Ukraine War: Channeling Emotions into Art.

Podcast mit Diana Berg

2014 floh die Künstlerin und Menschenrechtsaktivistin Diana Berg von Donezk nach Mariupol, um den prorussischen Separatisten zu entkommen. Acht Jahre später musste sie ihre Heimat ein zweites Mal verlassen, als Russland in die Ukraine einmarschierte.

In dieser Folge von "Die Kulturmittler" spricht CCP-Alumna Diana Berg über die Bedeutung und das Potenzial von Kunst und Kunsträumen in Kriegszeiten. Sie selbst ist Mitbegründerin der Platform TU, die sie 2016 in Mariupol ins Leben rief und nun aus dem Exil weiterführt. Wir erfahren auch von ihrem andauernden Engagement, ukrainischen Stimmen und Bedürfnissen auf internationalen Kunstveranstaltungen wie der documenta oder der Berlinale Gehör zu verschaffen.

Es ist eine Grafik zu sehen. Ein weißer Kreis in der Mitte, umgeben von einem blauen Streifen über die obere Hälfte und einem gelben über die untere Hälfte. Im Kreis ist eine Illustration einer Frau zu sehen mit lockigen Haaren. Unter ihr steht Diana Berg, über ihr Die Kulturmittler, im rechten Eck der Illustration sieht man das Logo des ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen in schwarz auf dem gelben Hintergrund. Es handelt sich um das Cover einer des sechs Sonderfolgen zur Ukraine des ifa-Podcasts "die Kulturmittler". Die ukrainische Künstlerin und Aktivist Diana Berg spricht in dieser Folge über die Bedeutung von Kunst und Kunsträumen in Kriegszeiten. Illustration von Lea Dohle.
Illustration: Lea Dohle

Kulturaußenpolitik hörbar machen.

Das ifa liefert Hintergrundwissen und Antworten auf Fragen der Zeit im Podcastformat

Diese Folge des ifa-Podcast ist auf allen gängigen Podcastplattformen abrufbar. Um keine Folge zu verpassen, am besten "Die Kulturmittler" auf dem Streamingdienst der Wahl abonnieren.

Transkript der Folge

Episode #48: Ukraine War: Channeling Emotions into Art. With Diana Berg

Amira El Ahl: Welcome to a new episode of "Die Kultumittler", the ifa-podcast on foreign cultural policy. My name is Amira El Ahl and I'm very glad you're joining us today as we'll talk about daily cultural and non-cultural life during the war in Ukraine. This episode is the fourth part of a Ukraine special in which we dedicate six episodes to the developments in the fields of civil society, arts and culture since the outbreak of the war in February 2022. Today, my guest is Diana Berg, a Ukrainian human rights activist and artist who has also founded the cultural center platform TU in Mariupol back in 2016. Dear Ms. Berg, a warm welcome to "Die Kulturmittler".

Diana Berg: Hi, everyone. Thank you for inviting me. Hi Amira. I'm happy to be here. Happy to be the part of any ifa-activity actually.

Amira El Ahl: It's a pleasure to have you, thank you. We are meeting here at the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin. The short film "It's a date", in which you participated, is celebrating its world premiere here. It was just yesterday night.

Diana Berg: Yes, last night.

Amira El Ahl: Congratulations.

Diana Berg: Thank you. I just saw the final cut of the movie only yesterday during the premiere. And it's awesome. It's beautiful. Although it's very short. It's really part of Berlinale shorts. It's only six minutes long, but it's totally worth watching.

Amira El Ahl: Wonderful. And you've also participated at the Documenta in Kassel last year. My question is, do you believe that contributing to such events will be perceived positively among Ukrainians and maybe give them a different perspective in times of war?

Diana Berg: It's something I was thinking about the whole year. Definitely, Ukrainians should be using any stage, any platform as a means of talking about us, as a means of raising visibility about Ukraine, about the war in Ukraine, about what's happening in our country. And about arts, of course, a cultural perspective on what's happening. So, contributing to this event, to this kind of international events like Documenta, like Berlinale is important. In my life, it only happened last year for the first time, I never was a part of such a big event. And suddenly, I am.

Amira El Ahl: So what does it mean to you personally – this international recognition and attention? How does it make you feel?

Diana Berg: I think it's fair and logical that Ukraine is in the spotlight now globally, because what's happening in our country is concerning so many people all over the world. We have so many allies, so many partners, so many friends all over the world, starting from governments and elites and politicians to just regular human beings who do help and solidarize. And of course, cultural institutions, big cultural events also pay attention and somehow try to appreciate our courage and fight and resistance. Like in Berlinale, they made the bear pin which is the symbol of Berlinale, with blue and yellow. They're wearing it. And they talk about Ukrainians, they talk about Ukrainian movies. So it's really cool to feel that, to feel the support.

