The war in Ukraine hits hard for Vienna Arts Society member Viktoriya Maslova, who was born and grew up in that Eastern European nation.
“I’m not doing any art related to the war,” said the artist, who began painting at age 30 and works in oil, watercolor and acrylic. “I’m very confused and emotional. When I’m painting, I need to be happy.”
Speaking at the Vienna Art Center on April 13, Maslova described how Russian forces had invaded her homeland from three sides in what she said was an effort to displace Ukraine’s government.
“We are very brave to resist,” she said.
Blue-and-yellow Ukranian flags and images have been popping up everywhere in solidarity with the people in that war-torn country, but Maslova wore a red shirt for her presentation.
“I’m in red because it’s a color of victory,” she said. “We all pray and hope for victory.”
Maslova lived in Ukraine until moving to the United States at age 37 after her husband got a job with the International Monetary Fund.
Maslova recalled having gone to school in the same building with students in grades 1 through 10. She later served for a time as an editor of children’s textbooks and took her responsibilities seriously, as governmental inspectors scrutinized schools’ supplies and children’s academic abilities.
She described her family’s summer house 30 minutes outside Kiev (Kyiv), which was surrounded by birch forests. Certain varieties of mushrooms only would grow upon those trees and Maslova learned to identify, pick and eat non-poisonous fungi – a prospect that gives some safety-obsessed Americans the willies.
“When I tell my American friends [about eating wild mushrooms], their eyes get like this,” she said, opening her arms wide to the audience’s delight.
Describing Kiev as “one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” Maslova told how each subway station in the city had its own unique artistic design. Some had facings covered with marble or other stone, while others had mosaic designs or even the appearance of a barrel.
Each of the city’s districts in her childhood had a Palace of Pioneers, a facility catering to the U.S. equivalent of Scouting, and she loved skating there for free.
“We were very good kids,” she recalled. “Pioneers needed good [school] marks and to be role models for others.”
Maslova augmented her remarks with personal photos from her homeland, which flashed up on the television screen behind her, and graphics depicting recent Russian troop movements, which she pointed out on a tablet device.
She also showed photos of girls playing a simple game using an elastic band.
Maslova taught early education and brought along copies of pattern books Ukrainian students use for artworks and embroidery. Following her speech, visitors at the art center partook of Ukrainian pastries, candies and cheese.
Some of Maslova’s works are on display at the Vienna Art Center, 243 Church St., N.W.; others are on exhibit at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry St., S.E.
Maslova’s speech, which drew about two dozen people, was co-sponsored by VAS and Brandeis National Committee. VAS members Ken and Pat Britz, both Brandeis University alumni, arranged for the talk.
Maslova joined VAS many years ago and often has invited members to enjoy Ukrainian meals in her garden. She also teaches oil-painting classes at the Vienna Art Center and volunteers to judge children’s art for the annual PTA Reflections Competition, said Doré Skidmore, communications chairman for VAS.
Skidmore said she enjoyed learning about Maslova’s childhood in Ukraine and seeing photos of the garden and birch trees surrounding her family’s dacha, or country home.
“It was a delight to hear Viktoriya describe foraging for mushrooms under the Ukrainian birch trees,” said Skidmore, who a few years ago, bought an oil painting Maslova had made of those trees.
“In March, I decided to offer it for sale at the Vienna Community Center’s special exhibition supporting Ukrainian relief,” Skidmore added. “I know I’ll find another of Viktoriya’s artworks to purchase if ‘Birches Near Kiev’ is purchased.”
Vienna Art Center director Lu Cousins found it “very uplifting” to listen to Maslova’s memories of growing up and going to school in Ukraine.
“It was quite a stark comparison with what is happening in her beautiful country now,” she said. “I was so pleased that the attendees were truly caught up in her presentation and clearly wanted to dig deeper with the questions they were presenting.”
Maslova is a valued member of VAS and always pitches in when needed, Cousins said.
“I’m proud to call her a friend and look forward to the times we can chat with each other in her native language and share stories of being brought up in the European approach,” said Cousins, herself an immigrant from Germany who grew up speaking many tongues.