Jewish charities join forces to sell works by Ukrainian artists to raise money for war-torn country

Works of art are being transported out of Ukraine to Poland by brave volunteers led by Alina Viatkina, 26, who fled her homeland after the Russian invasion


Jewish charities have joined forces to sell art by Ukrainian artists to raise desperately needed money for humanitarian aid and defensive equipment in their war-torn country.

The works of art are transported out of Ukraine to Poland by brave volunteers amid the raging war with Russia to be sold in an online auction.

The operation has been led on the ground by Alina Viatkina, 26, who fled her homeland after the Russian invasion last February.

She and her family ended up in the Krakow home of Canadian artist Michael Rubenfeld and his Polish wife Magda, founders of a Jewish art charity, FestivAlt. They have teamed up with British charity The Together Plan (TPP) and its American sister charity The Jewish Tapestry Project to auction the 140 pieces of art that they have got out so far.

Alina had previously served as a military paramedic on Ukraine’s eastern front. Her ex-soldier husband re-enlisted on the day of the invasion, and she immediately set to work doing whatever she could to help.

Raising funds from friends via Facebook, she bought military and medical equipment and made 15 to 20 trips back and forth to Ukraine, spending hours at border control on both sides, sleeping in her car, and coordinating everything while on the road.

Then Mr Rubenfeld suggested collecting art to sell for Ukraine. She immediately agreed and began coordinating couriers to ferry the works from across the country, in active war zones, to Poland.

FestivAlt was founded by the Rubenfelds to explore Judaism through an artistic lens, sharing different interpretations of what being Jewish means, and what it can be.

Mr Rubenfeld said: “We’re Jews, we’re artists, and we’re activists. We made the decision that as a Jewish organisation, it was our duty to get involved.

"We located ourselves in the former Krakow ghetto to ensure that we’re not forgetting our history and to be constantly in relationship to that and then two-and-a-half hours away on the border there was arguably an attempted genocide, so it just felt like if we did nothing, we would only be hypocritical.”

Alina drove many of the works to Krakow herself. “It is still difficult to cross the border from Ukraine to Poland or from Poland to Ukraine,” she told the JC.

“I didn’t really understand what I had to have as documents to cross the border with art. At the border, the Polish side stopped me and told me that I had to go to the other line and to pay a lot of taxes for this art because it’s very expensive.

“I was like, ‘Oh no, no, guys, it’s for charity.’”

She said that Polish border security went as far as saying that she could end up in jail for transporting art without permission, despite having been given the art by the artists themselves. She described it as “super-scary”.

Eventually, they let her through with all the art, and without paying enormous taxes.
“Since the beginning of the war Alina’s been going non-stop to do everything she can to help, sacrificing herself,” said Mr Rubenfeld. “She’s incredible in terms of her capacity to get things done in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, Debra Brunner’s charity The Together Plan was sending money to support charities in Eastern Europe, and in June Mr Rubenfeld approached her about the Ukraine art project: “Michael said, we are going to do this campaign, do you want to partner? I said, we’ll help in any way we can. I’m a great believer in charities working together.”

The Together Plan, The Jewish Tapestry Project and FestivAlt are working together to promote the auction and encourage as many bids as possible.

Asked why people should spend their money on Ukrainian art, Alina said: “If you buy this art, you have to understand that you are buying lives, literally.”

She added: “If you’re buying art, you’re buying medicine for wounded people and you are actually saving real lives.”

To take part in the auction, visit

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