"Dedicate one Instagram story a day to Ukraine" — Daria Kolomiec, a cultural activist who promotes Ukraine in the USA

"Dedicate one Instagram story a day to Ukraine" — Daria Kolomiec, a cultural activist who promotes Ukraine in the USA

February 24, 2024. A charity event is taking place in New York to mark the second year of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. People arrive slowly. They talk, drink wine, buy charity merchandise and make donations for Ukrainian women in the armed forces. Ukrainian music plays in the background. 

Suddenly, the sound of an air raid siren fills the room. The same one people hear every day in a country on the other side of the ocean. And today, everyone is here for that country.

The organiser of the event comes out and says: "My name is Daria. February 24, 2022 began with a phone call from my sister: "The Russians have started a [full-scale] war...". She describes what she went through in Kyiv two years ago and how she began collecting the memories of other Ukrainians.

"I wanted to show how the war invaded our lives. It came suddenly and without warning when someone could have been at a party like us," says Daria Kolomiec. She was known as a TV and radio presenter and DJ in Ukraine. In July 2022, she took a suitcase full of vinyl records with Ukrainian music and flew to New York to speak out about Ukraine.

Promoting Ukraine through personal stories

“I am a Cultural Activist, creator of the Diary of War podcast, DJ, producer, and TIME’s Next Generation Leader for 2022. However, most importantly, I am Ukrainian, and I am proud of it” — this is how Daria Kolomiec introduces herself on her Instagram.  

It is the fifth time Daria has come to the US on her cultural mission. She says personal stories are the most powerful tool for communicating with Americans now.

"The world sees Ukraine as a blurred, sensitive content, and now these photos are mixed with the war in Gaza. Shocking content triggers a reaction of 'I'm so sorry to hear that', and people are looking for a way to end the conversation or change it to something else. They don't know what to say. I would compare that feeling to a funeral."

In 2022, TIME magazine included Daria Kolomiec in its list of Next Generation Leaders for “making sure the world hears Ukrainian stories". Kolomiec collected 41 stories from the beginning of the full-scale war in her podcast Diary of War. There are stories of militaries, volunteers, artists and influencers from different regions of Ukraine.

"Each person just sent me voice messages in messenger: fragmented, unconnected; there could be two or 30 of them, and I edited them into a coherent story on the podcast. At that time, everything was so intense that we didn't have time to think about it, so people shared sincere feelings and words". 

Volunteers from different countries helped to translate and subtitle the diaries into many languages, and they are available on YouTube in sign language. 

Then, on February 24, 2024, at the fundraising event in New York, Polish-American actress Zuzanna Szadkowski, known for her role in the TV series Gossip Girl and her theatre work, read the story of Olena Nikulina, the wife of Maksym Nikulin, a soldier in the Azov Brigade and defender of Mariupol. When Maksym was in the Azovstal plant surrounded by Russians, Olena found out that she was pregnant. She gave birth to a child, but her husband is still in Russian captivity. 

"No one expected this. Everyone came to the fundraising party to listen to Ukrainian music. Zuzanna read this diary and started to cry. Later, she told me that she had performed at many events, but it was the first time she had been listened to like that: it felt like nobody in the room was breathing. And the next day, the actress made a post on her Instagram calling for support for Ukraine," 

says Kolomiec.

Supporting Ukraine is not just about money 

Daria says the war gave her more bravery. She never thought she would be able to come to New York, where she knows almost no one, with a backpack and a suitcase and tell the stories of Ukrainians.

"I wouldn't have been so persistent before, but now I have no choice because I am fighting not for myself but for Ukraine, and we don't have time."

She feels that Americans have forgotten what inspired them when they saw news from Ukraine in 2022. She explains that the US is far away from Ukraine, many people have no connections, relatives or direct contact with Ukrainians, and most importantly, US citizens have shifted their focus to other issues: elections and the war between Israel and Palestine.

"I didn't see any reports in the morning press about the shelling of Odesa (on March 2, 2024, a Russian drone hit a high-rise residential building, killing 12 people — ed.) and the five children killed there." 

Daria faced with the narrative that the USA already supports Ukraine with taxpayer funds. She explains that supporting Ukraine is not just about money: "I  always set an example: I have a Ukrainian badge, a trident (Ukrainian coat of arms — ed.), a cap with the caption 'Stand with Ukraine'. You can wear it, you can hang a flag on tour window. It really matters". 

"Dedicate one [social media] story a day to Ukraine. It can be anything: Ukrainian music, a borscht recipe from [Ukrainian chef Yevhen] Klopotenko, a repost from [former TV presenter] Denys Khrystov evacuating people from war zones, or something about Ukrainian culture." 

Currently, Daria Kolomiec is preparing the performance "Mariupol: Diary of War and the Tree of Life." On March 15-17 and 22-24, the Howl! Arts in New York will host an exhibition of photographs from Mariupol by Pulitzer Prize winners Yevhen Malolietka and Mstyslav Chernov (director of the Oscar-winning “20 Days in Mariupol” documentary — ed.). The exhibition will be accompanied by a performance featuring four war diaries from Mariupol recorded by Kolomiec. 

In her DJ sets, Kolomiec plays music by Ukrainian composer Volodymyr Ivasiuk, who was probably killed by the KGB in the 1980s; in her Instagram posts, she writes about her grandmother's story of the Holodomor (the artificial famine created by the Soviet authorities in 1932-1933 that killed at least three million Ukrainians — ed.); and in theatres, she promotes the work oF Ukrainian theatre director Les Kurbas, who was shot by the Soviet authorities.

"I am sure that every Ukrainian family has suffered from Russia during some period of time. Ukrainians abroad need to spread it and thus return to historical moments."  

Svidomi asked Daria to recommend Ukrainian artists worth listening to. 

Here is her list:

  • Volodymyr Ivasiuk is a composer and performer of the 1970s and one of the founders of Ukrainian estrada music.  
  • STASIK (Anastasiia Shevchenko) is a singer with a folk voice who has been fighting in the Russian-Ukrainian war since 2014. 
  • Stas Korolov writes electronic music. He organised a concert for one of the fundraising campaigns, where he played until he raised one million hryvnias (about $ 26,000). His performance lasted over six hours. 
  • DakhaBrakha is a folk band. "I think they are the greatest ambassadors of Ukraine in the whole 20 years of their existence," says Daria Kolomiec. 
  • ShchukaRyba is a folk band that popularises traditional Ukrainian music.
  • Polyvoda is an English-speaking band that combines hip-hop, funk and neo-soul in its music. 
  • Andrii Barmalii is a saxophonist who has performed with many Ukrainian singers. He released his debut solo album in 2023. 
  • Balaklava Blues is a band of ethnic Ukrainians living in Canada who play folk, electronica and hip-hop. "This couple, Marko and Marichka, met on the Maidan. Their music is fantastic. I performed with them, and together we collected money for a car [for the army]."  
  • Krapka;KOMA is an indie music duo.
  • Pokaz Trio is a jazz band.

"Ukrainian music is very diverse: it includes jazz, electronica and experimental music. We speak and sing English very well, and we need to show it."