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The Voice of Ukraine in the World: How the Kyiv School of Economics and KSE Foundation Support Global Ukrainians Promoting Our Country

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Переможці грантової програми Talents for Ukraine від Благодійного фонду Київської школи економіки (KSE Foundation) /коллаж Анастасия Решетник

Winners of the Talents for Ukraine grant program from the Charity Fund of the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE Foundation). Фото коллаж Анастасия Решетник

For over 15 years, Ukrainian Vyshyvanka Day has been celebrated worldwide – from the USA to Brazil and from Australia to Israel. For the past two years, people in various countries have learned about the history, current realities, and Ukrainian artists through the Ukrainian Art History channel. Throughout the 10 years of war in Ukraine, human rights activists from the Center for Civil Liberties have been telling the world about Ukrainians as fighters for freedom.

This is just a small part of the global initiatives launched, implemented, and scaled by a cohort of Ukrainian activists. They are ambassadors of Ukraine to the world, known as global Ukrainians. These people work in education, science, engineering, mathematics, technology, culture, ecology, and other vital social development fields. For the second year in a row, they have become winners of the Talents for Ukraine grant program, initiated by the Kyiv School of Economics Charity Foundation (KSE Foundation). 

Forbes BrandVoice highlights three of the many talented global Ukrainians whose work in promoting Ukraine worldwide has been recognized with grants by the KSE Foundation team.

Lesia Voroniuk

cultural curator, 36 years old, Chernivtsi

She founded World Vyshyvanka Day, which has engaged people from over 100 countries, including students, high-ranking officials, and politicians. Her initiative transformed the vyshyvanka from a clothing item into a political symbol of solidarity with Ukraine and became a platform for advocating Ukraineʼs interests globally.

Lesia Voroniuk, cultural curator

Lesia Voroniuk, cultural curator

In 2006, Lesia suggested her fellow students come to the university wearing traditional embroidered clothing. «In the first year, it wasn’t easy to start wearing the vyshyvanka – it was considered unfashionable at the time», recalls Lesia. However, this initiative has yielded impressive positive results – today, Vyshyvanka Day is celebrated in over 100 countries. 

In 2015, Lesia became the co-founder and head of the public association «World Vyshyvanka Day», which has since implemented over 70 cultural projects in Ukraine and abroad. The teamʼs most significant achievement is Vyshyvanka Day, celebrated worldwide on the third Thursday of May. 

«We work on this Day year-round: organizing exhibitions, diplomatic receptions, going on expeditions to collect authentic material, publishing books, and making documentaries», says Lesia Voroniuk.

Before the war, the team of the public association focused on art festivals, lectures, and exhibitions. Now, they have shifted their focus to research, exploring topics yet to be discussed. «Currently, the book «Imperishable. Ukrainian State Symbols in Embroidery and Weaving» is being published for the third time in both Ukrainian and English. This book features over 200 embroidered shirts and towels created and preserved by Ukrainians during the Soviet era. It was their form of resistance against totalitarianism and opposition to Soviet rule», explains Lesia.

World Vyshyvanka Day is a global initiative aimed at Ukraine and the world. Lesia Voroniuk is confident that its international promotion will make Ukraine an important player in international relations. Over the past two years, global interest in Ukraine has increased, notes the cultural curator. However, hybrid associations with the USSR and incorrect narratives about Ukrainians and Russians still persist. We want foreigners to see us as a strong, self-sufficient nation. We need to assert ourselves through the cultural context.

Thanks to the KSE Foundation grant, the team of the public association «World Vyshyvanka Day», has completed the book «Imperishable…», and the proceeds of the sales allowed to buy a drone and armored vehicle for the Armed Forces of Ukraine as well as helped the KSE Foundation to equip a school shelter.

