Sunny Marigold — this is the name given to sculptor Vasyl Ryzhuk from Lutsk. The artist does a rather unusual thing — all on his own, he plants flowers along the roadsides of his hometown. In 20 years, Vasyl has managed to plant flowers along 600 kilometers of motorways. He is convinced that global changes start from small actions. And with the help of sunflowers and marigolds, he encourages people towards changes in the country.
Vasyl calls his community-based art initiative a “blossoming flag of Ukraine”. He considers his activity auxiliary but, at this moment, highly important. When he started landscaping the roadsides, the roads were in a very poor state, with huge weeds on both sides. Therefore, Vasyl wanted to first do what he could by himself, and only then demand changes from the government.
— I am an artist, and for this reason I have now actually changed paint to flowers. Because everyone says, “Let Ukraine be blooming”, but for some reason not everybody wants to do anything about it. If everyone did just a tiny bit and took it more seriously, then we could have changed Ukraine literally in half a year, I am sure.
Neighbours saw that Vasyl was doing a good thing and gave some of the areas adjoining their high-rise buildings for sowing. Not only does Vasyl plant young plants along the roadsides, but also he gives them as presents to people from different parts of Ukraine:
— Recently I have sent some towards Crimea, to Kherson oblast. There people had asked me, when I was on holiday, and I have sent them decorative sunflowers and marigolds. I will continue working on the roads, because now is the planting season: the rain has started, the soil is wet, and the seeds are well received.
The artist starts his day at four or five o’clock in the morning. As soon as the day starts dawning, Vasyl is already on the road. There he prepares a plot, removes the weeds, digs the soil, and sows the seeds. For one of such journeys, he spends 300-400 hryvnias on fuel. Vasyl has two friends who sometimes help him plant the roadsides after work.
The people who drive by usually stop — some give money, others offer help, some just say thank you:
— Here and now patriots of Ukraine, scientists, and famous people emerge. But, unfortunately, the heart aches when they leave to different corners of the world, change their professions, look for a job in order to earn money. Many of them still long for Ukraine and still want to go back. And many of them will not come back — they will stay there. This is why we have to make changes here. Nobody will do this for us, today more than ever. We can talk a lot, and people do talk and show a lot. And when there’s an actual matter ask “What have you done for your people? For your country?”, when you want to have something from it.
The sculptor chose flowers because he considers them a manifestation of love. And of the flowers, he chose sunflowers and marigolds because their blossoming period is the longest and they represent some of the flower symbols of Ukraine. With his movement, Vasyl is trying to convey that the world needs more humanity, more beauty, and more love for one another.
— The past is not going to come back, do you understand? But we can lose the present. This is what people have to understand. Many mistakes have been made. And the further we are from those events that are happening, the more they can be regulated in different ways. He or she does whatever he or she wants. I have travelled around the world, half of the world, so to say, I have travelled across. I have spoken with many people of different nationalities. And among normal people, no one wants a war, nobody wants to kill anyone. Everyone wants to live a better life, to make friends, to connect with other people.
Vasyl says that he would want some support from the government for his initiative and initiatives similar to his own. After all, there are so many ideas and so many people who are ready to do something but don’t have any resources. Nevertheless, Vasyl understands that everything happens step by step and notes some positive changes:
— You see, already we are driving on the road, and it is already done — the concrete is placed, there are 30 or 40 centimeters of asphalt, the technology is already more or less the way it should be. But it is so slow, you know, it is all done so slowly, slowly, in small parts. But I used to tell myself if even one kilometer of the roads in Ukraine were done as in Europe, then it would already be a small step that would suggest that we already are developing and standing stronger on our feet, like a small child. You understand, not everything at once.
Every day Vasyl works for about four hours, and after physical work he lacks energy for arts, since sculpturing also requires significant effort. Some people don’t understand this man — they say planting flowers is not a “manly job”, since it doesn’t bring any income. Nevertheless, the artist doesn’t stop, because he knows that for many, he sets an example. Children from a local school even ask Vasyl to teach them flowering as one of the school subjects:
— One girl said to me, “How great it would be if at our school you were teaching flower gardening. And taught us how you do it. Will you think about that?” And it even got me thinking, that this is a little child and she already gives me such a great idea. It is said by some that the young generation these days is bad. No, they are not bad. They are good and kind — it is just that some people need to be worked with. The seeds have not sprouted, but the weeds are there. And if you don’t take care of them in time, there will be no flowers.
Vasyl feels great support and gratitude from people who take admiration in his work. He says that when the roadsides start blooming with flowers, to him it is not only a source of beauty but also of inspiration. Looking at the results of his work, this man realises that everything lies in our hands:
— And to blame today the president, the government — saying that they are bad? Yes, there are a lot of problems there, a lot of problems. But we also must not forget about ourselves. What about us — what are we like? We must change. And each one of us must change. Do you understand? And only then — when we change to one another, improve our relationships — the country will be strong. And in any other case, it won’t be. Because people do nothing and complain, “Ahh, life is so bad, so bad”. And they go on like that for their whole lives, and then their life ends.
Samosads of Kyiv
Decorating the roadsides with flowers is a widespread practice in Europe, since most of the European Union countries pay substantial attention to landscape design. In Ukraine, similar practices are only starting to take roots, mostly because of the activities of enthusiasts such as Vasyl Ryzhuk.
Active citizens don’t wait for help from the government — they organise themselves, sometimes unite into community-based organisations, and start changing their space on their own. For example, in 2014 Kyiv’s residents transformed a dumpster into a small park by themselves. During the Revolution of Dignity, the volunteers took the trash away, flattened the land plot, planted trees and flowers, created a community yard, and built a children’s playground. This is how the Heavenly Hundred park came into existence. Now it is home to various open-air cultural events.
In 2015, a group of activists transformed a waste ground into a garden — a samosad — in the Podil area of Kyiv. Mindful people cleaned the territory, planted flowers, put up hammocks, set up swings and benches, and all of this was from their own funds. Ever since then, they constantly improve the garden space.
SamosadA garden created by the initiative of local people.
The subject of unification is also close to Vasyl. One of his monumental works is a composition “Embrace, my brethren, I pray, I beseech you” on the facade of the Volyn Taras Shevchenko Music and Drama Theater, located in the town center of Lutsk. It is a bas-relief of Taras Shevchenko, under which Kobzar’s appeal and guidance is engraved. There are always a lot of people in this area, and the artist is happy that such important words are always on sight:
— If only we could all hug one another, then all urgent questions that appear in life we would then be able to solve. However, until this day, there is no unity, there are so many differences, do you understand? And this is the reason why there are no positive results that we could have already had today. But I think that the young generation is clever — they will bond. And these words, carved on this architectural sculptural composition — “Embrace, my brethren, I pray, I beseech you” — will apply. And we will build a new Ukraine, a flowering Ukraine. It will blossom, absolutely it will.
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