your departure from Moscow, when and how did you leave?


Paulina Siniatkina: on March 7, 2022, I flew to Yerevan. It seems to me that it was one of the last Aeroflot flights to this destination. Then, flights to Yerevan started again, but back then nobody could foresee what would happen. It was a really exciting first wave of emigration. Honestly, I wasn't very aware of where I was flying. The most important thing for me was that dogs could be brought on board. I have a little dog, which thank God usually fits in hand luggage.


DB: Dog is important. What else did you take with you? 


PS: well, my suitcase, which, of course, is not the largest, but it was what it was. It was March, and I took with me only warm spring clothes. It seemed impossible to me what was happening and somehow I thought I would be back after two weeks. In addition, our performance in the center of Voznesensk should have been held shortly thereafter. March 24 is the day of the fight against tuberculosis and for me, it is always an important date, a day when I do something about this topic, the fight against the stigmatization of this disease. On this occasion, we had the first set of performances in The fist row.


DB: Please, tell me more about this performance.

Your social commitment as an artist is very important to me.


PS: Performance title, The first row, refers not only to the world of theater but also to the medical one: this is what the first line of drugs for the treatment of classical tuberculosis is called. This performance was born on the initiative of Anya Nekrasova, an actress from St. Petersburg, with whom, as it later turned out, we were almost simultaneously sick with tuberculosis, in 2015, only she was in St. Petersburg and I in Moscow. Having met, we decided to do something related to our experience and created a performance together with the playwright Yuri Klavdiev, the director Lena Smorodinova, the composer Kirill Shirokov and the set designer Vasilina Kharlamova. We prepared this show as part of the Peredelkino residence.


DB: and because of your departure, the performance did not take place? 


PS: No, no! The performance took place and was even repeated several times. The consequence of the war was to have created a version of this performance in projection: we recorded a video with me, with my voice, they were vocal improvisations. But, of course, I was sorry not to be there in person, because during rehearsals I felt incredible magic on stage. Unlike Anya, I am not a professional actress, but we are both survivors of an illness, we are united by this experience and the whole comedy is a documentary, it is a kind of storage of our memories that Yura has created in our dialogue.


DB: Let's get back to your flight to Yerevan. Why did you fly to Armenia? Were you planning to stay there for a while or was it just a convenient transit point? 


PS: When the war started, I was completely paralyzed. I wanted to somehow stop all this, sell paintings and send the money to Ukraine, go screaming in the street... I ran to take a selfie against the background of the mosaic of the "eternal friendship of peoples" at the metro station in Kievskaya. It was very scary. I also have a guy who is from Amsterdam and of course, there was a fear that we would not be able to see each other, that they would close the borders. There was a feeling that the world was going down and we decided that I should leave temporarily to have at least one escape. The ticket more fore I was going into the unknown, and I was shocked, of course, by the plane full of young guys in their 20s, who were also flying to nowhere like me. Half of the aircraft were Armenians, and the other half were young Russian dissidents. I was very supported by friends who gave me and my dog a place to sleep, so Yerevan it's a place where I could breathe again. I stayed there for 10 days and then flew to the Netherlands. I had a tourist visa, but I already knew that I had entered a master's degree.


DB: So you applied to graduate school in 2021? 

Master's at ArtEZ University of the Arts, in Arnhem?


PS: Yes. I applied in 2021, and the answer that I entered came to me two weeks before the start of the war. I was looking at several study programs in the Netherlands and I accidentally came across the program of this university that responds to what I am doing: it is a one-year International Master Artist Educator unique in its way, dedicated to social change through art. The Artist Educator is an artist who works with people and has a kind of educational component in his projects. For example, the performance at the station had this social aspect, the involvement of the audience. People could learn through my project how they experience war from different angles.


DB: Tell me more about this performance, how was it created?


