Newport This Week

Ukranian Artist Speaks of His Countrymen

Sasha Alexandre Kouznetsov in his Newport studio. (Photo by Grace Trofa)

Sasha Alexandre Kouznetsov in his Newport studio. (Photo by Grace Trofa)

Everything has happened so quickly. For the outside world there is a combination of shock and anger, and we are humbled by the resis­tance and sheer determination of the Ukrainian people, willing to risk their lives to protect their country.

Sasha Alexandre Kouznetsov was born in Kyiv and has lived in Newport since 1991. He first came to Newport as the artist and con­servatist in residence for the owner of Miramar on Bellevue Avenue. His mixed-media fine art paintings are sold and exhibited internationally.

What can you tell us about your countrymen?

I was born in Kyiv, which is the capital of Ukraine, but I traveled throughout the country. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have rivers, big open fields, mountains, all the elements that make a place special in our hearts. Kyiv is almost 1700 years old, one of the oldest cities in Eu­rope. The people love to sing, the language is melodious, as if cre­ated for song. During Ukrainian history, it has always been in con­flict, fighting for its sovereignty so that freedom and independence is in the blood of the people. You can’t put them in a cage or make them move under someone or­ders, it’s impossible. So many kings and politicians have tried, but for Ukrainians it will always be an eternal fight for freedom and finally after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they gained their freedom.

Did Ukrainians expect Russia to attack, or did they think Putin was bluffing?

America and all of the Western world provided them with great intelligence that yes, the attack will happen and they gave fair warning, when and how it would happen. But no one was willing to believe that your brother, people from Russia, would still attack. I have many friends and also family in Kyiv, even though many were warning them, they were thinking, no, my heart is telling me he would never do that, he is bluffing, it was the ultimate betrayal. Initially the Russian government, Putin, the president claimed this is just mil­itary exercises. Military exercises? What kind of exercise it is when you bring a fleet from all over the world, to the Black Sea, when you have already 300,000 surrounding troops?

How well were they prepared? Do they have bomb shelters, air raid drills?

Yes there have bomb shelters and the children know what to do, however we were not very well equipped. The Ukrainian government and the president are definitely taking care of the people after this initial shock. By now, almost 900,000 people have left the country, the biggest ref­ugee movement since World War II. Women and children are on the way to Poland Bulgaria, Romania, Germany. The people were given two days to evacuate, but the Rus­sians started bombing from the first day. At the beginning they destroyed all military bases. All the people who decided to stay were provided with guns. The Russians absolutely underestimated the people. They thought we would not be willing to fight. But the people are making Molotov cock­tails, they are helping the army, going tank to tank distributing weapons. I would not even call this patriotism; patriotism hap­pens in reaction to wrongdoing in the government. Real patriotism comes from the heart.

Have both of your parents remained in Ukraine?

The day before the attack, my father was in Kyiv celebrating his 81st birthday. Everyone was warning him, “tomorrow they may attack again.” He left but he didn’t believe it would happen. The next morning they did attack. I called my mom and dad. My father of course, was in disbelief. My mom said, “I am going to stay in Kyiv be­cause it is very cold on the farm.” We have a farm in the countryside. She was saying, “I will be safe in Kyiv, our building is made from brick not from wood and hay, (like the farm) and she was surrounded by my classmates and my old friends who all live in the same community in Kyiv. I said to one of my friends, we need to move her out, definitely, it still wasn’t real to them. My best friend, Toric, next day picked her up and drove her to the farm, usually a 90 min drive, from Kyiv. It took around 11, 12 hours. Because all Kyiv is evacu­ating on one side of the road, civil­ians, and on the other side roll the tanks. The farm village is full of old people, friends the same age and a good community. This is where I spend every harvest season from August to October when I go to help out on the farm. A few days later, the army came and they gave all these old people guns. It is sur­real and a tragedy for old people. I know how brilliantly and bravely they have been fighting old age, illness, COVID and now this.I think it was Tolstoy that said, “old age is a stage not for the sissys.” Telephone conversation in the past had been with some complaints, “this hurts, I give up on that,” now, no one mentions health. My mother said to me, “I am so glad that last au­tumn we went to the farm and we preserved so much food. We just opened some and actually Sasha, one of them was very tasty; even your father liked it.”

So despite the situation, there is still a sense of humor are they in danger?

Yes, of course. One place next to them is a giant military base and another is an airport. Dad said to me, the other morning, I woke up I was thinking it was a thunderstorm. Our dog always starts howling because he is afraid of thunder, but I looked out the window and I realized it was an explosion at the airport right there.

Do you see any way the outside world can help, aside from mili­tary aid and sanctions?

This military aid has already started, but sanctions, it doesn’t matter how heavy they are, they won’t stop the war now. They will work in time. I’d say the future of Russia looks very gloomy. It’s only now that the West has woken up and sending weapons and they have actually formed the Inter­See national Legion, made up of vol­unteer soldiers from all over the world and every Ukraine citizen who wants to engage in war has been given real weapons.

Are the Ukrainians aware of the rage around the world? Do they have internet access?

Yes, Elon Musk put the satellite up there. Young Ukrainians boys and girls who were creating video games now have raged a very big game on the Russians, they hacked the Minister of Defense, the Russian TV stations, it is a dif­ferent kind of war. War brings out the best and sometimes the worst in people. War should not exist, it is a different kind of mentality, re­ality, than the world of the young people today. This has changed, traumatized people forever, for­ever. But who knew this would still happen, even in the 21st century in the heart of Europe?

