Photographer Michael Haritan said he presents his work with the aim of educating those who see it.
“I always had the approach that it was of value to generations to come from a historical perspective, ” said the Peters Township resident and owner of Haritan Photography.
That mission has special urgency as he prepares for “Stand With Ukraine, ” an exhibition opening June 13 at Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley.
Haritan will display photos that were taken in Ukraine, including a series of churches shot during a 2016 visit — which he fears may not be standing today as the Russian assault on the country continues.
Another series from that trip depicts a group of “babas, ” elderly women who refused to leave their homes after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident and still eke out a subsistence living in the exclusion zone, along with a group of boys who were ages 12 to 14 when the photos were taken.
“The babas refused to leave, even at gunpoint. That’s how stoic and stubborn they are, ” Haritan said. “Those boys are now old enough that they’re probably serving in the Ukrainian military. “I call those photos, ‘Who Dies First?’”
Sweetwater Center is showing its solidarity with Ukraine via the exhibition highlighting Ukrainian art and culture, according to exhibition and events coordinator Liana Agnew.
Running through July 22, “Stand With Ukraine” will feature artists of Ukrainian descent from Western Pennsylvania and beyond. Media will include photography, painting, needlework, pysanky eggs and more. In addition to Haritan, featured artists will include Alex Hodowanec, Brenda Zelinsky Musta, Helen Bunting-Hart, Debra Tobin, Katya Greco, Tracey Sally, Olena Abakumova, Natalie Turicik and Iryna Kurylas.
George Honchar of Carnegie, president of the Ukrainian Technological Society of Pittsburgh, helped to solicit artists and organize “Stand With Ukraine, ” Agnew said.
Honchar’s grandparents emigrated from Ukraine, as did his wife, Svitlana. Haritan’s mother was born in Ukraine and his maternal grandfather was a Byzantine Catholic priest. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine after World War I.
Before starting kindergarten, he was cared for by a Ukrainian-speaking grandmother while his parents worked. Haritan said he has retained enough of the language to “express myself very primitively.”
“I learned about Ukraine from both directions. The religious aspect, the values and the prayers were instilled from birth, ” he said. Now 72, Haritan also performed ethnic dances with the Pittsburgh Folk Festival until he was 45 when “my knees told me I better stop.”
“Given the recent events in Ukraine and within our mission as a nonprofit to provide arts and culture for the community, this is an opportunity to advocate for the Ukrainian community and bring people together,” Agnew said.
A free opening reception for the exhibition is planned for 6 to 9 p.m. June 18 in the center at 200 Broad St. Registration is requested, but not required, on the center’s website.
The evening will open with a special performance by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Clarion Quartet, with Marta Krechkovsky and Jennifer Orchard on violin, Tatjana Mead Chamis on viola and Bronwyn Banerdt on cello.
A variety of Ukrainian foods will be served, including pastries, panna cotta, cheesecake and Polish cake made by Svitlana Honchar.
Proceeds from sales of the featured artworks will be donated to the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee Inc. Reception attendees and visitors to the show also will be able to make direct donations to the organization.
Center hours are 9 a.m. t0 5 p.m. weekdays. For information, call 412-741-4405 or visit sweetwaterartcenter.org.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, and help us continue covering the stories that matter to you and your community.