The war in Ukraine, which has been lasting for over a month, has united its people and encouraged everyone to do their best in the name of victory. Today, thanks to the power of art, creators are able to communicate extremely important messages to people around the world. They spread the truth about how events are escalating in Ukraine, as well as translate their feelings through artworks.
We reached out to Ukrainian artists who continue creating and illustrating the Russian aggression and heroic resistance of Ukraine. We have asked how their lives have changed since the beginning of the full-scale war, where they find inspiration, what messages they spread, and how they see the role of creators today.
Anna Sarvira (@anna.sarvira)
Since February 24, I’ve been living in a parallel reality, where there’s almost nothing left from what I had; the things I used to dream of became absolutely unimportant. I’ve lost my job; I’ve lost the possibility to see my family and friends – almost all of my means of support have disappeared. What’s really become important is my nearest and dearest; however, I am not even able to hug them. Instead, I ask them if they are safe every single day.
The two strongest feelings, fear and hatred, are emotions I never fully experienced until the beginning of the war.
Now, I am abroad, and I try to help as much as I can: together with the Pictoric club, we arrange illustration exhibitions about the war in Ukraine, and try to raise funds in support of Ukraine. There’s always a feeling of it not being enough, but in cases like this, I give myself a slap in the face; now is not the time to wallow.
Actually, during the first week of the war, I wasn’t even able to pull anything out of myself. It seemed like drawing was the most useless thing in the world. Then, I pulled myself together. After the first days of incomprehension and the inability to believe in this new Z-world, I was full of rage. Now, the rage fuels my work. There’s no inspiration here, but instead, there is horrible news and self-reflection, which awakens a desire to show the real face of Russia to the whole world.
My audience is generally from abroad. I try to explain things that are easily understandable for Ukrainians: about Russia, Putin, and the people who support all of this. Or why surrendering in this war is not an option for Ukraine (and in fact, for the whole world). I am sure it’s important. We also don’t often know the whole political and historical context in other countries. That’s why you have to explain. And usually, I write a caption for an illustration in English, although I don’t consider myself a blogger or a writer.
The rage that fuels my work. There’s no inspiration here, but instead, there is horrible news and self-reflection, which awakens a desire to show the real face of Russia to the whole world.
The role of creators today is to be loud, understandable, and very concise. Some messages are easier to communicate through the symbolism of art. Also, it’s important to choose which audience you work for and what message you’re sharing. For instance, I just don’t understand illustrations with doves of peace and hearts; “peace in Ukraine” in the minds of Ukrainians and foreigners may differ greatly. I mean – the terms on which this peace will come.
Here’s a joke: I think my most powerful illustration is the Dove of Peace. The crucified dove tied up with the Russian flag and the Z letter cut out on its chest. This is what Russian “peace” looks like. I drew this illustration after several foreigners asked me why Ukraine wouldn’t surrender, given that it would save many lives. I had to tell them how things are going in Russia with human rights, what they do with captives, and those who are against the regime and stand for the right of freedom. And that for Ukraine, to capitulate would mean to eliminate all those who are against Russia. It would mean torture and death, the destruction of the Ukrainian nation, identity, and language. The dove of peace in Russia’s hands looks exactly like this: it is dead.
Maria Kinovich (@marikinoo)
I guess, no words are able to convey how radically the war has changed my life. Nobody prepared us for such events, it’s impossible to prepare for it. For me, this whole situation resembles a fallen meteorite, and a total loss of faith and justice. I had to leave my home, leave my normal life. But the most difficult thing is what’s happening to the whole country: how pitilessly they erase entire cities, how they massacre civilians. This is beyond my comprehension, and I still cannot believe it’s happening to us.
The main role of artists today is to work for the benefit of Ukraine in the information battlefield. Our pictures have great power: they raise important topics and are able to change someone’s opinion.
I feel that my job is to keep creating. Now, many people experience things that nobody deserves to. And for their sake, I must not stop. I have plenty of rage inside of me, and it pushes me forward.
Illustration for The New Statesman
All my works are very personal, I am able to only draw things that I have experienced myself. But in this information war, I have deliberately decided to focus on showing how brave and strong Ukrainian people are. Another important message to spread is that we can’t stay safe. Many wonderful people from other countries are always sharing words about safety. And I always try to emphasize that this is not possible in Ukraine right now. I understand, it’s hard to comprehend, but it’s exactly this safety that was taken away from all of us. That’s why it’s better to send “stay strong” messages to Ukrainians, instead of “stay safe”.
