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Russia's Invasion of Ukraine in Graffiti

Dr. Andriy Nahachewsky

I am a Ukrainian Canadian ethnographer, now living in Brussels. I feel strongly that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a great war crime, and I long for a just peace in Ukraine. On the political level, it is clear that the European Union supports Ukraine's sovereignty, recognized by almost all countries in the world some 30 years ago (including by Russia, immediately in 1991!). I saw several Ukrainian flags on embassies, and in private windows.

As a folklore scholar, I am aware of many subgroups in society, and am interested in expressions about the Russian invasion at the grass-roots levels. I have long had an interest in graffiti and street art. When street artists choose to become political, they often reflect the views of younger generations, and are strongly independent and critical, often disagreeing with their own governments. Rather than expressing the views dominant among the elites, they mostly express counter-culture positions. I also love their originality and creativity. I undertook a small research project this morning in Brussels to see if the 27-day old invasion was reflected on the streets here yet. Indeed, it was. I photographed about 40 pieces related to the war against Ukraine, mostly stickers, as they are a popular medium, prepared ahead of time and postable in just one second on a lamp post or other public surface. None of the pieces supported Russia's invasion. Indeed, all either criticised Putin's Russia, or supported Ukraine. Here are four of my favourites for today.

One sticker was blue and yellow, representing the Ukrainian flag, with the words "Peace for Ukraine. Stop the war." Another was a bit more light-hearted and showed a large furry bear walking forward but stepping on a blue-and-yellow piece of lego. Lego is a child's toy building block, and infamous for causing great pain if you step on it with your bare feet. Though the bear is many times larger than the lego piece, this graffito makes the point that the small object may produce a big surprise when not treated with the consideration it deserves.

A third graffito has the colours of the Russian flag in its background, the bottom red area dripping. This sticker has the text "No Oligarch Left Unsanctioned," and shows a giant yacht, reminding viewers of the role of oligarchs and the elite in this war, and wars in general.

Perhaps my favourite sticker was a parody of famous street artist Banksy, and one of his recent celebrated art works. Banksy placed one of his familiar works "Girl With Balloon" in a gold frame, and it was sold at an auction for about 1.4 million dollars in 2018. As a surprise, immediately after the auction, the image started rolling down through a paper shredder hidden in the frame. The shredder stopped half way, and the top half of the girl with the balloon remained. Banksy's painting became even more valuable because of this trick. The sticker I photographed this morning also showed a framed picture of a girl with a balloon, this time in blue and yellow Ukrainian colours. On the bottom half of the image, the letters PUTIN were drawn going down through the shredder. The positions of street artists in Brussels are very clear. Graffiti and street art are powerful indicators of unofficial public opinion, and clearly show their support for Ukraine.

Dr. Andriy Nahachewsky

Secretary, ICTM Study Group for Ethnochoreology

Huculak Chair Emeritus, University of Alberta


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