Amira El Ahl: Because you just said that it's big institutions and cultural events: In 2021, you have been a fellow at the CrossCulture Programme (CCP) of ifa, and if I understand correctly, you were working with the artists and political activists from the center of political beauty during that time. How important are these kinds of cultural programmes and exchanges for Ukrainian artists at the moment, and what did you take away from this experience?

Diana Berg: Yes, indeed, I was part of that year's CCP, unfortunately it was the COVID year and it took place online. I think it was the only online CCP, unfortunately, but still it was a great experience. We even had a project that was born and developed during CCP with my fellow artists, now friends, Felix Banholzer from Berlin and Pavel Méndez from Cuba. And we are still friends, we see each other. We meet when we can because Pavel moved to study in Germany. We still have this project being developed yet. It's a red lines project and it's about the post-totalitarian societies and communities in terms of communication of the people and symbols and so on. So, we still have the website "Red Lines".

Amira El Ahl: That means it brought together people from all around the world.

Diana Berg: Absolutely. I still communicate with those fellows from my leg because there were several directions: culture, social, political, and so on. And now, I am a CCP alumni, which also opens up even more opportunities. For example, last year as an alumni, I participated in a workshop for LGBTQ and the workshop of LGBTQ communication and so on. This topic was deeply processed during this workshop. And again, we met even more people from all over the world. So, if you want to make some friends from different parts of of the globe, you should just apply to CCP. That's my advice.

Amira El Ahl: That's great. It has now been approximately a year since the war has started and Russia invaded Ukraine. This is, however, not your first experience with war in Ukraine since this war has been simmering since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists took power in Donetsk, which is your hometown. In an article, you wrote that back then your life as an activist began and it changed your life completely. What was your life like before 2014 and what has changed ever since? Can you take us there?

Diana Berg: I call myself, my version of me before 2014, a pacifist, because I was not into politics, into civil life, into activism. I was just leading an ordinary life and was a designer, a graphic designer in Donetsk. But then Maidan started, and I think it really touched everyone. If you didn't go to Maidan, to Kyiv, then you were at least following it in online streams and were really trying to help and send something there. And this is how it started. But then, the first steps of the Russian takeover came to Donetsk. Then we understood that their plan was to come and grab the territories. They came to Donetsk and they self-proclaimed a governor. They said, now I am the governor, just a random guy.

Amira El Ahl: This did something to you, didn't it?

Diana Berg: It did something to me. Me and my friends, we just said, let's go and protest. And we posted it on social media: "Let's go protest in two days." We came there and saw thousands of people with Ukrainian flags. And then we realized that this was the movement that was needed right in that moment. That is how I became an activist and I even became an initiator of the movement, which we call "Donetsk is Ukraine". It united many people and many actions, many rallies. But each of the rallies during that spring became more and more violent in terms of counter resistance of pro-Russian powers. They were attacking us, there were bigger and bigger crowds of them. One of the rallies was really tragic because people were killed, our Ukrainian friends were killed by Russians. Then we understood: "It is serious that they are fighting just for Russki Mir – Russian world".

Amira El Ahl: Did you ever expect that Russia would invade Ukraine at any point?

Diana Berg: Before 2014? No. But then it was a shock and it was a despair to do something, to fight, to resist. One of the last marches we had was attacked. It was attacked heavily and brutally. And many people ended up in hospitals. And at the same time, there was pressure online and offline on the organisers. Because these pro-Russians that flooded Donetsk by the time, they were making walls of shame of people who they wanted to kill. For example like this: "This is Diana Berg. Her address is this, her telephone is this. She is the traitor." That's how it happened. It was already very dangerous for me to stay at my home. So I decided to leave for a week. "When it all cools down, I'll come back." That's it. That's how I left Donetsk, my hometown for good.

Amira El Ahl: You left Donetsk in 2014 and you fled first to another city, but then you went to Mariupol?

Diana Berg: Yes, Odessa then Lwiw. And then I ended up in Mariupol when I realized that it's been three months and I'm not coming back to Donetsk seeing what's happening. Maybe my trip will take longer, because there was a referendum already, it was already occupied. But Mariupol was Ukrainian and I saw that in Mariupol they wanted to start the same and Mariupol is very close to Donetsk. So from the western part of Ukraine, from Lwiw, I just decided to come to Mariupol to be closer to my hometown and also to maybe help local volunteers, local activists to resist. That's it.

