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Ukraine makes appearance at Burning Man festival

by Alexandra Keeler and The Kyiv Independent news desk September 4, 2023 2:16 PM 3 min read
The installation "The Hedgehog Temple" presented by Ukraine's "Kurenivka" team at the Burning Man music and arts festival, on Aug. 27-Sept. 4, 2023, in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, U.S. (Oleksandr Slobodianyk / Kurenivkа)
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Ukraine made an appearance at this year's annual Burning Man music and arts festival, taking place from Aug. 27 to Sept. 4 in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, U.S.

Burning Man is a massive annual counterculture gathering known for its principles of "radical inclusivity and openness."

Traditionally held on the playa of Nevada's Black Rock Desert, it transforms into "a temporary metropolis" dedicated to fostering an inclusive community, celebrating art, promoting self-expression, and emphasizing self-reliance, according to the Burning Man's website. Each year, the festival culminates with attendees igniting a towering wooden effigy.

One Ukrainian installation stood out — a 26-foot-tall, 13-foot-wide wooden structure reminiscent of how sculptures and monuments in Ukrainian cities are shielded from missile attacks. Within this wooden box, an eight-meter-high metal sculpture of a phoenix emerged.

On Aug. 31, the box was symbolically set ablaze, allowing the metal phoenix to rise from the ashes. The phoenix's shape also bears a resemblance to the Ukrainian trident.

Ellen Lopatkina, the lead producer of this project and a Ukrainian American, explained to CNN that the artwork symbolizes "the rebirth of our identity." She added, "The fire, the cleansing, the forging, and the revelation that there was something inside that is not just complete collapse... resonated deeply with people."

Another group of Ukrainian participants, known as the "Kurenivka" team, presented an installation dedicated to fallen soldiers. Named "The Hedgehog Temple," this installation featured a seven-meter-high stainless steel hedgehog composed of anti-tank hedgehogs arranged in the shape of the animal, along with camouflage netting.

This sculpture symbolizes "protection, fear, and strength—emotions that Ukrainians experience daily," as described by artist and photographer Oleksandr Slobodianyk in a Facebook post detailing the event.

Within the central area of the Temple, underneath the hedgehog's belly, an exposition recounted the stories of those who lost their lives while defending Ukraine during Russia's full-scale war. It paid tribute to diverse creatives who may have been part of the festival this year.

Slobodianyk expressed their dual mission, saying, "We have two primary objectives: to remind the world that the war continues and to raise funds for ambulances and evacuations for our defenders."

A QR code was displayed in the Temple for attendees to donate to support their fundraising partner. Collaborating with the Leleka Foundation, a non-profit organization, their joint goal is to raise $1 million to purchase twenty evacuation vehicles, which will aid Ukrainian defenders.

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