Mykola Zhuravel’s artwork about the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014 is being updated in response to current atrocities

BY NICK LACHANCE nickl@ nowtoronto. com · @ lachancephoto



NOW Magazine


If someone tells you to take a hike, thank them. And maybe ask them to join you. Walking in nature is not only a service to your health; it can also be a deliberate act of reconciliation between Indigenous and non- Indigenous people. Science backs it up. A 2019 study of the mental and physical effects of forest bathing on working- age people found “significant positive effects on mental health, especially in those with depressive tendencies.” Another study found forest bathing significantly enhanced “people’s emotional state, attitude and feelings towards things, physical and psychological recovery and adaptive behaviours; and obvious alleviation of anxiety and depression.” Nature heals – in more ways than one. In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015, Saulteaux Cree non- practising lawyer Patricia Stirbys and geologist and international development consultant Peter Croal founded the National Healing Forests Initiative. Combining reconciliation and healing into one immersive experience, they hoped their labour of love would result in a network of healing forests throughout our shared lands. Today, there are 10 healing forests in Canada. From Gibsons, BC, to Fitch Bay, Quebec, to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, individuals and communities have set up dedicated green spaces big and small to honour the first inhabitants of that land and their descendants, recognize the children who attended residential institutions, provide education about Canada’s tragic past and offer people a chance to begin their own journey toward reconciliation and healing. What a healing forest should look like isn’t prescribed. All that’s asked is that it be a quiet green space dedicated to the spirit of reconciliation. They’re intended as places for Indigenous and non- Indigenous peoples to gather, meditate, heal and participate in ceremony. The hope is to bring awareness and understanding of Canada’s history and legacy of the residential school system and to help people connect with nature and each other. Each healing forest is different. One is on the grounds of a church. Another is along a public trail. But they all bring people together to connect, share and maybe get inspired to create their own healing forests. Students at Riverside School in Albert Bridge, Nova Scotia, developed a two- kilometre interactive trail through the woodland next to the school, called the “Knowledge Path.” It includes a healing forest. Students have invited Indigenous elders to share their stories at its centre, where benches encircle a concrete medicine wheel. Along the path, decorated with student- built birdhouses and flower gardens, signs with QR codes allow visitors to learn about the plants in English and Mi’kmaw. In Edmonton’s River Valley, Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton hung 1,000 paper hearts from trees along the trail. More than 300 people came together to design the hearts, marking each with a message of reconciliation and insight into Canada’s history. Visitors could take a journey through time and the forest. After accidently removing all the hearts, the city apologized and allocated $ 55,000 for a permanent healing forest. The David Suzuki Foundation is partnering with the National Healing Forests Initiative this year, providing seed grants to people and groups to help establish healing forests in 10 communities. When the climate crisis seems overwhelming, and reconciliation seems difficult and distant, healing forests give immediacy and agency. They offer tangible actions everyone can take to promote health, healing and community. With quarantines and lockdowns affecting people worldwide, this community connection is priceless. You don’t need to be a scientist to know the healing power of nature. Nevertheless, scientists agree: this is a critical time for humankind to get outdoors and rekindle our love and respect for the planet. It’s also critical for people in Canada to take up the challenge of reconciliation. Earth is at a tipping point. It’s time to heal ourselves, heal from our history and heal the planet before it’s too late. So the next time someone tells you to take a hike, take them up on the offer and invite them to come along on a healing journey. Kyiv- based artist Mykola Zhuravel had been planning on visiting Canada from Ukraine since August for his exhibition Invasion Redux. He didn’t realize back then that he would be arriving as a refugee. Invasion Redux is Zhuravel’s reaction to the annexation of Crimea and beginning of the war in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014. The multimedia art exhibition transforms Zhuravel’s experiences of the 2014 Revolution and eventual Russian- backed separatist war in eastern Ukraine into vivid symbolic and surrealistic imagery that encapsulates what it’s like to live in the shadow of a hostile giant. He first discussed bringing it to Canada with his long- time friend Darrell Brown, the CEO of the CNE Association. They talked about the plans on Zhuravel’s balcony, overlooking Independence Square in Kyiv’s centre, as troops and tanks moved in perfect unison, preparing for the Independence Day parade on August 2021. As Russian propaganda was winding up and troops were being amassed on Ukraine’s borders, Zhuravel’s exhibition felt more relevant than ever. Several months later, Brown sent Zhuravel a letter of intent to bring Invasion Redux to Canada, and only two days after that, on February 24, Russia began its full- scale invasion of Ukraine. Within less than a month, Zhuravel, his partner and their 13- year- old son, draped in a Ukrainian flag, arrived in Toronto as refugees, displaced by the same war that inspired his exhibition eight years earlier. “In the first place, this exhibition shows a portrait of terror and aggression, and it didn’t start today,” says Zhuravel, in an interview with NOW. “The invasion that happened is the result of years of Russian propaganda and Russian influence in many countries.” With his partner, photographer Daria Tishchenko Zhuravel, the two collaborated on art designed to draw attention to and expose the fallacies in Vladimir Putin’s propaganda both before and since the 2014 invasion. “We’ve been here now for three weeks,” Tishchenko Zhuravel said, speaking about how coming to Canada has affected their connection to the exhibit. “We are constantly back in Ukraine with our friends in our thoughts and we feel a great impact of responsibility being here. We want to find ways to help Ukrainians back home, using the platform we have now.” Both – unfortunately, as they put it – have been inspired by the expansion of the war to create and update the exhibit. Zhuravel added a drawing of the Russian flagship Moskva after its sinking last week to a 2014 piece entitled Battle For Ukraine. Additionally, Zhuravel will create a new piece inspired by photographer Evgeniy Maloletka’s image of a pregnant woman injured in the shelling of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. She and her baby would die several days later. “I was really touched by the story of the pregnant woman injured in Mariupol hospital, and I want to incorporate it into a painting,” Zhuravel explained. “It will be called Mariupol Madonna – Prayer For Ukraine. She represents, in my eyes, the image of Ukraine.” Tishchenko Zhuravel invites guests to donate images of their hands when they visit. The hands will form a Canadian flag in an upcoming piece called Legacy Of Help: Giving A Hand. Both artists intend to reveal their finished works before the end of the exhibition. “I’d like people to come and see [ the exhibit], because they need to experience it,” says Zhuravel. “I’d like to have a dialogue, a discussion with them about what they see and how they feel about it.” First displayed in New York City at the Ukrainian Institute of America in 2016, this is the first time the exhibition has come to Canada. Invasion Redux runs at the CNE’S Withrow Common Gallery until May 29. Tickets are pay what you can Thursdays and Fridays, and $ 15 on Saturdays and Sundays. Net proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the UN Refugee Agency ( Canada): Ukraine Emergency to support humanitarian aid efforts to help Ukrainians.