How Liverpool came alive with Ukrainian culture13 May 2023 at 17:18 CEST
When Liverpool was announced as the host city for Eurovision 2023, it was always going to be Ukraine’s party. Artist collaborations, Ukrainian raves, and video installations popped up around the city in May. The Beatles’ famous yellow submarine became blue and yellow in honour of the Ukrainian flag. Ukrainian theatre makers Yurii Radionov and Shorena Shoniia presented the world premiere of a new play. And Eurovision 2016 winner Jamala performed her new album live with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, exploring Crimean culture.
Down in the Eurovillage, a side street opens up with a yellow and blue banner reading “Discover Ukraine.” It’s the Ukrainian Village Market. Famous chef Ievgen Klopotenko (described by one stallholder as the Ukrainian Jamie Oliver) is running a food stall, where people tuck into beetroot-red Borscht and a Crimean Tatar pastry called Cheburek.
Little huts line the street selling books, clothes, and jewellery. There’s Ukrainian fashion hub I AM VOLYA and a brand called Bravery which raises money to help rebuild Ukraine.
Bookshop UKRBOOKS is the UK’s first Ukrainian bookshop, and is normally based online. But for Eurovision, the shop has brought together a collection for the village. They’ve got a special collection of dual-language children’s picture books, so that children arriving in the UK can learn English.
Mariana Didun is the shop’s owner, and she shared her feelings about Liverpool being filled with Ukrainian culture.
“It really shocked me, the atmosphere here. We feel like we’re in Ukraine,” she said. “British people are very kind and very welcoming. Liverpool is an amazing city.”
In amongst the photobooks of Kyiv and beautifully illustrated books, Mariana points out the Petrykivka art painted on jewellery boxes and plates with special handmade brushes, which she’s especially proud to share.
At the bottom of the street, an interactive exhibition called See, Hear, Feel Ukraine has been put together inside a dome by non-profit organisation Music Saves UA, with a beautiful tree in the centre. It’s a hands-on way for people to get to know Ukrainian music and culture across the years. As would be expected, there’s a special board all about Ukraine in Eurovision, featuring Jamala, Ruslana, and Kalush Orchestra alongside the country’s other successes. But there is also music outside the world of Eurovision (we know, we’re surprised too) and some of Ukraine’s other iconic artists are celebrated in the exhibition. In one section, visitors can listen to the Ukrainian language, with the board reading, “Without language, a nation falls silent.”
Olena Yelistratova is part of the team running the Music Saves UA installation, and explained why it is so important: “Ukraine is very famous for what is happening at the moment — the war — and we wanted to show that there is much more to Ukraine. There are so many beautiful places, amazing landscapes, plenty of very talented people in Ukraine, and great music. The people there are so nice.”
She said that they wanted people from the UK to be able to see all that with their own eyes.
Olena is honoured that there is so much Ukrainian culture springing up around Liverpool and said it’s a pleasure to be here. She feels very supported in the city, and that the Ukrainian people are being heard, but the feeling is bittersweet. She said: “We also remember the reason why we are here and we remember the reason why Eurovision is happening in Liverpool instead of Kyiv or any other city in Ukraine.”
She shared an extra piece of Ukrainian culture that she would love the world to know about — The Carol of the Bells. Avid Eurovision viewers will have seen the song performed in the Second Semi-Final, and know by now that it’s a traditional Ukrainian song.
At the other end of the Ukrainian market, is the Ukraine Chalet, decorated with traditional vytynankas folk art in blue and yellow papercuttings, which tell real stories of brave hearts in Ukraine. The Chalet shares the voice of Ukraine through a digital installation, so that people can learn more about the country. Marina Dadinova has been running the stand, and described how it’s felt to have so much Ukrainian culture in Liverpool.
“It is a beautiful opportunity for the Eurovision community to find out more about Ukraine, not only war related but beyond the war, because Ukraine is a beautiful country with a rich history and culture and delicious cuisine,” she said.
Marina said that she’s really enjoying the atmosphere, but would love to welcome the contest in Ukraine again one day. She said: “One of our visitors today shared the brilliant idea that someday maybe Ukraine could host the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of the UK.”
Marina also wanted to share a Ukrainian philosophy of liberty and freedom that she hopes the rest of the world will adopt, and which she hopes could become as popular as other concepts like Hygge.
“I would name Volya, which is a Ukrainian word meaning freedom and passion. It is a lifestyle concept about making the impossible happen,” she said.
Outside the Eurovillage, there’s plenty more Ukrainian culture happening. 12 huge songbirds have migrated to the city from places like Lviv and Crimea, and are symbols of song and happiness. They’re known as Soloveiko Songbirds, or nightingales in English.
Ukrainian journalist Maria Romanenko ran free walking tours around Liverpool, introducing around 250 Ukrainians to the city — including Jamala’s team.
And ahead of the big night (the Eurovision Grand Final!), Ukrainians are donning their sparkliest outfits for the event, after a special scheme made sure there were subsidised tickets allocated for a set number of Ukrainian audience members. Anastacia Sydorenko is one of those people with a ticket, and she’s happy that people are able to experience Ukrainian culture in Liverpool.
“What is happening now, it's amazing. We can see so many people that have known something new about Ukraine, and they are so surprised about how big Ukraine is and how colourful our culture is,” she told us. “Now actually, I feel like I am in Ukraine. Everywhere Ukrainians and Ukrainian signs, Ukrainian culture, flags. It is everywhere. And I am proud of it.”
The Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Malmö, Sweden on Tuesday 7 May (First Semi-Final), Thursday 9 May (Second Semi-Final) and Saturday 11 May (Grand Final) 2024.