fbpx Skip to main content

2023 Havel Prize Laureates are from Nicaragua, Uganda, and Ukraine

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent: Nicaraguan political cartoonist Pedro X. Molina; Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija; and the third prize to be shared by four Ukrainian artists: the late conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko; the “Art Residency in Occupation” project; the illustrator Mariia Loniuk; and the “Stand Up for Ukraine” performance project.

“In the face of oppression and stifling silence, this year’s laureates have chosen to speak the unspoken, echoing Václav Havel’s creativity and courageous spirit,” said HRF Chief Executive Officer Thor Halvorssen.

This year’s laureates will be recognized during a ceremony on Wednesday, June 14, at the 2023 Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) in Oslo, Norway. The Havel Prize ceremony will also be broadcast live at oslofreedomforum.com.


Molina is a Nicaraguan political cartoonist who was forced into exile on Christmas Day 2018 after Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega’s political police killed a journalist, jailed two others, and ransacked the offices of El Confidencial — the digital newspaper that featured Molina’s biting caricatures of Ortega and his tyranny. Molina published his first two cartoons in Barricada in 1995, later becoming a cartoonist for the digital outlet El Confidencial. In 2019, he received the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, awarded by Columbia University. The same year he was recognized by Americas Quarterly as one of its Top 5 Latin American political humorists.


Rukirabashaija is a prominent Ugandan novelist recognized by English PEN in 2021 as a Writer of Courage and a fierce critic of the dictatorship of Yoweri Museveni. He has shown exceptional courage and defiance despite being imprisoned and tortured three times since 2020 for his irreverent writing and books, including “The Greedy Barbarian,” a satirical political fiction novel about corruption and dictatorship in a fictitious African country, and “Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous,” an account of the torture he was subjected to while in detention in 2020 for the publication of his first book. In late December 2021, Rukirabashaija was kidnapped from his home and taken to an army base, where he was illegally detained for one month because of his tweets criticizing Museveni and his son.  Rukirabashaija was so severely tortured that he was released only on medical grounds. He was charged with “offensive communication” under Uganda’s repressive Computer Misuse Act. In February 2022, Rukirabashaija managed to flee to Germany for medical treatment, and he vowed to return to Uganda to face trial after his medical treatment.


Kerpatenko was a renowned Ukrainian musician and principal conductor of the Kherson Regional Philharmonic. In October 2022, Russian troops assassinated Kerpatenko in his home at point-blank range after he refused to conduct a concert under the rule of Russian invading forces in Kherson, Ukraine. The concert was meant to portray an “improvement of peaceful life” in the occupied city, but Kerpatenko “categorically refused to cooperate with the occupants,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy later confirmed. Kerpatenko led his hometown’s orchestra for more than  20 years before he was murdered. The Havel Prize will be presented posthumously to Kerpatenko for his courageous stance against the Russian forces’ repeated attempts at “artwashing” their illegal occupation of Ukraine.


Art Residency in Occupation is an underground art society created by curator Yuliia Manukian. During the occupation of Kherson, Ukraine, six resident artists secretly met in a basement studio at the initiative of Manukian to produce works that showcase the death and destruction in the southern city of Kherson, offering viewers an opportunity to understand the scope of the war. Through this residency, Manukian sought to provide shelter for artists and gave them the opportunity to tell stories of war through the language of art. While written journalism can distance an outsider from the reality of current life in Ukraine, Manukian believes that the group’s collection of drawings, paintings, photographs, diary entries, and videos convey the raw truth.

The Havel Prize will be presented to Manukian on behalf of the collective of artists who bravely united in wartime to create dozens of works that creatively document the horrors endured by millions of Ukrainians living under the Russian invasion.

Manukian is a curator, art critic, and journalist based in Odessa, Ukraine. She was shortlisted in the British Journalism Awards’ foreign affairs category for her vital, courageous, and deeply moving Kherson diaries for The Observer.


Loniuk is a Ukrainian freelance artist specializing in digital art. Since Vladimir Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Loniuk has created vivid and touching illustrations about the war, conveying the feelings and images Ukrainians face. Her drawings capture the devastation of cities, homes, and human lives, the ubiquity of death and suffering, and the war’s destruction. Despite this, her illustrations also highlight the tremendous bravery and determination of the Ukrainian army and the courage and solidarity of the Ukrainian people as they defend their freedom.


Stand Up for Ukraine is a project that brings people together through the universal language of music, reminding us that art has the ability to transcend boundaries, challenge oppressive ideologies, and ignite a collective spirit of solidarity. The performance project, curated by Neringa Rekašiūtė, Eglė Plytnikaitė, and Elvina Nevardauskaitė, seeks to spark hope and empowerment and encourage people to stand united against a totalitarian regime that undermines human dignity. It consists of a live performance where the 22-year-old Ukrainian singer, Elizaveta Izmalkova, is joined by passersby singing along to the folk song, “Chervona Kalyna” — a symbol of Ukrainian resilience and freedom. Stand Up For Ukraine took the internet by storm, capturing the attention of more than five million viewers worldwide. The project serves as a call to action, urging people to set aside differences and come together in support of Ukraine.

Izmalkova is a 22-year-old Ukrainian singer based in Vilnius, Lithuania. She was born in the city of Pervomaisk in the Luhansk region. In her lifetime, Izmalkova’s family home in Ukraine was destroyed twice by Russian forces, first when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and once again in early 2023.

The Havel Prize is named after the late Czech president, poet, playwright, dissident, statesman, and former HRF chairman, Václav Havel. Havel led the nonviolent revolution that freed Czechoslovakia from Communist rule, creatively challenging arbitrary power and injustice in his country.

HRF launched the Havel Prize in 2012 with the support of Dagmar Havlová, Havel’s widow. Laureates receive a bronze sculpture depicting the “Goddess of Democracy,” the iconic figure erected by Chinese students during the Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989.

Previous laureates include Iranian artist project PaykanArtCar, the late Rwandan gospel musician and activist Kizito Mihigo, Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, South Sudanese activist and musician Emmanuel Jal, the Belarus Free Theatre, Cuban civil society group the Ladies in White, and Thai band Rap Against Dictatorship.