A long-delayed art exhibition has finally opened, but with a new focus. A Ukrainian-born Chicago artist and teacher paints both traditional and contemporary paintings. She now uses her ability to create to counteract the forces of destruction.
Markus Vitali: Many paintings are painted directly onto glass. It is a common form of Ukrainian folk painting celebrating cultural heritage and religious icons.
Other paintings are modern works with spiritual themes.
At the National Museum of Ukraine in Chicago, we met an artist on a mission.
Elena DiadenkoArtist: My name is Elena Diadenko.
I’ve been an artist all my life. I started painting when I was a kid and I’ve never stopped. When I was a little girl, I always said I would be an artist. Artist, College, Marriage. I always said that as a kid.
Two years ago I planned this art exhibition but COVID started and we couldn’t do an exhibition. So I was planning to have this show now and the war started in Ukraine and as soon as I found out about the war I was like oh my god how can I help? What can I do? And I decided that every single picture in this exhibition will help wounded soldiers in Ukraine.
Vitali: She says proceeds from the sale of her work will benefit two Ukrainian veterans groups and the Red Cross.
On the day we spoke to the artist, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin had just purchased several of her glass paintings.
Elena Diadenko comes from Poltava in central Ukraine. She was 20 years old and was visiting Chicago when Ukraine gained independence in 1992.
She stayed here and became a US citizen and an art teacher at the Chicago Public Schools.
And she made an impression – in 2004 she won a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. She also studied with artist Ed Paschke and never stopped painting.
Diadenko: My artworks have many different directions when it comes to subject matter. I have maternity issues because I find it beautiful to be a mother and to bring a child into the world. I have a pregnancy streak. Spirituality is very important.
Many of my paintings show angels and people asking for healing, or people praying for peace, or people praying for what is sacred to them.
And of course for the victory of our soldiers.
I call Ukraine daily. I go on Facebook and contact my friends via SMS or phone calls and this morning I spoke to my friend Mykolayiv, it’s in the south of Ukraine and she said: “Elena, there’s shooting. Outside we hear bombs exploding. “So I spoke to her and told her I’m going to pray for you. I told her I have an interview today and she said, ‘Tell the Americans we’re in trouble. Let the whole world know.”
Ukraine is a very beautiful country. I love it.
And Kyiv is an incredibly beautiful city. We have many fields of beautiful sunflowers
Do you know what I’m trying to say? I want to thank the United States for adopting me.
I am now an American citizen. I studied here, I went to Columbia College, I have two master’s degrees in education and in interdisciplinary arts.
I am very grateful to this country for everything you do, for Ukraine and for other people, you know? Because you help many different countries in trouble.
More about this story
Elena Diadenko teaches fine arts at Schurz High School on the Northwest Side. Her exhibition is called “Colors of Life”. It’s on Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago until the end of March. You can see more of Diadenko’s work on your website. And she has pieces available for sale on Etsy.
Note: This story will be updated with video.