Amira El Ahl: So that means, when the pro-Russian separatists took power in Donetsk, this made you an activist and it made you an artist? So, it actually was a start of a new life for you.

Diana Berg: Exactly.

Amira El Ahl: And in Mariupol, you started this new life. How have your work and the work of other artists and activists been affected when the war started a year ago? I mean, you were there in Mariupol. How has your life been affected from that moment?

Diana Berg: A year ago, we were planning another episode of art residencies. And on 24th, two artists had to come to Mariupol to start their work. And my first thought when I woke up and knew about the start of the invasion, I was thinking: "Okay, so what about the residency? Are we still making it? Or maybe we postpone it? Or what should we do with it?" So I thought actually about culture, arts and projects. Of course we couldn't do that, we canceled it.

Amira El Ahl: You had to leave Mariupol eventually because it became too dangerous for you. So you actually had to flee your home twice. First you had to leave Donetsk, then you had to flee from Mariupol.

Diana Berg: And both times were not my own decisions. These decisions were made for me.

Amira El Ahl: They were forced on you. What has your life been since you've left Mariupol? I assume you're still in Ukraine, but how has your life been ever since?

Diana Berg: From my experience, it's harder to lose your home the second time. Because maybe you put more effort, more soul in what you have and then you lose it. And it wasn't only my home and another city that became my home, but also it was Platform TU, this space that I founded and that really became a change-making platform in Mariupol. Mariupol is still a little bit conservative because it's an industrial city historically with a big industry, heavy industry. So all this modern arts was kind of provocative and progressive for the city by the time when we opened it.

Amira El Ahl: So maybe we have to explain that when you came to Mariupol, you founded this art platform TU. Maybe you can explain what kind of space that was?

Diana Berg: It was a space where we first hosted events, but not only events, but artists, musicians, exhibitions. It was not just arts for arts, but it was always arts on some acute social topics. It's about feminism, gender violence, for example, or anything that is very up to date. We were also a safe space for teenagers from underprivileged groups, from vulnerable groups, because we realized that these teenagers are actually invisible and underrepresented. So we managed to reach out to them and our space became like a second home for them because we organized workshops, we involved them in different cultural artistic practices and gave them the opportunity to try themselves to be an artist or a musician or whatever. Otherwise those kids will have only one future, for example going to the plant and being a worker. That's it. So that's maybe the most important part of our space. I think the community of youth with whom, to whom, for whom we really made changes.

Amira El Ahl: But now that Mariupol and most of its infrastructure has been destroyed in the war, the platform doesn't have a place to be anymore, at least physically.

Diana Berg: Yeah.

Amira El Ahl: So how do you continue or do you continue your work with TU what does it look like? What's your life like now with this platform?

Diana Berg: We do continue. We decided not to reopen, not to find another space to open or another town or whatever, because we really put so much in that space. It's too early to think about it. So now we're not so much a space anymore but a collective, I would say. And we still work with those teenagers. We make online projects for their adaptation to the new realities because many of them saw so many atrocities and had to relocate which is a big stress. We make projects mostly online because even our team is distributed, we are not all in Kyiv, someone is in Riga, someone is in Berlin. So we learn to work in this format and this online format mostly.

Amira El Ahl: So you want to continue this way also for the time being?

Diana Berg: For now, yes. But then we all are waiting for the occupation of Mariupol.

Amira El Ahl: What challenges are you facing as an artist and cultural activist working from a country that you have fled to? Because you said that there is people from TU that are in Berlin or in Riga. How difficult is it to work there if you left your country behind?

Diana Berg: Everyone had to make a choice. It's a choice either to stay in Ukraine. It's a choice to leave during the war. Either choice is really hard because staying is putting yourself at risk every day and undergoing hardships like blackouts or missile attacks and all this. And on the other hand, if you choose to flee to Europe or a safer place, it doesn't mean that you are all happy and that's it. No, it's even harder because this phenomenon, survivor's guilt, this is something that is the biggest burden. And for example our friends in Europe, our team in Europe, they are worrying more about us than we do ourselves because when they read in the news that there is a missile attack on Kyiv, they are all in breakdown. They just imagine all the worst. So we have to calm them down. They are feeling it even more acute than we are.

Amira El Ahl: I think you have this topic in your Instagram posts and articles very often. You often talk about this difficulty of living with privileges. Even after your escape you are living with running water, you have a car, simply surviving. These are things that other Ukrainians do not have because they're still in Mariupol or in Luhansk.