Maryna Borysenko

Project Manager at KSE Foundation, Deputy Director for Humanitarian Affairs at KSE Foundation

All winners of Talents for Ukraine are global Ukrainians. Communication between Ukrainian scientists, cultural figures, human rights activists who received grants from the KSE Foundation, and their foreign colleagues expands the worldʼs knowledge about Ukraine. By engaging well-known grant program winners from abroad in international charity projects, we enhance the success of these campaigns.

We should talk not only about the country but also about the whole nation. By getting acquainted with talented Ukrainians, foreigners begin to better understand our values, talents, and potential. The more they know about Ukraine and its needs, the more they help.

Global Ukrainians demonstrate Ukraineʼs value to the world. Ukraine is a leading country with great potential that we must showcase. We need to maintain the worldʼs healthy interest in Ukraine, based not on pity or shock emotions due to war, but on a desire to be our partner and to develop science, culture, and medicine.

The voice of Ukraine on the international stage is loud but needs strengthening because foreignersʼ attention is gradually shifting from Ukraine to other military conflicts. We need tools to amplify Ukraineʼs voice abroad. The true opinion about the war in Ukraine needs to be shaped not only by politicians but also by social and cultural figures, scientists, human rights activists, employees of large corporations, medium and small companies, and people on the streets and at home.

To participate in the program, you need to fill out the participantʼs application form on the KSE Foundation website using this link.

Oksana Semenik

art historian, founder of the information project Ukrainian Art History, 26 years old, Kyiv

She shares Ukrainian art with foreigners on an English-language Twitter channel. She persuaded an American museum to recognize Ilya Repin and Arkhip Kuindzhi not as Russian, but as Ukrainian artists. She continues to advocate for Ukrainian heritage in museums worldwide.

Oksana Semenik, art historian, founder of the information project Ukrainian Art History

Oksana Semenik, art historian, founder of the information project Ukrainian Art History

Before the full-scale war, Oksana worked as a journalist. In June 2022, she created the Ukrainian Art History project and became its constant author. Itʼs a platform on Twitter that produces English-language content about Ukrainian art.

«Nobody was writing about Ukrainian art in English on Twitter, so I decided to try», the historian recounts.

Today, the channel has over 34,000 subscribers, including professors from Oxford, Harvard, and other leading universities.

The projectʼs goal is to popularize Ukrainian art among Ukrainians and foreigners. «We donʼt know enough about our art, nor do foreigners», says Oksana. «And I tell stories of Ukrainian artists, the truth about expropriation by the USSR, about the war that is ongoing now but hasnʼt really stopped for centuries. I write about Russians stealing works from Ukrainian museums in occupied territories, about destroyed Ukrainian monuments».

While on an internship at the Zimmerli Museum in New Jersey in 2022, which houses a large collection of Ukrainian art, Oksana discovered that many Ukrainian artists were listed mistakenly in museum registries as Russian. She found such mistakes at the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as well as in museums in Philadelphia and Germany. The historian began persuading them to recognize Ukrainian artists erroneously identified as Russian. Eventually, the Zimmerli Museum acknowledged Repin and Kuindzhi as Ukrainian artists, and Edgar Degasʼ «Russian Dancers» rightfully became «Dancers in Ukrainian Costumes».

Oksana is certain that itʼs necessary to explain to the world that Ukrainian culture has nothing to do with Russian culture. Cultural projects are part of diplomacy, which helps in acquiring weapons, explains the meaning of the ongoing war, and prevents Ukraine from being forgotten, she says.

Currently, Oksana is working on the program «Ukrainian Art in Names» on Radio «Culture,» where she talks about repressed and forgotten Ukrainian artists. She is also writing a book about the artist Maria Prymachenko.

«The KSE Foundation grant supports those who stay in Ukraine and doesnʼt pressure them to seek internships or studies abroad», Oksana emphasizes.

