In 2023, it is impossible to be an apolitical artist in Eastern Europe. As war rages on in Ukraine, art serves as a powerful and necessary tool, according the members of the Sunflower Solidary Community Center in Warsaw: Maria Beburia, Sebastian Cichocki, Kuba Depczyński, Taras Gembik, Yulia Krivich, Kaja Kusztra, Natalia Sielewicz, and Bogna Stefańska. This year, the collective—which supports artistic and activist activities in war-torn Ukraine—was nominated for Paszport Polityki, an annual culture award presented by one of the biggest weekly news magazines in Poland. Here, they talk to Vogue about their work.

Vogue: How do you strike a balance between artistic and activistic activities? Do they merge into one? Does one result from the other?

Maria Beburia: At this point, there is not one without the other. In 2023, it is impossible to be an artistic person who is socially uninvolved—it is a responsibility in light of the terrible things that are happening now in Poland and around the world. We all need to be activists and allies. But you have to do it wisely—not by taking space from the people who have experienced it directly, but by working next to them and supporting them.

Kaja Kusztra: For me, it is important who is speaking. We are trying to give a voice to the communities that should be heard. Of course, the fact that people who are not experiencing war directly feel the need to express emotions such as sympathy through their work is understandable, but it should not be the primary focus and should not be commodified. Art about a humanitarian crisis produced by artists who are not participants in it is complicated. We talk about it a lot.

Kuba Depczyński: I don’t think of those two spheres as separate things, or two approaches that need to be balanced somehow. Art can be a great tool for activist activity, and activist activity can be imbued with creative imagination and artistic perspective. In Sunflower’s work, art and activism combine in a completely natural way, just like they do for the many artists from Ukraine with whom we work, such as the Freefilmers from Mariupol. When we organize a screening of the group’s films, it is also a cultural event, an opportunity to talk about their work, and a way to provide financial support by purchasing film licenses [from them].

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What are you planning in the near future?

All: We are continuing our public programs, inviting artists from Ukraine and our allies to participate in discussions and read poetry together. On March 3, we’re holding a presentation of the book Queer Ukraine: An Anthology of LGBTQI+ Voices During Wartime (all proceeds from the sale of the book are going to NGOs working for queer people in Ukraine) and a meeting with the queer collective DViJKA. Together with the Fundacja Bądź, we also run the share-the-warmth fundraiser for the purchase of medicines, wound dressings, and other necessary items in Ukrainian hospitals and at the front.

What’s giving you hope? How do you keep an inner balance in the face of all the suffering and pain?

All: Ukraine’s victory is not a matter of probability, but of time. We believe in the Ukrainian army—it’s all that we and our parents can do. 

What message do you want to deliver?

All: At this moment, supporting Ukraine is not a choice but our common duty. The fight for the future of Europe is taking place on the front lines, in Bakhmut and elsewhere. We encourage you to support all the volunteers and organizations operating in Ukraine, to help refugees, and to fight against Russian propaganda. Our message: Decolonize Russia.

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