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Olena Zaretska, painter

We met Olena in the beginning of 2022 after the Christmas holidays to record an interview about Kyiv of her childhood. Olena Zaretska is an artist, the granddaughter of Ukrainian artists Alla Horska and Viktor Zaretsky. Olena was born after the death of her grandmother Alla Horska, a prominent artist, dissident and public figure.

Under unknown circumstances, the artist Alla Horska was killed in Vasylkiv on November 28, 1970, by the USSR special services. The Soviet authorities constantly tried to destroy the Ukrainian intelligentsia and public figures who were not afraid to show their pro-Ukrainian position and resisted. Russia is doing the same with the Ukrainians today, launching a full-scale invasion of our land.

This material was created in collaboration with the cultural project The Shadows Project, who drew a map of Kyiv by Alla Horska, referring to Olena's memoirs and the biography of the Ukrainian artist, the most famous of the Sixties.


I was born and lived on Shota Rustaveli Street in 1984 — it is a large two-room apartment in a pre-revolutionary building. I often dream of it — a long corridor, which I tried to ride on with old roller skates with four wheels, and a large room of 36 meters, that my parents separated by a bookcase. In my childhood, there was a tram on Shota Rustaveli, and then it was liquidated somewhere in the mid-90s. I was allowed to go for a walk in a small yard. Now, I love to walk there. There are throughways where you can cut the road from Shota Rustaveli to Saksaganskogo.

There was a funny story: once, there probably used to be a laundry place where our house was. And for some reason, it was our apartment that people constantly called and asked: "Hello, is this a laundry?". And we just laughed and said no, it's not. The central telephone numbers in Kyiv started at 227, 216, 212 — everything at 200 is a call center. And, for example, the more distant phone numbers began with 400 numbers: 480, 490.

My parents sent me to the 87th Ukrainian-language school named after Antonovich (Gorky — at that time — Ed.). My father took me through the crosswalk to Leo Tolstoy, which was already dangerous in the ‘90s: there were homeless people and criminals, it was scary to walk alone, and my father took me through this crosswalk and went to work.

My mother and I moved to Lukyanivka in 1998 when they divorced. To be honest, I did not like Lukyanivka. You know, like in the Indian movies, there's a big natural market that goes on the road, there's a train going on and everyone's running…Of course it wasn't exactly like that, but still. Lukyanivka is dirty, there are no large green areas, parks. My husband and I lived in my grandmother’s apartment in Lukyanivka, and when I got pregnant, we urgently moved to the Holosiivskyi district because of its green area.

Being a student in Kyiv is as classic for me as for everyone who studies at the Academy of Arts — it's the hills of BZ…meeting the sunset. Courtyards at the Golden Gate, where we drank a ton of beer. There is a courtyard near the Golden Gate metro station, we called it a yard with rats, because they ran on the ground right there. Sometimes we sat like that, our legs raised on the bench, because it was scary. It is almost opposite the bookstore "Ye", a little higher. It is now closed.

I love Kyiv very much. Probably because it is tied to these central corners. I love the subway. Now I live two minutes from the subway, although far away, at Vasylkivska, but it takes me 20 minutes to get to any point. I think it's super cool.

My parents forced me to be an artist. From childhood, they said: "It’s decided, you will be an artist." All the children draw mostly, well, here I drew maybe a little more than others. I remember it a little bit, you know, with resentment now, because it seems to me that they overdid it, that maybe I had some other abilities. On the other hand, because of my family, I have many opportunities. More roads are open than others.

At the age of 25, I gave up art altogether and went to work as an administrator at a yoga center. Then I already had plans to get married, divorce, and change my life. I wanted to change my profession, but at some point in the yoga center, I started helping make posters, and so once, the second time, I was brought back to design. At 32, I gave birth to a child, and I really wanted to draw. Now, I perceive myself as an artist at the beginning of my development — I do not see my style yet, but I am moving in this direction.

I have an idea to doa blogging workshop for teenagers, in which I will be a curator and guide, teaching teenagers to create an informational product. For example, videos on Youtube and videos on TikTok about Ukrainian figures. That is, we all make one video for three or four hours, starting with Zaretsky, Horska, and then about everyone else. It is my project. I am announcing it to everyone because maybe there will be a point of intersection to do it together in partnership.

My father was from Kyiv and was in love with the city, so I spent my childhood walking with him on different routes. When he refused to take me to the Academy of Fine Arts and persuaded me to design, I remember that moment — we we walked on Luteranska Street . Some people are attached to a place and cannot imagine themselves in other life circumstances. Kyiv is his place of comfort. After the divorce, my father lived on Gonchar, so Kyiv was pedestrian, central, native for him. He did not disintegrate the integrity of the old city. I was always amazed, as he said: "But in the 73rd there was, for example, a snowy winter, and in the 76th, there was much rain."

