Basement at Bunyan to host exhibition of Ukrainian embroidery

Embroidered map of Ukraine. Image: Daria Bilan
Embroidered map of Ukraine. Image: Daria Bilan

This April, the Basement at Bunyan (Mill Street) will host an exhibition of Ukrainian embroidery, inspired by a woman who emigrated to the UK in 1966.

The exhibition, which runs from 17 April – 11 May, has been curated by Daria Bilan in memory of her mother, Stefania Bilan, nee Kolesar.

It features the work of eight contributors, six of whom answered a call through a Bedford social group for people to embroider the map of Ukraine, as well as over 100 pieces from Stefania’s own collection.

“Some she embroidered herself, some were presents from my dad’s family in Ukraine, some were bought or presents from other people,” Daria told the Bedford Clanger.

Stefania was born in Ukraine, but after her village was burnt to the ground during WWII they were forced to move to northern Poland.

Stefania Bilan in 1988. Image: Daria Bilan
Stefania Bilan in 1988. Image: Daria Bilan

“My dad got to know my mum through corresponding with her when she was in Poland and she came over to England in 1966,” said Daria.

“I was born in London and moved to Bedford around 17 years ago. When I moved to Bedford there was still a small Ukrainian community – a Ukrainian Catholic Church where I was the cantor and a social club. The church and social club were closed down as there weren’t enough people to sustain them.”

Daria says that since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022, there are now over 400 Ukrainians in or around Bedford and she hopes they can rebuild the community space again.

In the meantime, she has created some ‘virtual’ space on a new website, to begin to organise some community events – the first of which is the exhibition.

“The idea for the exhibition came to me in February 2023, after commemorating the one year anniversary of Ukraine’s invasion,” said Daria.

“I lent Rev. Erik Lomax (Bidenham) some embroideries for the church to be used during the commemoration. He showed them to his parishioners the following day and after he said that, I thought that maybe more than a handful of people from Biddenham should see my mum’s embroidery collection.”

For the exhibition, the Organisation of Ukrainian Women has lent some embroideries, as well as Daria’s friends and people who have heard about the project contributing antique costumes, antique head scarves and pysanky.

“My relationship with my mum was difficult but her hard work deserves respect – she worked, did everything around the house and had time to embroider dresses, blouses and decorative items for the home,” said Daria.

“In doing so, she carried on her culture, even though in Poland she grew up in a foreign country and environment.”

To find out more about the Ukrainian Culture Club and to get involved in future events, email

Ukrainian Folk Art Exhibition, Basement Gallery, John Bunyan Museum, Mill Street, Bedford. MK40 3EU
17 April – 11 May 2024 @ 12pm – 4pm Wednesday – Saturday

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