Stand with Ukraine: The Flora & Fauna of Ukraine

Upon the invasion of Ukraine I discovered that I knew precious little about Europe’s second largest country. Although the media was calling it “The Bread Basket of Europe” my image of Ukraine was of brutalist soviet-era architecture surrounding Chernobyl and war torn cities. This piece is my attempt to learn more about an incredibly verdant country that serves a huge role in feeding Europe and the world. The painting has grown organically and will continue to evolve as pieces are sold or added.

Starting out with the 4 panels depicting flowers on the upper right corner. I wanted to make pieces that fit together but were incomplete on their own to demonstrate that we live in a world that is interdependent. A Papilio Machaon, or Old World Swallowtail, and a Catocala Fraxini flutter by. Moving left, I started to research the symbols of Ukraine and discovered that the Nightingale is considered the national animal of Ukraine. As legend goes, the Nightingales only lived in India, but one bird came to Ukraine and heard the people singing sad songs. The Nightingale sang to cheer them up and Ukrainians answered with happy songs. Now the Nightingales return every spring to hear Ukrainian songs.

Then I painted the sunflowers, a flower so deeply connected with Ukraine that they appear as a powerful symbol of peace, hope and prosperity. The sunflower stands tall against the forces of nature and is a powerful tool in cleaning up pollution as it draws toxic pollutants from soil. In addition, Ukraine produces 70 – 80% of the world’s sunflower oil, a popular and healthy alternative to other oils. How will the invasion affect the planting, cultivation and distribution of this vital crop?

My own relationship with sunflowers goes back to childhood when I would marvel at how fast and tall they would grow in my garden. My father and husband would have an annual contest to see who’s sunflower would flower first. It is a deeply meaningful symbol to me personally and makes me feel very connected to the people of Ukraine.

I then moved on to explore what other plants are key to Ukraine and discovered the kalyna (viburnum) berry shrub that produces bitter red-colored berries widely used in folk medicines and closely related to the cranberry, one of my favorite fruits. According to legend, kalyna is associated with the birth of the universe, and its berries symbolize native land, blood and family roots. It is often depicted in traditional Ukrainian embroidery.

I then added daisies, a prolific flower that is widespread in Ukraine and used in floral crowns, or vinok, as a symbol of purity and innocence. The European Marten stands watch over a stream, symbolizing a brave hero, skilled and determined hunter and lucky spirit. At his feet is a Smerinthus Ocellatus butterfly and a Spotted Salamander both native to Ukraine.

Across the pond, a Mouflon, or mountain sheep shows its bravery climbing out onto a precipice in a verdant pine forest. A little turtle stands watch symbolizing the gift of long life. The fern growing next to the pond is blooming, something ferns never do. The fern flower is a magical flower in Slavic mythology. According to myth it flowers only on the eve of the summer solstice and brings fortune to the person who finds it.

Two storks look on as a favorite bird of the Ukrainian people that brings love and goodness to the family in the form of children. Above, the Hoopoe bird reminds you of the sun’s healing properties to clear out toxicity. The Swallow is a symbol of well-being, happiness, motherhood and rebirth. The Purple Crane flies in as a reminder that we must live in balance and harmony with others. A little Flycatcher and two watchful Boreal Owls round out the birds depicted.

The birds are juxtaposed with the symbol of Ukraine, the Emblem of the Royal State of Volodymyr the Great, or the Tryzub. The symbol is said to resemble a falcon diving down as a symbol of freedom and a connection to the royal birds of Europe.

The Brown Bear on the upper left is a symbol of Ukraine but also a traditional Russian symbol of strength. In this case, the bear has been been emasculated by the vinok on its head. It is shown taking honeycomb from the honeybees that swirl in protest. A small Raccoon is a reminder of a unique experience available in Kharkiv where you can interact with raccoons at the Raccoon Cafe. War-torn Ukrainian cities were fun, hip tourist destinations. A Staurophora Celsia, a large moth native to Ukraine hovers nearby.

Moving down, the agricultural foundation of Ukraine is depicted with the rolling fields of crops with a European Elk drawing from the stream, symbolizing the imposing strength needed to stand up to any foe. A beautiful stand of Hollyhocks welcome abundance and ambition, providing rich nectar to the birds and bees.

The frog depicted is the Monument to the Frog sculpture located in Kreschatyy Park in Kyiv, a colossal 6 ton bronze created by sculptor Oleg Pinchuk. Visitors leave a coin and rub its tongue for good luck with their finances.