New platform offers mentorship and financial aid to art students in Ukraine

A support program for Ukrainian art students and universities has been launched at the Tate Modern, London, as cultural and educational institutions in Ukraine continue to need help to stay open and functioning.

The UAx platform offers war-affected students and staff who wish to stay in Ukraine access to a developing network of mentorship programs and institutional partnerships with universities across Europe, as well as a emergency scholarship funds for students in need.

The platform is a partnership between the European League of Arts Institutes (ELIA), an international network of 280 higher arts education institutions, and the Abakanowicz Arts and Culture Foundation (AACCF), created by Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017). The foundation’s support of UAx represents its largest financial grant ever.

A foundation created by the late Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, who sometimes lived on the streets as a student, has awarded its biggest grant yet to the UAx platform

The announcement coincided with the opening of the Tate Modern exhibition Magdalena Abakanowicz: Every tangle of threads and cords (November 17, 2022-May 21, 2023). Abakanowicz’s experience of Soviet occupation and Polish communist rule places the foundation in sympathy with the Ukrainian cause. Mary Jane Jacob, co-artistic director of the AACCF and curator of the exhibit, added that Abakanowicz had experienced considerable hardship as a student, including a period of sleeping rough.

Maria Hansen, Executive Director of ELIA, cited Abakanowicz as “the main inspiration for UAx”, which has been in development since June this year.

The difficulties faced by Ukrainian art students are illustrated in Create in conflict, a short film made earlier this month to raise awareness of the UAx platform. The Kharkiv State Academy of Design and Art (KSADA) has been hit so hard that students and staff have been forced to seek refuge elsewhere, including with ELIA member institutions. The importance of avoiding a ‘brain drain’ is well recognized and Hansen said: “The need for the arts higher education sector in Ukraine was clear. They didn’t need an evacuation. They needed support to keep the institutions alive. Support to enable students to continue their studies and support to help these young artists continue to make art.

The needs of the higher artistic education sector in Ukraine were obvious. They didn’t need an evacuation. They needed support to keep the institutions alive.

Maria Hansen, Executive Director, ELIA

Key to UAx’s support offering is its “Sister School” network, which for this first year includes partnerships between five Ukrainian universities and five institutions in Germany, Estonia, Poland, the Netherlands and the Republic Czech. By the third year, 15 Ukrainian institutions will be partners, fully funded ELIA members for three years, with access to its networks, resources, programs and other opportunities.

Graduate student Denis Karachevtsev performs outside Kharkiv’s war-damaged Karazin University. Ukraine, in April Photo: Oleksandr Osipov

Oleksandr Soboliev, rector of KSADA, said that while these resources were invaluable, most important was the opportunity offered by the program “to restart despite these difficult times, to overcome the psychological and physical consequences that Russian aggression has inflicted to Ukrainian students and mentors”.