Two Years of Full Scale Invasion

February 24, 2024 – Two years into the full scale war in Ukraine and still no end in sight. Sadly, but strongly, the Ukrainian community came together in the Randstad to commemorate those who have fought for their country’s freedom and paid the ultimate price.

Meanwhile in The Hague, mourners joined VATAHA in a commemoration walk (part of the set of events “Den Haag: Freedom to Ukraine” dedicated to the second anniversary of the beginning of the Full scale War in Ukraine) along the Ukrainian embassy, which ended with the screening of personal, motivational video messages from Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

At the Rotterdam Central Station, VATAHA facilitated a three-part art installation called “Weave The Net”, consisting of three 2m tall wooden arches with handwoven fabric to give mourners a place to express their need for protection, freedom and remembrance. 

In The Hague

Two years into the war and Randstad supporters of the Ukrainian cause are increasing, not dwindling.

Last year, at the request of the artist Teun Kastelein, who is known for his creativity, a Dutch street organ on wheels stood in front of the Russian embassy in The Hague all day, playing the national anthem of Ukraine. This year, there were two such organs: one stood near the embassy, ​​and the other took part in the walk . It was a wonderful combination of Dutch traditions, art and solidarity with Ukrainians. More than 1000 people stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian community in The Hague. For the first time, representatives from the Gemeente Den Haag actively participated in the event, who affirmed it will stand with Ukraine “until the end.”

“It was powerful,” shares Uliana Bun, VATAHA co-founder and organizer of the commemoration event in the Hague. “The Gemeente supporting us not just by facilitating events in the background but by now advocating publicly for our cause is a huge recognition of our work and our cause.” 

Starting close to the russian embassy, the commemoration walk was a sea of blue and yellow. Bun was especially touched by the vast number of Dutch supporters who took to the streets with their colors and posters calling for “no more talk, act now.” “It was a positive surprise to see all the support,” she says.  

When walking past the Ukrainian embassy, a violinist Alla Jakoviak played “Melody A minor” by Ukrainian composer M.Skoryk from the building’s balcony.

“Every person began to cry when they heard this song,” Bun recalls, highlighting it represents Ukrainian sacrifices in WWII, The director of the film (V.Denysenko), not agreed the interpretation of the script imposed on him by KGB representatives, asked Myroslav Skoryk to write such music for the film, which could “tell” the viewer what cannot be shown on a screen. “Everyone [in Ukraine] knows this, it is not just a pretty song,”  she maintains. “While WWII is more than 80 years ago, it’s still relevant to the Ukrainian community today.” 

During the solidarity march, an appreciation campaign was also conducted to express gratitude to the Dutch for their support of Ukraine. Volunteers distributed flowers accompanied by words of thanks. This initiative was facilitated in cooperation with “Svoi”.

The commemoration walk ended at the Land van Voorhout, where VATAHA had a unique surprise for the event participants: video messages from Ukrainian president Zelenskyy, Dutch prime minister Rutte, Geoffrey van Leeuwen (Minister van Buitenlandse handel en Ontwikkelings samenwerking) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot manifested their support and gratitude to residents in the Netherlands for the Ukrainian cause.

After the event, people were able to visit the exhibition of war artifacts, which was held near the New Church in the center of The Hague. The exhibition was held in cooperation with the “Zeilen van Vrijheid” foundation.

Photo – Olga Kyrychenko , co-organizers Comite Oekraine Den Haag

In Rotterdam

The commemoration event in Rotterdam came in a fully different format but was equally emotional. Each of the wooden arches from the “Weave the Net” installation served a different purpose: 

  • The Net of Freedom is a yellow and blue web woven together to express Ukrainians’ pursuit of liberation.
  • The Net of Protection is a camouflage net that symbolizes Ukrainians’ duty to care for those around them and live their own lives.
  • The Net of Remembrance is a symbol of care and compassion represented by a white grid.

