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Preserving Ukrainian Culture and Crafts In a Time of War

Preserving Ukrainian Culture and Crafts In a Time of War

We interviewed GUNIA Project to learn how a country, its culture, and its people are standing strong with inspiring morale despite a military invasion

For a few weeks now, our team at The Nopo has been following the news in Ukraine with a heavy heart. We’ve been trying to find a way to support, and we’ve spent time learning about Ukraine’s incredibly rich history of handmade crafts. Since the war started, Ukrainian culture, craftsmanship, creative expression, and of course human lives are being threatened and destroyed. Amidst the chaos, Ukrainians stand strong with inspiring morale, and initiatives like GUNIA Project are now more important than ever.

GUNIA Project was created in 2017 with a mission to preserve Ukrainian national values and show the world the beauty of Ukraine by highlighting handmade crafts like decorative paintings, ceramics, wicker weaving, jewelry, and embroidery. In line with our mission of bringing the world’s most exceptional artisans to you, The Nopo is partnering with GUNIA Project to support Ukrainian artisans and their country. 100% of the money you spend on Ukrainian crafts will go directly to GUNIA Project, with zero fees taken out.

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Read our conversation with founders of GUNIA Project, Natasha Kamenska and Maria Gavryliuk, about their inspiration, how the war is impacting their lives, and the role of artisanship at a time like this. 

First, please share how the war has affected your lives and your business. 

"The first 3 weeks we were in a state of absolute shock. On the first day, we paid all our team's salaries, suspended our production, and closed our showroom. We stayed in touch with our family and team but were forced to leave our hometown of Kyiv. Now, some of our close friends and family are in Western Ukraine. Some have gone abroad, but their situations are not secure.

We volunteered, helped raise funds for the army, helped our family and local defense with everything we could, and distracted ourselves as much as possible from all the horrors going on around us."

"Three weeks later, it became clear that we needed to get GUNIA Project back on track. Our production is currently suspended, but we are working to restart order fulfillment and accept new orders.

There is a military front, there is a volunteer front, and there is an economic front. We know that our mission to tell the world about Ukraine is now only becoming more valuable. We want GUNIA to be in every home within independent Ukraine and all over the world. The brand will bring joy, warmth, and education about our rich culture."

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How and why did GUNIA Project get started?

"We worked together for a long time in the fashion industry. Our creative duo was formed in 2017 while volunteering with the Center of Folk Culture 'Ivan Honchar Museum.' We were inspired by the idea of ​​modernizing Ukrainian art and creating a modern Ukrainian souvenir.

The first product to be released under the brand name was the Hutsul Wool Coat Gunya, created by hand in the Carpathian Mountains. It is in honor of this product that GUNIA Project got its name.

Today, the brand does not limit itself to this framework, but also creates collections of exceptional items for everyday use, inspired by Ukrainian culture and heritage. The main mission of the brand is to preserve our national values and tell the world about the beauty of Ukraine. With the current political situation, we know this mission is becoming even more important."

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Can you please tell us about the artisans that you work with and their stories? 

"We employ about 30 artisans all over Ukraine, located in different regions of the country, each with its own history. The crafts have been passed down through generations. For example, our master glassblower learned his craft from his father, and all our woven products are made in the small town of Iska, famous for its wickerwork.

Right now we are preparing a new project on our master artisans, which we will release soon. We will tell these artisans' stories, with a goal of introducing the world to them as individuals."

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What influences or inspires GUNIA Project or your artisans the most? 

"Our lives would not exist as they are without the secrets of Ukrainian culture, modern works of art, and the cultural influence of other nations. Ukrainian naïve art has been studied very little, but it inspires us the most. Moved by the immediacy, simplicity, and honesty of their work, world-famous artists have collaborated with rural Ukrainian artisans and folk artists. Among the famous artists that remain in our hearts are Maria Primachenko, Anna Sobachko-Shostak, Alexander Bogomazova, Mykola Pymonenko, Denis Perepelytsia and many others."

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What do you think is the importance of artisanship at a time like this? 

"Ukraine is an independent state with its own heritage and culture. In the course of recent events, the enemy seeks to destroy our nation from the roots: he turns our cities into ruins, throws bombs on our historic squares and architectural monuments, and threatens to wipe out key symbols of the world, such as St. Sophia Cathedral.  

Russia is doing its best to question the sole existence and foundation of the Ukrainian nation. Putin said loudly, "Modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia, more precisely, by Bolshevik, communist Russia." We can assure you of the contrary, and we want to draw your attention to historical facts. Our culture is yet one more way to prove it. 

We are convinced that handicrafts will help to preserve our identity and nationality. This issue cannot be set aside, as the existence of our state depends on it. Ukraine has always been famous for its craftsmen, and we are doing everything possible to keep it that way."

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Are there any other messages you’d like to share with our audience? Besides buying products, how can our customers help right now? 

"Ukraine is experiencing the worst war since World War II. Thousands of our people, including not only military but also civilians and children, have died under Russian rockets and shelling.

Every day we pray that this terrible dream will end and we will be able to live our lives in peace in our country.

We are grateful for all the support the world has given us, and we urge you to do more. You can raise awareness about events in Ukraine, work with Ukrainian fashion brands to help them stay alive, share messages, and raise money for the army or our children - please view a useful link here. You can call on your government to sever all relations with Russia and all trade ties that continue to fund this war.

We believe that together we will win!"

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