What is the state of the Ukraine people right now?

They are not fearful for anything right now. One rocket, another rocket, there is not difference whether it is nuclear or not, they are already in a war. Nobody in this case worry about it, except other countries. Right now everyone is fighting for every square meter of their lives.

The people are in disbelief and I would answer you with three ques­tions: how in the world did this happen, second question, what happens next, and the third ques­tion is, what are we going to do now? When I first heard the news, I felt this giant weight on top of me, it took me a couple of days to come to my senses.

How are the people of Kyiv pre­paring for caravan of trucks heading their way?

They know the Russians are planning to surround Kyiv, and de­fense will continue. If the Russians move inside of the city and there is fighting in the streets, a tank in the street of Kyiv is a very easy target. Because all the houses around them are full of weapons and full of smoothies.

Do you think the Ukrainians will succeed?

Of course. There is no doubt. The Ukrainian people already feel they won this battle because they stood up to the enemy. The Rus­sians have already lost because they are all alone. There is panic. They don’t have the spirit. They lost the battle because they are on somebody else’s territory, they are taking somebody else’s land. They are never going to win this war.

Best case scenario?

Will be if Russian army realizes they did something wrong and commands that Putin is removed from power.

Citizens are making Molotov cocktails, which are now called Putin smoothies. So they still maintain a sense of humor during all this?

It is the only way to survive. We know from our experience in life how hard it is when you are in the middle of fear or panic attack to find the force, but you need to focus and say these magic words. All wars on this planet end. And this one will end too. And every time, every minute, every hour you are closer to the end. And this is where I begin to breathe and all of a sudden I feel I am not in the dark. I see the crack in the wall and the light shining through, and this is without any an­tidepressants or great vodka. Truly what good are you if you are in this heavy situation, heartbroken, depressed dysfunctional? That’s why it is important for everyone to have the sense of humor. There are so many pathetic, funny things you can find in Life. War is absurd already by itself.

It is hard to believe?

I no longer have this phase in my vocabulary. In the first few days, I have a very heavy heart. If the war and these guys who have started the war and they want to destroy people like me, to take me out of my great life to create wonderful art, they are not going to win. I am not going to give them this oppor­tunity.

You know the only thing I would say: You know when you are waiting for a loved one to come to have dinner with you, and the plane or the train is late, or the traffic is bad and you start to worry, what is happening? People now in Ukraine are like the loved ones on the train or plane, on their way, but we are sitting there, helpless, hopeless sometimes because there is not much we can do. This is where it is very heavy for us. So I recommend for people who have anxiety right now about the world, just do something. Put yourself to work. Feed your animals. Go shopping. Clean your room. Do anything. Don’t sit and watch this TV, put yourself to work.

Can you share a personal story?

My friend is sitting in his house overlooking the river and talking to me on the phone. The Ukrai­nians have burned the bridge over the river because the Russian tanks are coming. The tanks stopped and the engineers look over the situa­tion and put an inflated pontoon over the water. The tank goes over the pontoon and gets blown up. Then again, they lay out a pontoon and send over another tank and that gets blown up. This keep hap­pening. We thought, these are not professional soldiers. They don’t know what they are doing. Then the remaining tanks start moving, back and forth, for 6 or 8 hours and then finally they stop. We, the Ukrainians, finally screaming from our side on the river, “hey, bastards, what are you doing, moving back and forth?” And they yell back. “We are just burning the fuel.” Why? “Because we don’t want to move forward.”

They don’t want to fight. They use up the fuel, abandon the vehi­cles and they run.

Families are being divided, the men are volunteering to remain behind, while the women and children are being sent to safety, this must be heart wrenching.

What other solution is there? When you know that your family is living in a danger zone, by moving them out of danger you already feel you have done something to save your family. You feel much more secure than having them stand next to you. The men are able to focus on the challenge ahead, If the men were thinking they will be all alone in fighting, they are actually all together, making good friends for life and they will fight together. You see all the examples of the best and worse in men, you are in the the­atre, change the channel and look instead at the joy of living through the challenge, together.

Full interview on

4 responses to “Ukranian Artist Speaks of His Countrymen”

  1. A Beautiful, Powerful, Heartfelt Expression Of Love Of His Country, Love Of His Countrymen, And Hope..

  2. Lance Friedel says:

    Excellent article! Sasha is a wonderful artist and a great speaker. He paints a vivid picture of what Ukrainians are facing now, and of their indomitable spirit!

  3. Luboš Beneda says:

    Thank you for this great article.
    Whole free world is praying for Ukraine 🇺🇦 🙏🏼
    Ukrainian people are heroes and protectors of freedom and all core values of western nations.
    Czech people stand strong in support of Ukraine because this very same occupation happened to our country in spring of 68, Although we were unable to defend ourselves. This time though history doesn’t repeat itself and with the support of the rest of the free world, Ukrainian heroes are defeating the occupants.
    Ukraine will forever remember as a beacon of strength and freedom.
    Sláva Ukrajině!

  4. Ellen "Dash" Walter says:

    Your words resonate with me, and your great conductor painting hangs at the entrance hall to my home. It has become a beacon of light for your people in my heart. I love you, my friend, and think of you every day when I walk into my house. May peace prevail. I am especially moved by the artists coming forth to offer comfort in this trying moment. I am with you in many ways.

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