The full-scale Russian invasion has dramatically changed the lives of Ukrainians, and those who were in a vulnerable position before the war, now have become even more vulnerable. Artists always feel changes more sharply than others, and can formulate meanings where others are just beginning to pick up words. Zaborona asked Ukrainian artists to share their views on the war and how their practices have changed under the impact of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
If you are an artist and need help, we recommend you to contact the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund, established by Zaborona Media CO, Museum of Contemporary Art CO, The Naked Room Gallery and Mystetskyi Arsenal. Independent artists, curators and cultural workers of Ukraine have the right to live, be safe and continue their professional activities.
Oleksiy Sai / Kyiv
Artist, founder of the Exel-Art method
I was supposed to open an exhibition at the Voloshyn Gallery on February 24th. It was a series of works in which, starting from the winter of 2014, I destroyed paintings and turned them into kind of landscapes, distorted by the traces of the bombing. We were ready for the opening, but then we entered the gallery as a bomb shelter and stayed there with other artists and families for the first few days of the invasion.
So far, I have decided to benefit from my work as a propagandist rather than as an artist. And then time will tell.
Anton Selleshiy / Lviv
Artist, visual designer
I remember the phrase that my friend said to me on the morning of February 24: “Anton, they are bombing airfields…” I pulled the blanket over my head in response. We have a f**king sense of humor; I thought she was just joking…
I really miss my relatives, whom I persuaded to go abroad. I’m really terribly scared. Living in Lviv, I sometimes feel guilty for being alive, for not being in Irpin, Bucha, Kharkiv. I draw for myself, and I see it more as helplessness and obsessive-compulsive disorder than as a conscious attempt to express something.
I have been living in Lviv for ten years now. This is relatively far from the front line. I make my drawings from other people’s photos and screenshots from TV broadcasts. In the first days of the war, it was impossible to let go of the phone, and SBU records spread on the Internet, where the Russian military talks about looting and all the horrors they are committing with Ukrainians. The meaning of the usual things has changed for me – they are now like from the exposition of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum, where there are a bunch of shoes or toothbrushes. And all this horror is repeated in the 21st century.
The day before the invasion, I finished the picture with hugs on it, named it “Hope”. I came from the workshop at night, and in the morning there was a shelling… My closest person put this picture on the phone home screen. It is a kind of memory and a dream now – just to see each other, just to live.
“The reverse side of the medal” Series
Mariya Pronina / Mariupol
Artist, collage artist
There was tension in Mariupol even before the New Year. As a team of the TU Platform, we met several times drew “red lines”- we discussed what should happen so that we could leave Mariupol. And after Putin’s threats that he would show us real decommunization, the recognition of the LDR and the beginning of provocations, we were already waiting for the storming of cities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And then we learned that they were shelling not only us, but a bunch of cities in Ukraine.
I became kind of fierce, categorical in many matters, and my brain began to work faster. There is a constant need to dump aggression against the occupiers. I started making collages from newspapers I buy in different cities. Every day of the war, I solve a bunch of quests, the existence of which I could not even think of before. Therefore, it seems to me that the brain has received new neural connections – and a lot of pain.
Alisa Gots / Kyiv
Works in lithography technique, together with friends founded a lithographic workshop
Until recently, I did not believe that this [full-scale invasion] was even possible in the 21st century. The first feelings were strange, as if your whole familiar life had faded into the background, but there are still a lot of plans and things in your head that you will not do in the near future. They destroy your country, your hometown and your usual life.
The war exacerbated all feelings. People came together, set priorities; unimportant things receded into the background. War reveals true human qualities, both good and bad.
Most of all, I want to be with my family now, I unbearably want to hug my children, who are in Spain with my mother. Do my favorite thing, develop a workshop, put my stone in the development of culture, so to say. I believe that Ukraine will win, and I hope that it will recover quickly and move to a new level of development.
Ihor Hora / Odesa, Kyiv
Photography, digital collages
I learned about [Russia’s invasion], like many Ukrainians, when I woke up in the middle of the night from the sounds of explosions. Although everything indicated that the war would begin, I was not ready for it. You can’t be ready for that. I felt fear and worries for my loved ones when the whole country’s citizens became the loved ones. I felt my identity. A complete understanding of how they are trying to erase your nation has come, and also the hatred for the Ruscists that are not even animals.
I believe that now Russia will get a hit back, after which it will crawl back into the darkness, and a new stage of life will begin for us, in which we will not make past mistakes and will be ready to repulse the next attack of Ruscists, which undoubtedly will happen.
Svitlana Havrylenko / Yalta
My boyfriend woke me up at five in the morning on February 24th. It was still dark, he said: “Russia is bombing Kyiv.” I didn’t believe it – I thought he had read it in some VKontakte public, but it can’t be. I turned on VPN and started downloading BBC and CBS news. This process took a long time; I fell asleep and woke up again. I looked at the phone screen and all the headlines were the same: Russia invaded Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the war, I have had a feeling of total helplessness and voicelessness, and although I feel a little alien in my native Crimea, it seems that the connection with this land has become even stronger.
I am now afraid to think about the future. Any attempt to plan my life for more than a few days is terrifying, so I narrowed the planning horizon to a minimum. But I believe that after the most nightmarish nightmare, morning always comes.
