Pictured: Svytlo founders Mark and Niviena
Words: Conal McGregor (he/him)
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 Mark, a 23 year-old Ukrainian who had moved to the UK from Kyiv in 2016, was understandably distressed. Despite having lived in Glasgow for some time, Mark was still in contact with family members and friends in his home country who faced grave danger as Russian military forces unleashed violence and disruption across Ukraine. Mark describes how in the early stages of the war he felt helpless and disoriented, wondering what he could do to offer meaningful assistance. “Going to a protest and donating online was, of course, important. However, it just felt like I was not making a difference. I wanted to make a direct impact. To see my actions come to life.”
“I didn’t have many ideas of how to help initially. That was the case until last November when Russia started striking power stations in Ukraine. I was seing pictures of cities going into blackouts and hospitals operating without light. I was also talking to my friends and they were telling me that there was no electricity in some neighbourhoods for weeks. At this point I got an idea that we could try to do something to help with this particular problem.”
This urge to offer assistance to Ukrainians gave birth to Svytlo, which Mark founded alongside fellow Ukrainian Niviena who had been involved in shipping aid to Ukraine since the start of the conflict. Svytlo (prounounced ‘sv-eet-lo’ and literally meaning ‘light’ in Ukrainian) is a collective of Glasgow-based individuals with links to Eastern European and post-Soviet countries who have been raising money in order to assist humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Their first event, a jazz night at The Alchemy Experiment, raised enough funds to purchase 40 rechargeable electric lights – a simple but essential solution to the threat posed by power blackouts. Mark explains that this initial success allowed the group to build momentum and expand their ambitions: “From there it just sort of continued – more of my friends and other people joined and started helping and we planned for our next events.”
Since then, Svytlo have hosted a number of imaginative events. February of this year saw a ‘blackout dinner’: a candlelit meal in which guests could simultaneously enjoy some traditional Ukrainian food and music all in the symbolic ‘blackout’ nature experienced by citizens in Ukraine. Then, in March 2023 the group organised their ‘Rave for Ukraine’, which featured a blend of Ukrainian and Glaswesgian performers in order to acknowledge the collective’s relationship with the city in which they are based. The success of these events allowed Svytlo to provide more essential support to Ukrainian citizens. “After those events we donated the proceeds to a campaign by a Scottish paramedic to buy and drive an ambulance to Ukraine. We donated £2500 which is almost the whole cost of the ambulance and he then drove the ambulance back to Niviena’s hometown in Ukraine.”
These fundraising efforts represent the admirable collective will of Svytlo to help alleviate the sufferings of Ukrainian’s whose lives are being torn apart by conflict. However, as the war grinds on, the group is about more than simply raising money to buy humanitarian supplies, as Mark himself is keen to emphasise. “We wanted to do something that would not be just a typical fundraiser which just asks for money. We wanted to do something that would actually give people back some value.” The creative and thoughtful approach with which Svytlo have put together their events means that, independent of their impressive capacity for fundraising, these are important cultural happenings which celebrate and showcase Ukrainian culture at a time when it is under attack. Mark wants Svytlo to help people in Glasgow and around Scotland discover more about Ukraine as a country, and not just a warzone.
“I feel like the creative scene in Ukraine is at a very high level. For example, even before the war the Ukrainian techno scene was probably one of the best in Europe and I know it firsthand. It was definitely on par with places like Germany and Georgia, if maybe slightly more underground. Now I am seeing that there is a lot of great modern design being made in Ukraine and a lot of great music…We would like to just be a mediator which would hopefully let people discover Ukraine and help Ukrainian’s be discovered.”
Despite the continued uncertainty and tragedy of the conflict in Ukraine, Svytlo are determined to build on their success and continue celebrating Ukrainian creatives. The collective will be hosting their ‘INTER::RUPTED’ exhibition at Salt Space Gallery in Glasgow from the 5th to the 11th of July. As well as this, Mark explains that the collective are putting together plans for a second “Rave for Ukraine” event and discussing creating a publication to showcase Ukrainian art, poetry, and writing. “Now we are thinking about how we can grow Svytlo and tell people more about Ukraine – not just about the war. Everyone knows about this, everyone sees the news. We want to tell people the great things about Ukraine because despite how horrific the situation is the country is – we have a lot of great things about our culture.”
Follow @svytlo_ on Instagram to keep up to date with their latest events.