PS: I was a volunteer at Amsterdam Central Station for six months and at some point I started writing an online diary on my Telegram channel to somehow manage stress. There I recorded the monologues of people fleeing the war and also reflected on how it feels to be a Russian woman helping Ukrainians. I was the kind of sponge that absorbed everything, not least because I speak the language of people fleeing war. Of course, refugees arrive in a country where they do not understand and do not know anything, and very few of them speak English, so we as volunteers have always been the bridges between the Dutch and Ukrainians.


DB: Yes, I saw the performance documentation when you read 

your diary at the station, but what was the social aspect here? 


PS: It was a kind of intervention. I went to a specific track at a specific time to find the train to Bruxelles. l I knew what time it would arrive and how many people usually got on it, and so I guessed the time of this performance in such a way that they got off the train, people passed through me and became actors in one way or another. I performed in all three of these performances at different train stations, but only in Amsterdam did I have a specially invited audience. Including the guys with whom we volunteered together, the green vests, and also for them, it was a very important moment, because they lived the experience with me. On the other hand, I probably tried to find healing in this way. We are all deeply traumatized, and if this trauma doesn't start to resolve now, I think it will lead us to a post-conflict that will be even harder to resolve. So I want to start working on this as soon as possible and get other people involved.


DB: But did the idea of doing these actions arise much later, when you already stopped volunteering?


PS: Yes, when I was a volunteer, I didn't have any thoughts about projects, I just wasn't able. Initially, I wrote all these stories just for myself: I was very hurt and needed to take everything somewhere. Also, I thought it would be useful if other Russians also read this and saw what was happening, I wanted to make it visible.


DB: I would like to dwell on the post-conflict that you started talking about. It seems obvious to me that it will not only concern you and your volunteer colleagues, who, in my opinion, came from Russia…


PS: Yes, there was a whole group of Russians. Especially in the first days of the war, the volunteers were Russians.


DB: So, after the war, the conflict will not be with them. It will instead be with those who now adhere to the position, those of the it's not all so unambiguous, not to mention those who now actively support the war. It seems to me that this conflict is completely inevitable. Will a dialogue be possible, what do you think?


PS: it is very difficult for me to say something here, it is extremely painful when there is a division of this order between people, especially if within the same family. This also struck me: there are relatives with whom I can not communicate because I understand that if we enter the discussion, we will almost certainly break off the relationship. So silence for me now is a way to maintain connection, which I certainly don't consider a good method. 


DB: Seems like an obvious way to save yourself... 

Can art serve as a medium of dialogue? 


PS: Definitely. Art is the most accessible language designed not to break but, on the contrary, to build connections. I hope that if people see what I am doing, they will start asking some questions and maybe dialogue will be possible later.


DB: What are your plans? Now you are finishing your Master's Degree, you come back to Amsterdam and you think you are an artist already in the Dutch context?


PS: Yes, now I have a student visa, after which there is an opportunity to apply for a special annual visa, which, let's say, allows you to stay in the country. So far there are no long-term plans. Learn to live the here and now. Maybe then I can apply for an Artist Visa, they give one here too.


DB: But do you not consider returning to Russia for yourself, even if only temporarily, to see your parents, or does it scare you, also because of the threat of persecution?


PS: You know, with this emigration, I realized how much I miss home. But even before I was a potential ex-pat, because my boyfriend is Dutch, and everyone knew that sooner or later I would leave, but that it would happen just like this, that I could not go back, this turned out to be the most painful thing for me. I seem to dream every day about my apartment in Moscow and the village where I grew up... of course, returning to Russia now carries risks. Because of my protest activity, they also published me here in a Dutch newspaper... my face appeared on the front page of Het Parool with the following caption: "These Russians now live in Amsterdam" and then the quote ”I have a deep sense of guilt". My friends and I joke that recently I was the face of tuberculosis in Russia, and now I am the face of Russia's guilt.


DB: Do you still paint pictures now?


PS: Now I am no longer focused on the medium, it guides me mainly on the motive, and I found that through the language of performance, it is easier for me to convey my thoughts, and painting personally for me here and now does not work, although I miss it very much. In general, most of my works remained in Moscow in a studio, I also miss them.. 


