With a war going on in Ukraine, it seemed frivolous to run a spring arts preview without recognizing the courage and culture of the Ukrainian people. We spoke to Georgetowner Alla Rogers, as she is Ukrainian, speaks both Ukrainian and Russian and has visited the countries more times than she can count. She suggested artist Maria Primachenko’s painting to be on the cover, whose art is currently trying to be saved by Ukrainians as Russians bomb their cultural institutions. Tying into our spring arts preview, the question begs to be asked—what would we do if our arts institutions were under attack? Of course, lives are the top priority but how would we get the countless artifacts to safety?
Ukraine is on everyone’s mind right now and one Georgetowner of Ukrainian descent, local art dealer and self-professed “international cultural exchange person,” Alla Rogers, has been drawn acutely into the subject. Since 1972, Rogers has lived in the same house in Georgetown on 30th Street NW. In light of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, The Georgetowner spoke with Rogers about her background and views on the subject.
Rogers’ parents Volodymyr and Halyna Bilajiw were born in Ukraine and survived capture by Nazi occupiers following the 1941 German invasion. Rogers was born in Germany and later emigrated to Australia, where she spent her early childhood. Her parents and she eventually sailed from Australia to the United States, settling in Philadelphia with just $15 to their name.
“We had Ukrainian sponsors who took us in and gave us a place to live until my parents’ got jobs,” Rogers said. “I would say I grew up in a real diasporic community in Philly — we went to Ukrainian church, and I attended Ukrainian school all day on Saturdays to learn the language properly.”
Decades ago, Rogers’s father was part of a provisional government formed so if Ukraine ever proclaimed independence, it would have a government in waiting. He was named Poet Laureate of Ukraine and was Chief of Voice of America Ukraine, starting with the collapse of the Soviet Union until he retired. Rogers’ mother spent 30 years as an engineer designing highways for the state of Pennsylvania. “She was in a male-dominated profession,” Rogers said. “That in itself is a subject, how she managed to work, raise a child, adapt to a new culture and language and within one generation have a child educated.”
Everything Rogers’ parents achieved could not have been possible in the Soviet Union, she added.
Eventually, Rogers — who is fluent in both Ukrainian and Russian — got a job at the Slavic division of the U.S. Library of Congress. Soon after, she landed a job at George Washington University in their Russian studies graduate program as she worked toward a Master’s in Russian Language and Literature. There she met Warren Rogers, a military and foreign affairs correspondent. The two became friends (despite a 25-year age difference) and eventually married. “Warren took me into the heart of Washington life,” Rogers said. “He reported on a high level, directly to President Johnson on coverage of stories in Vietnam.”
The two were married 30 years until Warren passed away at age 81 from cancer.
According to Rogers, her professional life was determined by her “Ukrainian-ness.” In 1990, she opened an art gallery in Georgetown. She saw interest in the Soviet Union and had an idea — wouldn’t it be interesting to show the art of artists who grew up in the Soviet system and track how their art changed once they came to a free society? As Rogers was reflecting on the idea, the Soviet Union collapsed. She had already opened her gallery, so she was able immediately to begin work on the concept. Ukraine’s artists became a big part of the program. “It was something the American public was really interested in and responded to,” Rogers said.
An artist Rogers mentioned is the woman behind our cover, Maria Primachenko, one of Ukraine’s greatest naïve painters specializing in Ukrainian life, ethnic traditions, and fantasy creatures, all based on Ukraine’s decorative patterns. “Her work is filled with such joy of life and fantasy,” Rogers said. “The Russians are trying to destroy [this] in a sense of a cultural genocide of Ukraine.”
According to Rogers, the Russians have a history of stealing patrimony from Ukrainian museums. They’ve looted many priceless objects, absconding them back to St. Petersburg or Moscow. “It’s a part of their strategy, to deny Ukraine has a culture or is even a nation,” she added.
Rogers feels no one in Ukraine was surprised when Putin decided to move in. The shock was more at the indiscriminate level of punishment he’s unleashing. “This isn’t war, this is the punishment of the Ukrainian people,” Rogers said. Putin expected to go into the Ukraine without a fight. “Anyone who knows the people of Ukraine knows that’s never going to happen,” Rogers added. “Ukrainians have had enough, suffered enough and are in a live-free-or-die frame of mind.” If you bring someone to that point, they’ve got nothing to lose. And that’s a dangerous opponent to have, so that’s why we’re seeing such a degree of heroism and patriotism in Ukraine, Rogers added.
Rogers is currently working with a friend who teaches at GWU. She’s hoping to reach out to Chef José Andres’s food and social issues course at the university and discuss grassroots initiatives to help Ukraine that students might embrace. “Ukraine will need to feed 40 million people for a long time,” Rogers said.
Organizations Providing Aid to Ukraine:
March 21, Moon Rabbit, 6:30 p.m.
Some of the biggest names in the D.C. dining community are coming together in support of Ukraine.
Dacha Beer Garden is raising money for organizations aiding Ukraine (like UNICEF). On Sundays, $3 from every Pilsner bought will go toward Ukrainian war efforts.
Every day, join the nonprofit United Help Ukraine, Inc. standing in front of the White House to show support for Ukraine.
Over a dozen D.C. chefs have united to support their fellow chef José Andres and World Central Kitchen. They created “Belly Full,” a two-day pizza party to help feed Ukrainian refugees along the borders. One-hundred percent of the proceeds of the event (March 12 and 13, 804 V. St. NW) will go toward getting food to Ukrainian refugees.
National Public Radio (NPR) has put together an extensive list on where to donate to help Ukrainians.