The context of Mariupol

Mariupol, the easternmost Ukrainian city, is situated 15 km from the war frontline in the Joint forces operation zone. Here, all the challenges and problems of Ukraine, are maximized and exaggerated as the changes are drastic: numerous plants are closed, buildings abandoned, industrial objects stagnate, the sea is divided. It is as important to think about renovation, as it is crucial to start reconciliation. Both processes are connected, and through one we can boost another. Frustration, disappointment, and abandonees are felt both in urban space and in the community. Moreover, as the city is distant and the trip here is very long, the community feels isolation from the world for 5 last years, both geographical and cultural. Hence, Mariupol (and entire Donetsk region) is known as an industrial and military centre, while its cultural potential is ignored, while the city has a significant cultural background: from the history of the Greek community to monumental mosaics of Soviet dissidents. Bringing the region back to the cultural map of Ukraine and Europe through reflection on its past and future is one of the major goals of Platform Tu.

While the city infrastructure and social life are being developed despite the crisis, the sea in the area is still suffering from the consequences of heavy industry and military conflict. City port and shipyard, tourist infrastructure, water ecology, fishing, and boating, has changed drastically in Mariupol and region, and Azov sea needs a complex long-term approach to renovation and restoration. Together with artists from Sweden we want to unveil its memory and reflect on its future with a fresh artistic eye.

TU art-platform is the queer art-space in Mariupol – the city, where it is dangerous to say the term “queer”.

Refugees from Donetsk and local activists opened the cultural centre “Platform Tu” in 2016 in Mariupol, the easternmost city of Ukraine. After military invasion to Ukraine and occupation of Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea, activists who were pursued by the occupant government in Donetsk, relocated to Mariupol – the center of heavy industry on the Azov Sea 15 km from the frontline with the occupied territory, and started a new life. In the city near war with Russia, with very conservative and paternalistic community, they came up with a crazy idea to team up with local activists and open the space for developing a progressive culture.

The mission of the organization is the promotion of human rights and freedoms through an inclusive culture and modern arts and develop critical thinking and tolerance in Ukrainian society. Platform TU has become the only independent art-space in Eastern Ukraine, where underground culture, innovative ideas, human rights and freedoms, are dominant values. Artistic and creative activities have gathered a loyal community in TU, and it is now a safe space for many vulnerable and discriminated groups, aiming to develop peace and dialogue in the crisis region through arts and culture. 

Since their establishment, Platform TU has become a significant player on the cultural map of Ukraine. Their values and themes of interest include diversity, tolerance, inclusivity, social equality, fighting violence, gender sensitivity, memory, commemorative practices, freedom of self-expression, local identity, right to the public space, and decommunization. For instance, their project “Decom” reflects on Soviet nostalgia, communist past and so-called “decommunization” process in Ukraine with an exhibition on communist symbolism and propaganda. Art-residencies “Z.mist” in Mariupol are aimed to explore the multiple identities of Mariupol and the city image. Their creative public actions are known for vivid performances addressing acute social problems in the militaristic conservative city. 

Since Mariupol is near to the military frontline, progressive initiatives of Platform TU oftentimes meet the disapproval of ultra-right nationalists. Hate speech and fascist graffiti, broken windows and shooting, harsh attacks of teenage concert and public actions – TU have suffered a lot for supporting gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights and promoting diversity. Still, they keep fighting discrimination, stereotypes, and inequality, believing that Ukraine has only one way towards democratic, free, diverse and tolerant future. Their motto is: “Everything that works for developing culture works against war”.