Fleeing Ukrainians – why does it never stop?

When we think of paintings by the famous French painter Mark Chagall (actually Russian-French), we typically think of his dreamlike themes and brilliant use of colour.  Always imaginative.  Often free-floating.

But he also painted powerful paintings that didn’t dance and weren’t dreamlike.  Powerful, yes, but free-floating, no.  One such powerful painting has been posted many times on social media recently, and appropriately so.  It’s entitled La Famille Ukrainienne.  The Ukrainian Family.

UkrainianFamily

Only, of course, Chagall didn’t paint this work of art in the past 6 weeks, since the Russians invaded Ukraine and started unleashing such devastation, brutality, and death.  He painted it sometime between 1940 and 1943, when Ukrainians were fleeing the war and destruction brought about by another Russian, Stalin’s “Great Terror”.  It is uncanny – and heartbreaking – to realize that this scene could just as easily be depicting what is going on right now, 80 years later.

For today’s actions by Russia towards Ukraine aren’t new, they’re just equally heartbreaking and evil. During the years of Stalin’s brutality, literally millions of Ukrainians were deported to the gulags.  At least 500,000 of them are thought to have died there. Once Hitler began the second front against the Soviet Union in World War II, Ukraine became a main focus. Historical research estimates that up to 7.7 million people, more than one fifth of the population of the country, perished at that time.  Ukrainians know their history and know that their sovereign nation is worth fighting for, as is the freedom to choose how they live.

Marc Chagall had a personal reason for portraying a Ukrainian family fleeing war in that part of the world.  He was born into a Lithuanian Jewish Hassidic family in a town in what today is Belarus, very close to Ukraine.  Born in 1887 (and living until 1985!), he left the artistic and religious restrictions of what was then the Russian Empire in 1910 for Paris, but continued to have very strong ties to his homeland, to his hometown of Vitebsk.  Little of Vitebsk survived the years of occupation and destruction of World War II. His feeling of connection to the horrors being perpetrated on the Ukrainians at that time would have been visceral.

To close on a more upbeat note, I hope you can find some moments of joy and wonder in these few examples of Marc Chagall’s splendid free-floating paintings.

The Horse Rider, National Gallery of Scotland, circa 1949-1953Horse Rider-NGScotlandCircus Horse,1964CircusHorse

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34 Responses to Fleeing Ukrainians – why does it never stop?

  1. Jaya Avendel says:

    Loving the gripping and evocative artwork!

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Nice perspective. Chagall (and we) never thought that such days would come about again.

  3. Pingback: Fleeing Ukrainians – why does it never stop? – Nelsapy

  4. Good of you to shine a light on Stalin’s gruesome terror inflicted on Ukraine, Jane. Putin glorifies the Soviet era, and sadly he’s replicating his own version of the same brutality right now. My parents had a Chagall painting in our home, so that was my wonderful introduction to it. A sibling somehow “claimed” it many years ago. 😉 – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Putin is indeed replicating Stalin’s brutality. Let’s hope this version finds resolution far sooner than under Stalin’s reign. Glad to hear that we share an appreciation of Chagall.

  5. Jean says:

    I’ve always enjoyed Chagall’s paintings. There is a hybrid child’s whimiscality fused with darkness in some of his stuff.

  6. boblorentson says:

    Personal perspectives really help drive issues home. A few days ago my wife and I were returning from Florida and had to suffer through 2 flight cancelations, standing in endless lines for hours, going without food for 20 hours, a 3 hour transfer to a different airport, and a new 3 hour departure delay. However our Uber driver to that other airport was Ukrainian, with family still there. We need to be mindful of what we complain about here. Wish I had more than hopes and money to offer.
    Love the Chagall.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Bob, your observations make such an important point for us all to keep in mind: many of our complaints (and you are in good company wrt nightmarish air travel these days) are those reserved for the privileged. I wish I could offer more than hope and money as well.

  7. barryh says:

    Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    Jane Fritz gives insight into the history behind Ukraine’s current suffering, with some superb Chagall paintings included.

  8. barryh says:

    Thanks for a great post, Jane. I will reblog it…

  9. debscarey says:

    It’s not typical subject matter for Chagall, which is what makes it even more powerful. The history of Ukraine is absolutely heartbreaking and goes a long way to explaining why they are so passionate about their country, and prepared to do what they currently are doing. Thank you for highlighting it so thoughtfully Jane.

  10. Bernie says:

    I had seen that image a while ago but had no idea of the details about it. I did know the history of the area and as many have said it’s just so sad that it is happening again. Bernie

  11. heimdalco says:

    Lovely colors & interesting subjects. I like the circus. I’m at the point that I seldom watch the news because I end up crying. I cry because of the atrocities perpetrated on the gentle people of Ukraine but also because we, as individuals are so helpless to stop it. As we’ve said before, we have to do the best we can in our sphere of influence & pray for an end to the war in Ukraine & the suffering of those people who are so much like us.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      And let’s give pause to the suffering of innocent people in war zones everywhere, whose suffering is every bit as tragic. For example, Putin has been showering bombs of destruction on Syria for 12 years now, helping out his fellow ruthless autocrat, al-Assad.

      • heimdalco says:

        Exactly. Maybe we’re more aware of Ukraine because of the constant presence of the press … daily. The press has been present in wars for many years but not quite as constantly on the scene with immediate reports that almost instantly show up on the 24 hour news programs. I believe that’s a good thing because it has made us more aware as a country (yours & mine & others around the world) & as people. I just wish there were more we could do as individuals. And I have NO civil names for Putin & his cronies

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Indeed. It’s amazing what can be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when it’s not positioned to be of personal concern. Putin’s not the only autocrat (or terrorist leader) like this, but others don’t have a full arsenal of nuclear weapons and they’re not on Europe’s doorstep. It really is a helpless feeling.

  12. Thanks for sharing this, Jane. I had no idea. It’s so hard to accept that history is repeating itself in such a horrific way.

  13. Inkplume says:

    Heartbreaking that history is repeating itself …

  14. Wynne Leon says:

    What a brilliant way to “illustrate” the history of that area and brutality. Thank you for a thought-provoking and interesting post.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Wynne. The history, and brutality being revisited, is heartbreaking. Sadly, there are also other parts of the world where similarly brutal history keeps repeating itself.

  15. dfolstad58 says:

    Well written post and I was not aware of these paintings until today. I’m afraid I would flop on jeopardy if there any art questions. My grandfather, Guido (born in 1901 in the Ukraine), fled Russia when he was a young boy by swimming across a river and came to Canada with my uncle Demetrio (sp). My uncle never saw his wife again. My grandfather had already lost his father to the Russian army when they forced him to volunteer for the army. I suspect myself and many others are lacking in real understanding of the brutality of Russia towards the Ukraine for many many decades.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh my goodness, David, you have a real connection. Yes, the brutality that Russian leaders and their armies have unleashed in Ukraine and elsewhere in what they regard as “theirs” over many, many decades is a frightening story.

  16. What a painter! He caught such a range of emotions—what it means to be human—and painted them in a beautiful, vivid way. “The Ukrainanian Family” is heartbreaking.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      For sure, I love Chagall. Learning about this particular painting, so clearly his style but so different in substance and so connected to today’s horrors, really struck a chord with me.

  17. I did not know much history of Ukraine until recently, dear god, no wonder they are prepared to fight til the last man. I stand in a vigil locally started by a couple of Ukrainian/Russian academics. I have learned a lot there but nothing as graphic as the Stalin purge…I can’t see the end…

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