‘War Up Close’ VR exhibition allows viewers to experience the before and after of Ukrainian cities devastated by Russian forces, shedding light on the deliberate targeting of civilian life and cultural destruction.
A groundbreaking virtual reality (VR) exhibition titled ‘War Up Close’ is bringing the harrowing reality of Russia’s war on Ukraine to audiences around the world. Created by Oleksii Syvak, a communications expert, and Yuliia Matiash, a digital design expert, the exhibition utilizes AI technology and 3D goggles to immerse viewers in the ‘before and after’ scenes of regions in Ukraine that fell under Russian occupation in 2022. The project aims to showcase the deliberate targeting of civilian life by Russian forces and gather evidence for war crime prosecution while providing a unique and impactful experience for viewers.
From Tourism Promotion to Reality Check: The Genesis of ‘War Up Close’
Before the full-scale invasion, Matiash and Syvak were collaborating on a VR tourism promotion for Ukraine. They had recorded extensive digital footage of Ukrainian cities and towns akin to Google Street View. However, after Russian occupation and subsequent Ukrainian liberation, they realized the potential of comparing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ footage to highlight the devastating impact of the war. With the support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they quickly collected post-occupation material to create the immersive experience.
A Confronting Experience: Walking Through the Ruins
Thousands of people, including politicians and members of the public, have donned the VR goggles and walked through the digital rubble of Ukraine’s churches, schools, and museums. The exhibition provides a firsthand view of the destruction caused by Russian forces, allowing viewers to witness the details and aftermath without any filter. This direct experience has a profound emotional impact, prompting individuals to consider their responsibility and role in the face of Russia’s ethnocidal actions against Ukrainians.
Awakening Empathy and Responsibility
The ‘War Up Close’ exhibition goes beyond presenting the war through a journalist’s lens. By immersing viewers in the ruins and destruction, it sparks empathy and encourages self-reflection. Viewers are prompted to question their relationship to the destruction and contemplate their responsibility in addressing the ongoing conflict. The exhibition aims to stimulate conversations around social responsibility and the importance of supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression.
A Personal Connection: Stories of Trauma and Loss
At the opening of the exhibition in Sydney, Yuliia Matiash shared her personal experience of the war, having fled her small town outside Kyiv with her family under Russian fire. Her firsthand account adds a human dimension to the exhibition, highlighting the sudden and life-altering contrast experienced by many Ukrainians. Visitors, including high school student Tayissa O’Keefe and digital cultures lecturer Dr. Olga Boichak, expressed the power of the exhibition in providing an original and immersive perspective on the war.
Looking Towards the Future: Rebuilding and Renewal
The exhibition not only showcases the destruction but also prompts viewers to consider the future of these devastated areas. The immersive nature of VR allows individuals to envision what these spaces could become and inspires discussions about rebuilding and restoring beauty to these once-thriving locations. By engaging with the exhibition, viewers are encouraged to take action and support Ukraine in its journey towards recovery and renewal.
The ‘War Up Close’ virtual reality exhibition offers a unique and impactful way to understand the devastating impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine. By immersing viewers in the before and after scenes of cities and towns, it brings to light the deliberate targeting of civilian life and the destruction of cultural heritage. The exhibition serves as a powerful tool for raising awareness, fostering empathy, and inspiring action. As the exhibition travels to Washington DC and the US Congress, it presents an opportunity for American lawmakers to confront the reality of the war and make informed decisions regarding their country’s support for Ukraine’s defense. Through the ‘War Up Close’ exhibition, the world is given a glimpse into the resilience and strength of the Ukrainian people in the face of adversity.