I made a series of oil and acrylic mixed media paintings on unframed canvas, arranged like carpets on my walls. Only instead of fascinating patterns from childhood, they depict a mute scream. I can’t find words to express the horror of what’s going on, but I can find visual language.
Ihor Husev / Odesa
Artist, poet, author of performances, films, objects and installations
I woke up from the explosions in Odesa, and it was the most terrible and unspeakable feeling that I have ever experienced. I became more sensitive. I listen to every whisper. Ukraine will win. There are no options here!
3 World War Series
Kinder Album / Lviv
The anonymous artist works in the genres of painting, graphics, photography, installation, street art and video art
I felt shocked and stunned by the fact that this is possible in our country at a time when the civilizational and cultural development of mankind does not allow us to even think about mass murder. But it turned out that not all people profess these values. The war exacerbated the feeling that I was just a little ant, whose death would change little on Earth, but at the same time it became more important what I could do while I was still alive.
Mariana Mykytiuk / Kyiv
Illustrator, works in mixed media
On the first day of a full-scale invasion, it seemed that it was too absurd to last long, that it would be over in a few days, because this could not happen in the middle of Europe right now. Later it became clear that anything could happen, and nuclear war is quite an option. We need to prepare for everything and try to return to some kind of normal life.
The war sharpened the feeling of gratitude. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore. Every day when I turn on water, light or buy food, I think about the people who make it possible.
It is still difficult to get into a calm stable mood: more often emotions are either twisted to the maximum, or hid behind a thick veil of apathy. Drawing helps to feel a little control and benefit from yourself. It seems to me that we are now in the process of another cultural revival, and I hope that this time nothing will stop it.
Leo Trotsenko / Dnipro, Kyiv
Artist, co-founder of Periscope_ua photo initiative
On the day the full-scale invasion began, I heard the first few explosions well. We walked down the street at four or five in the morning with friends near Pavlovsky park [in Kyiv]. At that time we were listening to Polish punks from the Moskwa band. After we bought everything we needed in the store, we were at home and I couldn’t figure out what to do. Numbness.
Almost all emotions are militarized, almost everything that is not about war does not arouse interest or empathy. Some people have become closer, others – somewhere farther, first and foremost geographically, but not only.
The general sensations have become aggravated, there is less space for the personal. I am also afraid of returning to Kyiv, but not because of air threats or fear of death. It’s scary to go back to the old life. At the same time, there is also a place for amazing calmness.
Olia Yeremeyeva / Kyiv
Multidisciplinary artist working with photography
The war completely turned off the idea of the existence of any safe place. You can be killed anywhere.
Unlike the beginning of a full-scale war, it is now difficult to imagine the end of this horror.
Oleksandr Barbolin / Pryluky
Artist, collage artist
At the time of the invasion, my first emotion was fear, but not for myself – for loved ones. War is not a new word for me: I have lived in Israel for eight years, where every year there is a conflict with Palestine for a week. I have already seen how rockets fly and explode.
But I will not wish such a thing to anyone in Ukraine. The first three weeks of the war I helped in the Territorial Defense, then worked as a volunteer and only after a little digestion of what I saw, I was able to work again. After all, to create something new, you need an inner push and energy.
Now I am watching what is happening, emotionally hiding and thinking about the future of the country. It seems to me that the experience gained by IDPs abroad will have a positive effect on the formation of the Ukrainian mentality when they return.
After all, most of them have heard of Europe, but have never been there, or have been in the short term as tourists. When you live inside the country for a long time, you understand all the pros and cons of the system, you understand how rules and laws work, you see how other people live and you compare them with yourself. I believe that refugees will want to adopt and follow certain rules and cultural codes after returning to Ukraine.
Any war sooner or later ends in its active phase. We have already learned from the experience of 2014. After its end, there will be a new “window of opportunity” and powerful development in all areas.
Zakentiy Horobyov / Kyiv
Artist, typographer, illustrator, teacher
I stopped focusing on negative emotions: fear, hatred, confusion, because it does not help to fight and generally prevents living even in peacetime. I try to be objective, not to generate and maintain panic moods. I came to the conclusion that changing the focus from serious topics to humor greatly depletes the overall emotional state. So I focused on finding interesting visual metaphors that would interpret my point of view through the prism of humor.
In general, I try not to look into the future, I focus on the “now” as much as possible.
Yuriy Denysenkov / Kyiv
Artist, stage designer
The first thing I felt when the invasion began was the realization that a completely different life started. I did not imagine that everything would develop in such a way that people would be killed on the streets, cities and villages would be occupied and the civilian population would not be allowed to evacuate. In the first weeks of the war I was with my family near Kyiv. The realization that this was a real war came when a plane was shot down over our house and it crashed nearby, or when a tank fired at a nearby house. Feelings of complete paralysis, hopelessness and fear no longer for yourself, but for your family.
I had a feeling of disgust and hatred for Russia and everything connected with them [Russians], for their whole culture and language.
I’m confident that Ukraine will win, and real development awaits us all in all sectors. I think that all the possibilities of the civilized world will become open to Ukraine.