IN March last year, Lyubov Panchenko was found unconscious in her home in the Russian-occupied town of Bucha, in the Ukrainian province of Kyiv Oblast.

Born in 1938, Lyubov was once one of Ukraine’s foremost artists and designers. Russian forces had surrounded Bucha, and Lyubov had run out of food during the siege.

She was taken to hospital where she died days later.

The war with Russia has decimated Ukraine. Like Lyubov, thousands of Ukrainian citizens have died. Yet the country’s spirit remains defiant. Brave Ukrainian individuals are offering staunch resistance, and countries across the globe are reaching out to help.

It’s under these dark shadows that a new series of artist residencies are taking place across Scotland, with Ukrainian creatives invited to spend time at host organisations such as Argyll and Bute’s Cove Park residency centre, the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, North Lands Creative gallery in Caithness, and the Hospitalfield arts complex in Arbroath to create new bodies of work.

Norah Campbell, head of arts at British Council Scotland, says the idea for the residencies came about following presentations made by Ukraine arts leaders attending last year’s Edinburgh International Culture Summit.

“As you can imagine, their key concern was what was happening in Ukraine, how to help support artists there and how to help protect the fragile heritage under risk,” she said. “We heard from those who had, quite literally, been in the line of fire to those that were trying to respond and help manage situations for their communities from a distance.”

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The talks led Campbell to wonder what could be done for Ukrainian creatives in Scotland.

She said: “We have a long-term strategic partnership with Creative Scotland, and we brought together a group of partners including Creative Scotland, the Ukrainian Institute, and our British Council colleagues based in Ukraine and Poland.

“It wasn’t a kneejerk reaction to the horrors that began at the beginning of 2022, but a conversation about how we could provide something practical and beneficial.”

Campbell is rightly proud of Scotland’s ability to host and provide creative residencies: “We have a highly networked and supportive infrastructure here, so we sketched out what would work, and then asked the experienced creative residency institutions who already have strong connections across the world – such as Cove Park and Hospitalfield – if they would like to get involved.”

In 2019 the British Council set up an annual UK/Ukrainian Season of Culture and the new Scottish residencies initiative forms a key season legacy project called Future Re-imagined, a rolling programme of cultural exchange that takes in talks, open forums, film, music, and literature, alongside the residencies.

The ongoing situation in Ukraine meant the British Council had to come up with new ways of selecting which Ukrainian artists would take part in the residencies. Campbell said: “It would have been very challenging to do an open call in Ukraine as we’d normally do.

“We pooled our experience with Creative Scotland, the Ukrainian Institute and our own British Council colleagues based in Ukraine, and used their expertise to nominate a selection of people who would fit the different opportunities on offer at the host organisations.

“We have participants coming who are leaders in visual art, literature, publishing, and craft.

"We want to enable bespoke programming for each nominee to suit their own situation and needs.

“For example, we have Kateryna Rusetska coming to Hospitalfield where she’ll work on ideas about the reconstruction of the artistic community in Dnipro. We also have Ostap Slyvynsky coming to the national creative writing centre at Moniack Mhor.

"Ostap is a Ukrainian poet, translator, essayist and scholar who has worked for a while creating works about Russian aggression in Ukraine. Each host organisation is really thinking through their needs and the context the artist will be coming into.”

The residencies take place across the next seven months, with theatre producer and curator Veronika Skliarova, artist Kateryna Rusetska, and EtchingRoom1 (a collaboration between artists Kristina Yarosh and Anna Khodkova), and others joining Kateryna and Ostap.

In terms of how the work created during the residencies will be presented – exhibitions or archives, for example – the thinking is refreshingly open ended. The priority is to get the work done first.

“We really want the individuals to have valuable time out to reflect and to think about how their sector, their art departments, their own organisations will fare after the current conflict,” Campbell said.

“This is about supporting long-term visioning. They might consider how to develop their networks for support and exchange, and how to rebuild and allow new ideas to emerge. Perhaps they want to radically change the vision of what they want to do, but they currently just don’t have the security and time to really think to the future.

“The most valuable thing we can offer is to provide moments of quiet, buying time for people to think away from the stress.”

The host organisations will also help connect their resident creatives with the wider community and sector. If a participant is interested in a particular art form, research, practice, debate, or theme, the host organisations can hook them up with local artists and organisations.

“Our idea is for the residents to have a bespoke set of supported activities, enabling them to travel around Scotland, make new connections and have valuable experience,” Campbell said. “It’s about providing a space so softer outcomes can be generated.

“Then there may be exhibitions, projects, new writing, and so on, but as a not primary outcome. I’m sure many collaborations – and possibly new material – will come about, but it’s not for us to prescribe specific requirements in terms of creative outcomes.

“They will each have their own unique journey and this residency project will help them navigate through their own development and creative process. These residences are investing for the future – building sustainable connections and mutual understanding.”