SPOTLIGHT ON UKRAINE: MARIUPOL

Highlighting the beauty of Mariupol, and its slow demise amidst war


By Kritika (Kit) Iyer

Mariupol, Ukraine, once a flourishing city filled with art and music, is now in ruins after repeated Russian attacks in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.


At the beginning of last year, Mariupol’s leaders took the initiative to create a cultural capital out of the city, through a program created by the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation. Intended to uplift cities and cultural centers in Ukraine, the initiative consisted of 11 events ranging from museum festivals to music festivals.


Since then, Mariupol has marked itself as the cultural capital of the nation – but, the city’s rich history and dedication to the arts has been destroyed amidst the chaos of war.


Mariupol’s history dates back to the 1500s when the city was first established. Since its founding, the city's culture has been heavily characterized by Greek and Russian influences, as they have been occupied by both Russians and Orthodox Greeks, as well as the Cossacks.


Pre-war, the city housed many theaters, including its oldest theater, the Donetsk Regional Drama Theater. However, the 144-year-old building, which recently housed displaced Ukranians, was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in an attack, making headlines world-wide.


Similarly, an art school sheltering 400 residents was bombed merely days later. The building that housed the G12 art school was another structure on an extensive list of institutions and research organizations that contributed to the city’s growth.


Mariupol is also home to a variety of museums. The city’s museum culture has been long standing. However, recently a museum dedicated to the 19th-century artist Arkhip Kuindzhi was also destroyed in an airstrike.


Among other museums is the Kuinji Art Museum, which has over 2,000 exhibits of various kinds of art. Mariupol is also home to the Museum of the History of the Greeks of the Azov Sea, which details the story of the Greeks' resettlement in the region.


In addition to its drama theaters, the city also lays claim to a puppet theater, for both children and adults. Puppet shows are popular throughout the world, but this theater’s unique juxtaposition of classical and modern style creates a magical feeling throughout its halls, attracting both tourists and locals alike.


Mariupol also has several cinemas and recreational centers for various activities. There are 17 public libraries that reflect the city’s literary culture, and the city has several organizations to support artists and writers.


Before Ukraine was under Russian siege, Mariupol attracted thousands of tourists with its eye-catching coastal landscapes and historic monuments. The city’s architecture creates a sense of nostalgia, with tourists reminded of the city’s history as they peruse ethe streets. There’s much to explore in Mariupol, but tourists are often attracted to its lush parks and open green spaces.


What was once a vibrant cultural capital of Ukraine is now quickly being reduced to rubble. While Ukraine continues to withstand Russian attacks, leaving its history and future to weigh in the balance, its culture persists.


The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation has made efforts to preserve and support their culture since the onset of Russian attacks by keeping a record of the destruction that has been made to various landmarks. Despite their efforts, the city has lost – and will continue to lose – historically-prominent buildings.