Preserving and exhibiting the heritage of my relatives — artists Horska and Zaretsky — is already a part of my life. I perceive it as a job, as a mission. Now, when my father is no longer alive, it seems to have been inherited to me. I am always happy to tell everyone about them, open to any meeting.

photo on the right: Alla Horska with her son, mid-50s

photo on the left: Alla Horska with her father near her apartment on Repina Street in Kyiv. Late 40's, early 50's

Moreover, I have a lot of ambitions. I made a telegram channel, a Facebook page dedicated to their work. Autumn is a hot season because there are many dates: the date of birth of Alla Horska and the date of death. There are always a lot of mentions in the media. During this time, I just don't plan my personal projects.

My father published a book in 1996, "Alla Horska: Red Shadow of Viburnum" (Olena keeps an edition of this book at home if you want you can order the book directly from her. - Ed.), which contains memories of contemporaries, letters, mentions of the legendary apartment on Tereshchenkovskaya, where Horska and Zaretsky lived. The place where they came to spend the night, and had many parties. A hidden group of carolers with children came from this apartment, and sang in the streets at night to specific addresses. For Horska and Zaretsky, their workshop on Filatova Street was also a cult place. The Creative Youth Club was located in the October Palace, where they often spent time with friends.

Photo on the left: Horska with her parents and the son. Odesa. 1959-1960

Photo on the right: at the graduation party at the Republican Art School. Early 60's. From the right to the left: Victor Zaretsky with his parents Maria and Ivan and cousin Rimma. Around 1960

Then Alla worked for some time as a teacher at DHSSh on Syrka. The Art Institute is also such a bright point because she met Zaretsky there. These are such important places in Kyiv for Horska and Zaretsky. For some time, Zaretsky's parents lived in Vasylkiv, where she was killed, and Horska often went there. In the memoirs about the day of death, you can read how she went on one trolleybus, on the other trolleybus. (Under unknown circumstances, the artist Alla Horska was killed in Vasilkov on November 28, 1970, by Soviet special services).

If we talk about my grandmother's work, many of her monumental works live in Eastern Ukraine because that's where she had orders. In Kyiv, on the facade of the former Vitryak restaurant in Teremky, there is a mosaic of Horskaya's Wind, which she co-authored with Zaretsky and Plaksiy. The National Museum exhibits a classic work, "Portrait with a Son," and you can find many of her works in the Museum of the Sixties on Gonchar. Yevhen Nikiforov published the book Decommunized: Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics last year, where he collected many photographs of their joint monumental works with Zaretsky. Together with Osnovy Publishing House, they also produced a separate edition of The Art Of Ukrainian Sixties, with a sketch by Horska on the cover. Speaking of the online archive, the Dukat Gallery digitized a lot of material a couple of years ago with grant funds and has its own Horska collection.

Photo on the left: N. Svitlychna and A. Horska, mid-1950s

On the right: Christmas carols in Kyiv, the mid-60s

The creative tandem of artists Horska and Zaretsky was very emotional. According to many friends, Zaretsky was the best artist in the academy, and Horska was the brightest woman and figure. He was more inside himself, and she was more outside. She had a lot of communication with people, he cooked at home, and took more care of the child. He was an oil painter with a huge creative output, he painted every day. He had a different task in life — to express himself through paintings, not through social activities, unlike Alla, who was more involved in people and ideas.

Horska's death immensely saddened my grandfather. During her life, he painted very tender and romantic portraits of Alla. After her death, they had a completely different character — many illuminated with a strange grin.

If I had the opportunity to talk to her…I would be interested in asking her about her childhood, for example, some moments that intersect with me. I would ask her about my father, creativity, her logical conclusions, what leads to it, why she does it, and why she doesn't do it. And then, perhaps, she would just switch to household items, talk about herself and her experiences. I now miss this closeness of family as friends.

Photo on the left: Students at the May Day demonstration in Kyiv. A. Horska in the center. Late 40's.

O the right: Horska is on vacation in Odessa. Late 40's.

It seems to me that if Horska were born now, she would be even more modern. She is an entirely different person. She was a bright woman with a posture that everyone just fell in love with. She had a different feeling of life, freedom, Life was a holiday for her, she passed on her joy to everyone. And during the interrogation, my grandfather was asked: " And why was she embracing someone, and did she betray you or what?". She had freedom with a capital letter, which is not about freedom from the system or the man. She just was free in general. I look at her black and white photos where she is often in pants. Someone wrote in her memoirs that she had such blue electric pants, such super blue. Of course, they were striking, these blue pants. She was a completely different person at the time, living out of the situation.

Photo on the left: Horskay and Zaretsky, Kyiv, mid-1950s

On the right: Horska in Donbass, mid-1950s

Somewhere that's how I imagine it. Everyone tells me that we have similar facial features. Compared to her, I am such a petite girl, she was more significant — tall and strong as a mountain, a rock.

Photo on the left: Alla Horska, mid-60s

On the right: Alla Horska with her husband and friends in the apartment on Repin Street in Kyiv, circa 1965.

Photos of Alla Horska were taken from the book "Alla Horska: Red Shadow of Viburnum", presented to the editorial board of "Humans of Kyiv" by Olena Zaretska.

​​The material was created by:



Khrystyna Kulakovska

Olena Logvynenko


Photographer and Interviewer:

Sofiia Kotovych

Khrystyna Kulakovska, Agatha Gorski


Tonya Smyrnova


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