The Ninth Fort Museum's monument commemorating Holocaust victims in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Franz-Marc Frei—Getty Images

Rarely has art been so pertinent to real life. When Lithuania’s second city kicked off its E.U. Capital of Culture program in January, it looked like an underrated destination getting some time in the spotlight. But then Russia invaded Ukraine, and suddenly Kaunas’ shining moment seemed frighteningly timely.

The yearlong cultural program explores the city’s turbulent history—under Nazi occupation in World War II, and later as an unwilling part of the Soviet Union—through exhibitions by the likes of Marina Abramovic, William Kentridge, and Yoko Ono.

Kaunas has turned that spotlight onto current events with its innovative CulturEUkraine initiative, which provides a space—in the former Central Post Office, a historic city landmark—for Ukrainian artists and entrepreneurs to create new projects and kick-start new businesses, including an artist-in-­residence program. Stay at the superhip and modern Moxy Kaunas Center, which opened in the run-up to Capital of Culture just 500 yards from the Central Post Office.

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