The main role of artists today is to work for the benefit of Ukraine on the information battlefield. Our pictures have great power: they raise important topics and are able to change someone’s opinion. And only we can really tell the world what it’s like – to live through war, and what it’s like to be Ukrainian. Moreover, the world’s attention is now focused on us, so we can really speak up about the things that have been causing so much pain throughout our history.
Part of the comic strip for The Economist
I have one work that proved to be the most difficult for me. It’s an illustration for The New Statesman. It’s about how we were leaving Kyiv. I had various fancy dreams about living/working somewhere else, but I never wanted to be a refugee. I made it on the sixth day of the war.
Also, there was an important work for The Economist. I was worried about managing to make a comic strip, since I rarely work in this genre. But I incorporated three of the most precious ideas I have now: that I’m trying, but still can’t understand how to live with the war; that in Ukraine, there is no safe place; and that I hope we will win and rebuild everything that was ruined.
Zukentiy Gorobyov (@zukentiy.gorobyov)
My life changed back then in 2014, after the Lugansk occupation; I come from there and am still registered as a resident. To be honest, I anticipated a full-scale invasion, but was still shocked by it. It’s impossible to get ready for such events.
I think that the Armed and Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine put in all of their effort for our country, but the situation requires maximum help from everyone. It seems to me that the intellectual battlefield is no less important. Everyone sees our fight; information helps us demonstrate the consolidation of our society when it comes to confronting the aggressor. I cherish the hope that my visual works support other people, inspiring them to further fight and resist.
Everyone must do what they can now. Some artists have gone to defend our land, some are volunteering, and some are creating supportive posters.
I have two types of messages: the first one is intellectual (related to the schizophrenia of the Kremlin propaganda and slogans produced by Russian propagandists, politics, and diplomats). The second one has an aggressive connotation concerning the war. The enemy has to realize that on this land, they will get nothing but defeat (moral and physical).
Everyone must do what they can now. Some artists have gone to defend our land, some are volunteering, some are creating supportive posters, and some are still shocked and unable to do anything. There’s no correct answer. But in my opinion, it’s important to continue your artistic practices whether they are about the war, or just a general pattern in your creative work. The key point is to not stop and not be lost in a mental block. Now, the main role of art is still the development of our cultural identity, but it has to be as colorful as possible.
A while back, in a Buddhist lecture, I heard that the deadliest evil cannot exist: it will destroy itself. That’s how I came up with the idea for my poster: kremlin-crocodile that destroys itself. A long time ago I decided to draw a Ukrainian superhero. I made several sketches, but did not get around to finishing them. After the beginning of the war, I started to look through them. I realized that it was time to turn my sketches into posters. And I did.
During the first week, I couldn’t do anything or even think normally. I was only checking the news and constantly crying from the photos I’d seen. From February 24 to present day (March 16), I’ve been living in a fog. It’s hard to see my country suffer so much.
Before the war, I always had a paintbrush or stylus in my hands. Since the invasion, it’s been hard for me to draw or paint; I wasn’t able to create anything for days, especially with paints. For me, paint is tactile; it feels me, and I feel it. That’s why I love to paint with my fingers.
Since the beginning of the war, paint has been keeping itself away from me. I will make my first painting as soon as this horrible war comes to an end. I believe that it won’t be long now. I’ve pulled myself together and started to draw Ukrainian women using a tablet, because I have read so much information about strong women helping on the home front or fighting together with men in the Armed forces of Ukraine.
I dedicate my illustrations to strong women who are helping on the home front and praying for their men on the battlefield; those who are defending their and our Ukraine.
A woman is often compared to a weaker nature. But in fact, this is far from true; behind the tender shoulders of a woman hides great power. The power of love, warmth, patience, and wisdom. In the “My Ukrainian women” series, I don’t show any faces (since very often, a woman is perceived based on her appearance, and that’s disgraceful). However, we are still able to read their emotions very well. That’s why I dedicate my illustrations to strong women who are helping on the home front and praying for their men on the battlefield; those who are defending their and our Ukraine.
Nowadays, the role of an artist is really big. First, every artist records our history the way they feel and see it themselves. It’s like a photo of a ruined city, only your own one – inside yourself. Second, by selling their creations, many artists help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Third, over the course of the war, there was a trend on social media (I’ve seen it personally) to share illustrations that really touch people. In my opinion, it promotes appreciation for art and spiritual riches in people.
This is the first work from my “My Ukrainian women” series. It reminds me of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer, although this was not planned. After finishing it, I looked at it and bursted into tears; it had kind of unleashed my pain. I didn’t show her face, but I can see it.
Part two of the article is here.
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