Tymofiy Mylovanov

president of KSE

Cultural diplomacy is about the relationships and connections between people in Ukraine and worldwide. It shapes the perception of the Ukrainian brand globally. Itʼs about music, poetry, photography, or visual art, about our history, achievements, and dreams. Cultural diplomacy is slow, but it builds long-term friendships and support worldwide. Right now, we have a unique opportunity: Ukraine is recognized as an interesting, heroic country that people are proud of and look up to, and cultural diplomacy will cement this brand forever. This will provide support in our fight against Russia, weapons, EU and NATO membership, funds during and after the war, and many influential friends. Political diplomacy transforms the Ukrainian brand and our opportunities into actions and results.

We need to talk to the world about Ukraine person-to-person: sincerely and without pomp about how Russia attacked us and how we are defending ourselves, that we are free and want to live freely. This will help build mutually beneficial long-term relationships.

Ukraine is quite popular worldwide now, but not the kind of popularity we wanted. So, we need to reinforce the worldʼs knowledge about the war in Ukraine with information about the uniqueness of Ukrainians, our immense human capital, potential, and resources. We need to emphasize that all of this will be lost if Ukraine loses the war, and conversely, the world will be better if we win.

Oleksandra Matviychuk

human rights activist, head of the Center for Civil Liberties, 40 years old, Kyiv

The Center for Civil Liberties is proving to the world that Russia is committing widespread human rights violations. In 2022, the Centerʼs team received Ukraineʼs first-ever Nobel Peace Prize.

Oleksandra Matviychuk, human rights activist, head of the Center for Civil Liberties

Oleksandra Matviychuk, human rights activist, head of the Center for Civil Liberties

Specialists at the Center document war crimes in the occupied territories of Ukraine, develop legislative changes in line with human rights standards, organize public monitoring of the police and judiciary, and implement educational programs for youth. During the full-scale war, the Center fights against the impunity that Russia perpetuates against Ukraine and shows the world that Ukrainians are fighting for freedom and justice.

In 2022, the team that included Oleksandra received Ukraineʼs first-ever Nobel Peace Prize.

«We have been saying for many years that Russia is committing widespread human rights violations, posing a threat not only to its citizens but also to global peace. The civilized world has long turned a blind eye to this, but the Nobel Prize has made the voice of human rights defenders visible», says the human rights activist.

«The current war is also a battle for the minds and hearts of people in different countries worldwide. Without their help, it is difficult to stand against such a powerful military force as Russia», she explains. «People support those who fight and evoke sympathy, so we must be exactly that».

Oleksandra is certain that every Ukrainian, both at home and abroad, is an ambassador for Ukraine. Through the actions and words of each of us, the world imagines who we are and what we are fighting for. «The world has looked at our region through a Russian lens for too long – for many nations, we simply didnʼt exist. Today we are to change the dominant narrative from «Letʼs help Ukraine not lose» to «Letʼs help Ukraine win». This difference translates into the types of weapons, the speed of decision-making, and the strength of sanctions,» emphasizes Oleksandra Matviichuk.

Friends nominated Oleksandra for the KSE Foundationʼs grant program.

«When I received the grant, I was pleasantly surprised. Such support for people working in various fields is crucial, especially now», says Oleksandra.

The human rights activist will use the grant to educate herself to become an even more effective professional.

About the Talents for Ukraine Grant Program

The Talents for Ukraine grant program was created by the KSE Foundation in 2022 with the support of international philanthropists. The program aims to support talented Ukrainians who think unconventionally, providing them with opportunities for development during the full-scale war. It is designed for those who influence the development of Ukraine and the world, are full of creative energy, curiosity, and ingenuity, have a unique perspective, embody grand ideas, and achieve tangible results. The annual program budget is $1,000,000.

In 2023, the programʼs jury selected 150 winners from nearly 3,500 applications. The program continued in 2024, focusing on representatives in the STEM fields (a collective term encompassing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) who are making positive changes in Ukraine and the world.

The program is open to everyone. Anyone can apply or nominate a friend, teacher, or colleague. To participate, applicants should fill out the participant form on the KSE Foundation website via this link.

To participate in the program, you need to fill out the participantʼs application form on the KSE Foundation website using this link.

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