DB: I also have a feeling that now painting is less in demand, it seems too “salon " means for the current moment. Although I probably, say this now that I just saw the photos of the Art Russia Fair, it is difficult to imagine anything less appropriate today. And what do you think of the perspective of painting?


PS: It seems to me that painting can always be relevant and in demand. It's great when an artist can find a pictorial language that matches the moment. It's just that this is my period of this kind, and I worry that this will happen because, after all, I've been a painter for so many years that I can't just take it and discard it. Probably, first of all, now I do not have enough time and I do not have the study. Although I continue to deal with pre-war subjects: I made the series of graphic works Hospitality in Amsterdam, I left a painting with the image of a quartz lamp, I had started painting it in Moscow…


DB: But you can't finish it since you're in Belfast. Tell me a little about your ceramic work, please. 


PS: From ceramics, I made supports for test tubes and with these, I germinated plants: this is a rethinking of medical objects through their "domestication". I still plan to make an aroma lamp from an inhaler. I am interested in the subjects that surrounded me in the hospital, part of the hospital routine, because, firstly, I lived in the hospital for 7 months and the hospital became a home for me, and what matters to me is the intersection of hospital and home, secondly, I strive to destigmatize the medical world: the idea is to make of these generally frightening objects for people something that can blend harmoniously into their home.


DB: Precisely concerning the role of medical issues in your life and your creativity, I wanted to ask you about the activities of the organization TBpeople, which brought together people fighting tuberculosis, of which you are a co-founder. Do you continue to participate in her activities, and follow her? It seems to me that one of the negative side effects of the war is that the military agenda seems to have pushed the activities of educational or charitable organizations to the second or even third plan.


PS: This is a very important part of my life. We organized this NGO in 2016 in Bratislava, we had a Russian-speaking community of representatives from different countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. TBpeople is a global network of tuberculosis survivors, and now branches are opening in completely different parts of the planet. And one of the big networks we have is in Ukraine, so when the war started, my attention was focused on the people who are being treated there and for whom then it is much more difficult to leave the country. 


DB: People with TB need constant monitoring and medication, so they can't leave with the other refugees? 


PS: Of course. If a person is sick, he must complete the intended treatment, depending on the type of tuberculosis and the degree of resistance to antibiotics. Treatment lasts at least six months, the maximum for life, depending on how much the body is affected. I, for example, have been under treatment for 10 months. Patients with extensive resistance are usually treated for two years. And it is very important not to interrupt this treatment, because in such a case, acquired resistance to antibiotics may occur, which can lead to irreversible processes.


DB: What about Russia? Is there in general a TBpeople project? In Russia, the activities of NGOs have in general been very complicated in recent years, and now there has been a large outflow from the country of exactly those people who have done many such projects, it seems to me. What is your perception?


PS: I understand that the problem remains and it is important for me to continue working on it, but now I have left Russia. Although in fact, my activism on this plan stopped in 2019. The cause was COVID, which closed hospitals to visits. Before that, we traveled to hospitals all over Russia, visited the sick, distributed our brochures, and communicated with doctors; we did the project with the support of WHO. It was difficult to organize a national branch in Russia because we understood that here such an NGO would immediately receive the status of a foreign agent. Therefore, we acted autonomously, with independent consultant status.


DB: Got it. Let's get back to your creative plans, what are your projects besides going back to painting?


PS: Now I'm in Belfast for my study program, and somehow our project has to be location-specific. This city is a good ground for social projects since it only illustrates the post-conflict situation. In particular, the entire city is divided by walls enclosing Catholic communities from Protestant ones. Moreover, these walls are higher than the Berlin Wall, some literally with a ten-story houses. The post-conflict is directly embedded in the structure of the city and everyone feels it. There were many paramilitary organizations on both sides doing terrible things to each other. In 1998, the so-called Good Friday Agreement was signed here, an agreement designed to end 30 years of violent conflict. But people are very traumatized on both sides of the walls, the past conflict seems to be stuck in the air. Until now, the gates of these Walls of the world close somewhere at 6, sometimes at 21, and you literally can not pass from one street to another.