Diana Berg: Or in Kherson because Kherson is already deoccupied but it's even harder.

Amira El Ahl: You just described this feeling of survivor's guilt. How do you manage to cope with this feeling? Is art a way of dealing with it and helps dealing with this guilt or is it activism that maybe helps?

Diana Berg: It could be art, it could be activism but actually you really have to find your therapist. Every Ukrainian should find a good therapist because now we will all have PTSD. We don't have it yet because we are inside of the trauma, because PTSD is post-traumatic syndrome. But we all have the adaptation disorder. We all have different crises and different disorders. So we just have to admit that we should have some systematic programme on the state level of overcoming this burden. Including survivor's guilt, including all these new forms. You never even thought that these kind of feelings or these kind of thoughts may occur to you. We just have to admit that we are living totally new lifes.

Amira El Ahl: You said earlier that you initially wanted the platform to be a safe space. You said for art and for activism and for the kids to give them a different opportunity of life. Do you still feel that a culture can be this safe space for people in these times of war and with these traumas that they're living collectively?

Diana Berg: I do believe that art can be a catalyst of healing and have a therapeutical effect. I still do because we had this project for youngsters, for teenagers, for relocated teenagers online last year, often involving them in some creative designing. They were so happy to channel whatever they were feeling into something visual. So at least judging by this experience, I can definitely say that it could be at least a channel to process whatever you had.

Amira El Ahl: And maybe for people who had to flee the country and are living abroad and who are in Europe, that art and culture gives them also a platform to make Ukrainian voices heard. Just as you do when you are here in Berlin at the Berlinale or you're in Documenta or wherever. Giving it this voice.

Diana Berg: Yes, amplifying our voices, exactly. And many Ukrainian artists who are now in Europe, they work a lot. They organize exhibitions, they organize different kind of cultural events. They go on talking about Ukraine through different mediums. They make beautiful art. Even in Berlin, I know at least two powerful Ukrainian art spaces that were just opened by relocated artists last year after the invasion. And they keep working a lot to showcase Ukrainian culture and arts.

Amira El Ahl: How do you believe that international and intercultural organizations and networks such as ifa could support the Ukrainian people, artists and civil society in a meaningful way in this time?

Diana Berg: Again, giving us a stage, helping us to amplify our voices, actually giving us words in any way. This is a very good help because of course I can talk with you about volunteer, about humanitarian aid. Of course it also matters. And we are really thankful to everyone who sent any kind of help. From electric batteries to just warm clothes to any kind of medical supplies to Ukraine. Cultural, artistic spaces even donate something physical, not only cultural. That's a very interesting phenomenon, how art was transformed to something very physical and material which is really needed. For example, artistic musical collectives or festivals, they write: "We accept donations for Ukraine because we want to gather some money for the evacuation bus". And they gather this money, they get this evacuation bus and they send it to Ukraine. This is the place and the moment when culture or arts help through something physical and through emergency help. All came together.

Amira El Ahl: So it's a mix. It's the platforms that these institutions can give you and the organisations that are important. It's the voice that is heard and helps to amplify your cause. But it's also the very real necessary help that comes together.

Diana Berg: Exactly. That's how artists in Ukraine just came to serve in the Army. There are so many artists of all kinds, like photographers, writers, authors, visual artists, DJs, musicians who just want to defend our country. And it's such a mixture. When someone asks me, can art defend? I say: "Yeah, especially if it's an artist who defends my country at war". It's very interesting times we are living, it's all the mixture of help, mixture of different kinds of solidarity, even unexpected ways of solidarity.

Amira El Ahl: Thank you so much, Ms. Berg, for your time and all this insight and for sharing your story with us and I wish you all the best. Stay safe and take care of yourself.

Diana Berg: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. Thank you, ifa, for this platform, because this is another platform to give voice to Ukrainians. Thank you for this and thank you, Germany, for all kinds of help we do get from you. But it's not enough, just to remember. It's never enough.

Amira El Ahl: Thank you so much.

Diana Berg: Goodbye.

Amira El Ahl: Goodbye. That brings us to the end of this special episode on Ukraine. If you've enjoyed it, feel free to recommend the podcast to others. The next episode will be published next week. To make sure you don't miss this and all upcoming episodes you can subscribe to the podcast. You can do that anywhere where you can find good podcasts, for example on Spotify, Apple Podcast or Deezer. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at podcast(at) For more information on our organisation ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, visit With that, I say goodbye. My name is Amira El Ahl. Thank you for listening and I hope you join us for the next episode.


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