The Net of Freedom

At the camouflage net, volunteer Milena Kompaniiets said the atmosphere was “very sensitive and powerful.” She invited participants to close their eyes and imagine the moment where freedom was limited. “Of course, a lot of Ukrainians immediately began to cry after I said the words ‘limited freedom’. Many Dutch people were open to this, I saw a lot of emotions. There were a lot of tears.”

Kompaniiets tasked participants to give themselves energy and strength while they put the fabric on the net. This net was started by participants of the Shelter for Freedom* performance by Daria Pugachova that took place in Zuid Boijmans

*Shelter for Freedom is a series of performances that have been happening in various countries since the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine. The idea is to establish a safe space for Ukrainians and locals to come together and engage in the exploration of the topics of freedom, home, and cultural identity. This journey takes various artistic forms, including singing songs, reading poetry, sharing personal stories, and performing on stage – always accompanied by the yellow and blue camouflage net as a symbol of unity.

With VATAHA’s assistance, Pugachova performed in front of the UN International Court of Justice to raise awareness of russia’s war crimes in Ukraine last fall.

The Net of Protection

Part two of the art installation focused on loved ones in need of protection: “Think of a loved one facing a difficult medical diagnosis, a friend struggling, a family member navigating a challenging situation far from home. Remember the yearning to shield them from harm, no matter the nature of the threat,” read the inscription.

“Cover yourself, wrap yourself in it. You are now invisible to all evil that exists. By caring for others, you free yourself from the fears that hinder you. You feel safe to express yourself.”

Similar versions of the Net of Protection are woven by volunteers all over the world, including in Rotterdam, at the Ukrainian House. They are necessary for masking Ukrainian equipment and structures at the front lines. While olive-colored fabric helps with camouflage in the grass, leaves and reeds, brown helps masks in earthy or sandy environments. For winter landscapes, volunteers have also made nets using white fabrics in the past. Along with similar ones, this very net is going directly to the front lines. 

The Net of Remembrance 

Finally, the Net of Remembrance honored the memory of those who died in the war between Russia and Ukraine. People were welcomed to tie the names of the people they lost to the war onto the net.

This arch encouraged participants to close their eyes and hold the image of a deceased loved one in their mind. “Now open your eyes,” read the inscription. “Look how many names there are here. Think of the people and cities that this war has taken. Think of the lives lost and ruined. Think of those who loved them.”

Vlada Voskobiiynk were another volunteer at the Net of Remembrance. “Seeing the emotions of people that came up to write a name was tough, each one carried meaning and memories,” them recalled. “When people took several pieces to write on because they had lost multiple people, I shared their grief for a moment. Afterward, I felt vulnerable and connected to the ones present there.”

During the two years of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the UN verified 10,582 dead and 19,875 wounded civilians. However, the actual number of victims is without a doubt much higher. We do not know the exact number of fallen soldiers, but any number is too high. Moreover, more than 8,000 Ukrainians, civilians and military, are still in Russian captivity.

The names on this net are the names from the annual Heroes’ Memory Run, which took place in Rotterdam in 2022 and The Hague in 2023. Participants could indicate the names of the people they lost or request a name of a fallen Hero of Ukraine. This year, the memorial run for the heroes will take place on August 24 in The Hague.

Beyond the net

After around 500 people gathered at the central station to interact with the three arches, the event participants walked together to the Stadhuis, where the vice mayor of Rotterdam, a counselor from the Ukrainian embassy and a representative from “Zeilen van Vrijheid” foundation said a few words in solidarity with the Ukrainian community in the Netherlands. 

Roman “Khmara” Kruitiak, a military veteran of the Ukrainian third assault brigade who lost his vision at the front line, said a powerful prayer for Ukraine, which was repeated synchronously by the memorial participants. “No one could hold back their tears or goosebumps,” concluded VATAHA co-founder Oksana Savchuk.

Photo – Pepijn Hooimeijer

By Anni Schleicher, March 20, 2024