DB: The wall as the simplest solution to the problem ... what do you think about opening this post-conflict?


PS: Our study represents a sort of intersection between anthropology and social work, with art, with research activity. So I like this program, it offers some new methods for working with people. In the month we were in Belfast, we had to determine where our field of interest was and what we wanted to bring as artists into this situation. We cannot resolve the existing conflict, but we can try to make some small changes that will potentially have long-term consequences. I will research both sides of the wall: I wonder how you can compare and reconcile two narratives so rigid and fundamentally opposed yet highlight the same problem, only from different angles. And, of course, I can not help but think in this context of the mirror narratives of Russian and conventionally Western propaganda. I am interested in my role as a mediator, a person who does not belong to this conflict, but who knows something about the current conflict from the history of his country, and can somehow use this knowledge in this context. I'm thinking of a performance that would go between the walls. There are places like this when you exit the Protestant area, walk 10 meters and enter the Catholic area. I am very interested in these 10 meters between the walls, they are like picks. And I'm interested in the fact that I left the conflict, but it seemed to me that I was in a post-conflict future, and here I can reflect on this future if I can somehow influence it. Now I am thinking a lot about what our future is and where this point is, where the conflict ends because it is obvious that when people stop killing each other, it does not mean that the conflict is exhausted.


DB: That's for sure. It seems to me that it will be very nice if you manage to combine and correlate your Russian optics with the Northern Irish one. Here, too, as I understand it, not only political confrontation plays an important role, but also issues of identity and colonial heritage in general. Speaking of classic Russian propaganda narratives, have you faced discrimination simply for your citizenship?


PS: there were several situations, quite funny, but nothing critical. At the station there was practically nothing like that, on the contrary, all Ukrainians always asked me where I came from, and they were always as grateful as possible. It seems to me that there was only one girl who changed her expression when I said that I was from Russia, but she did not say anything, I just felt her tension. Once a Dutchman made fun of me in a not-very-appropriate way, but I immediately received the support of my comrades. There was also another kind of support: I received a grant that was intended specifically for Ukrainians or Russian dissidents. In addition, this grant came from the Literature Foundation. I have been very supported by this kind of institutional help, it is fantastic.


DB: But don't you have the feeling that you have lost your audience, that you have moved away from a context important to you?


PS: Of course I do. But so it is: there is no more home, nor the familiar rhythm of Moscow…  


DB: Do you follow what the artists left in Moscow do, in general, the Russian art scene?


PS: I can't say I see myself in this context. It is very clear to me where my place is now, in the sense that there is a war, and everything went according to other plans, it became more important for me in one way or another to talk about conflicts, talk about war.


DB: It seems to me that many Russian contemporary artists share your feelings, and since in Russia it is impossible or dangerous to talk about it now, we see an unprecedented wave of emigration. But at the same time, a significant part of the artistic community as a whole seems to ignore the situation. Is it a defense mechanism, an unwillingness to let negative emotions in?


PS: I think you can't blame anyone for anything. If only because not everyone can and not everyone wants to leave and this decision must be respected as much as possible. But yes, there is a feeling that many put some kind of protective lock. This is such a familiar feeling to me even with tuberculosis, in my experience of activism. It's the same situation where you're trying to talk about something you've experienced and you realize that people don't even want to get involved. Because it's like it's not about them, and you're trying to find a language to explain that it's not just about me, that it's about us all. I was lucky to be there, but anyone can be in my place. I see this indifference everywhere and I am obsessed with it…

Even going back to the performance at the train station, it was important for me to notice this thing about the language barrier. It seems to me that it was about the sensitivity of communication and the fact that the power of emotions can even overcome the language barrier when you are in a train station and read something in another language. I was interested in what reaction the people passing by would have. Of course, most of those who passed by thought "Oh, this does not concern me", but someone went a little slower or showed some interest and read the description of the performance.


DB: I understand you very well. We hope to find the strength in ourselves both for greater empathy and to overcome that post-conflict situation that we talked a lot about today.


Danila Tkachenko


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