Looking at Us: Ukrainian-American’s Art Exhibited in Corvallis

Through May 14, Tatyana Ostapenko’s paintings of women in traditional Ukrainian clothing are being exhibited at the Corvallis Arts Center. All profits from their sales will be donated to Ukrainian refugees through Global Giving. 

The exhibit, titled “Looking at Us,” also features paintings by Newburg, Ore. artist Tim Timmerman. Ostapenko and Timmerman gave an artist’s talk on April 14, which will be uploaded to The Arts Center’s YouTube channel 

Ostapenko, who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine before immigrating to the United States 25 years ago, said she has sold 90 paintings and raised over $65,000 since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 4.  

About the Artist 

Ostapenko always wanted to be an artist, but circumstances in Ukraine weren’t “conducive” to a career in art early on in her life. 

“After quite a bit of ‘adulting’ in my mid-30s, I decided to give myself the luxury of going back to school to get an art degree[…] at Portland State University,” she said, “and since then I’ve been actively exhibiting and painting and I’ve been a full-time artist for two years.”  

Oregon has been very supportive of her work, Ostapenko reflected, and without the help of the community in Portland and beyond, she wouldn’t have been able to raise those tens of thousands of dollars so quickly. She said some people were so generous, they even declined to take a painting in return for donating funds. 

She describes her own art as “figurative representational work” and said the show was in the works long before the war began, so the timing just happened to work out. She did have to scramble to create enough pieces for the exhibit after selling out during fundraising.  

The War 

According to Ostapenko, when thinking of the Russian-Ukrainian war, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.  

“This is not an ethnic conflict, this is not a result of civil war,” she said, “this is a war of imperialist aggression that is not new. There has been infringement on sovereign territory going on in Ukraine since 2014 and there was active war in those separatist regions – Crimea got hacked off and annexed to Russia – but the eastern areas of Donbas… Russia shipped in militant thugs that took over city administration. And the misinformation campaign coming out of Russia is profoundly gaslighting and they’re rescinding their personal statements within days with complete impunity.” 

Ostapenko has seen American mass media repeating inaccurate information, particularly from sources with certain political affiliations. She calls the rhetoric worse than nonsense. 

“All the rhetoric about rescuing persecuted Russian-speakers is… I can’t even use the word nonsense,” Ostapenko said. 

As someone who speaks four languages, including Russian, Ukrainian and English, Ostapenko said Ukrainian is her weakest. She said people didn’t speak Ukrainian in Kharkiv – the city she grew up in, most people spoke Russian.  

Now Kharkiv is under heavy attack from Russia. 

Ostapenko said she understands the desire to tune out all the bad news, but the war in Ukraine is not a regional conflict that will stay contained. Russia has “imperialist ambitions,” she said, and ultimately they would like to get countries that were previously in the Soviet Union back under their control.  

The Donations Came Quickly 

The majority of donations came in the first week, according to Ostapenko, and she fully expected that to be the case. She sees the attention span in American culture as short, so she simply wants to reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible.  

People can be supportive by staying informed and giving to refugees via monthly donations, Ostapenko said, because once the war is over, it will take a long time to rebuild Ukraine. 

Kharkiv has seen massive damage along with many other areas in the country over the past two months with hundreds of buildings destroyed and people killed.  

“Keep sharing vetted information, don’t stay silent,” Ostapenko said. “If you know anybody who is from the region, reach out to them and tell them you’re thinking about them. And don’t share awful news with them, they got the news, they know.”

The Future for Ostapenko 

As for the future of Ostapenko’s art, she said she plans to catch up on commissions and make new art since her inventory has been cleaned out.  

Meanwhile, Nostrana, a Portland restaurant where Ostapenko painted a mural in the past, is collaborating with Oregon winemaker Cameron Winery to release a special Chardonnay labeled with her mural. The profits from Nostrana’s sales of wine will be sent to help people in Ukraine.  

More information about Ostapenko’s art and life, and a chance to donate to the cause, can be found via her Instagram @postsovietart and her website TatyanaOstapenko.com. 

By Zeva Rosenbaum