Shaken by war, Ukrainian artists ‘fight with images’

Shaken by war, Ukrainian artists ‘fight with images’

Shaken by war, Ukrainian artists ‘fight with images’

Shaken by war, Ukrainian artists ‘fight with images’

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Vlodko Kaufman, a Ukrainian artist, hopes to one day be able to stop sketching portraits of Russian warriors murdered on energy bills and old tram tickets.

“Every day I keep track of what is happening at the front, how many are killed, wounded, missing or captured,” the 65-year-old said.

Each bleak report is accompanied by a fast biro headshot of the same moody soldier on whatever paper is available.

Kaufman set out hundreds of identical pictures of the soldier in a helmet on a table in his gallery in western Ukraine. The most current was furniture assembly instructions, a photocopy of his passport, or an airline ticket, which were all spread out in rows.

“This work is a requiem that will be performed as long as the war lasts,” he said.

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“I will only stop drawing when the conflict is over, so who knows how many more there will be.”

The artist started his project in 2014, when fighting first flared between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east.

But since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of his country on February 24, he has been drawing with increasing regularity, he says.

Kaufman is only one of many Ukrainian artists in the relatively sheltered western city of Lviv employing their talent to record the horrors of war, call for the world’s attention, or simply support those affected.

– ‘We have to win’ –
A short walk away, at the top of a winding wooden staircase, 49-year-old Serhiy Savchenko stood in his paint-splotched studio next to one of the few paintings he has managed to create in recent weeks.

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“It’s called ‘Green’,” he said, after the military shade that has pervaded daily life.

Dozens of tiny abstract figures representing the civilians who have signed up to fight parade across the canvas.

Savchenko said he needed to paint so he could “breathe”, but these days art had taken a backseat. Requests for paintings and exhibitions would have to wait.

“We are at the top of Western interest, but we have to use it to get more aid,” he said.

The established artist has transformed his gallery in Poland into a logistics center to ship supplies.

He spends much of his day on the phone, and his new profession sometimes involves stuffing tactical boots with medical supplies and chocolate.

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“I try to invest all my artistic knowledge, all my contacts, all my time, all my health into the situation,” said Savchenko, one of many improvised go-betweens hooking up donors with Ukrainians in need.

“We have to win.”

As he spoke, he awaited the wife of a musician friend deployed to Mykolaiv in the embattled south of the country. She was going to pick up two sleeping bags that someone brave would drive down to him.

If nothing is done, “everybody will die,” Savchenko said, eyes glistening as he recalled the thousands of lives already lost.

“We have to build the future — a future where there will be art.”

– For the children –

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In another part of the city, 28-year-old Mikhailo Skop also hopes for a new dawn in which Ukraine will emerge victoriously.

At the bustling Lviv Art Centre, he held up a poster from a series of war-inspired Tarot card images he has created to voice the country’s woes abroad.

In “The Sun”, a child on a horse waves a Ukrainian flag above a field of sunflowers. Skulls, one marked with the letter “Z” associated with the invading Russian forces, lay at their feet.

“All of us are fighting but in different ways,” said Skop, who also goes by the street artist name neivanmade.

“I’m fighting with my images.”

For “Temperance,” he drew an angel offering food to destitute individuals who appear to be among the millions displaced by the battle.

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A woman bends the gun of a Russian tank out of action in “Strength,” a jibe at the Russian state’s “toxic masculinity,” he added.

In Europe and the United States, his Tarot cards are being sold online as posters and t-shirts, with all earnings going to help Ukrainian youngsters recover from conflict trauma.

“They will grow up and become this country,” he said.

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