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How art became a mirror of Ukrainian resistance

Visual art has always been a powerful way to communicate and remember the horror of war. For Ukraine, it also reflects the fire of hope and defiance that comes with such tragedy. Suffering sharpens and emboldens art. The struggle for a better future gives it power. So it is now, as Ukrainians shelter from Russian bombs that destroy their homes, schools and hospitals. Painters and illustrators spill their hearts onto paper and canvas. Artwork, exhibits, and creative projects are born that capture the very soul of Ukrainian pain, unity and love. 

Port.agency created the Artists Support Ukraine initiative (website and instagram), where any artist (or creative organization) from around the globe can lend their talent and vision to inspire Ukrainians and let the world know about the war. Creatives can submit their work via email at [email protected] or on their own socials with the hashtag #ArtistsSupportUkraine.

On the global stage, many prominent designers and illustrators joined the effort to speak through art. Sho Shibuya dedicated a series of his works to the brutality of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the country’s struggle for freedom. One of these illustrations was used as a cover for The New York Times Magazine.

Without any centralized organization, many talented people couldn’t keep their creative voices silent either. A flood of beautiful art, some — hopeful, some — heartbreaking poured into the news feeds on Facebook and Instagram. It showed the grief, bravery, resistance, and many much subtler expressions and emotions of Ukrainians during the war. It showed us all what it means to be Ukrainian.

The Projector Institute and Telegraf.design (a Ukrainian creative agency) created a database of posters for protests, activism, and general support of Ukraine during the war. These can be downloaded and used freely (simply crediting the author) in the fight against Russian violence and propaganda.

Banda, the arguably most successful Ukrainian advertising firm, has stopped all commercial projects and joined the fight for hearts and minds. Creative director Alexandra Doroguntsova outlines three directions for the agency’s designs and projects: supporting and inspiring Ukrainians, engaging foreign companies for help, and trying to wake up the Russian people that “seem blind and deaf” to the horrors perpetrated by their government.

Art has also been an outlet for creative people to stay sane and productive under wartime stress. Kyiv designer Katalina Maievska says:  “I was – and honestly still am – very anxious and paralyzed. I was reading a lot of news, saw more and more death, and mums giving birth to their children in the subway.” Katalina describes the current artistic process as a combination of pain, therapy, and activism: “I paint with such aggression that my fingers hurt… I’ve always wanted to be useful and do something useful.” Katalina is an example of thousands of creative Ukrainians that cannot defend their country in a bulletproof vest but can give voice to Ukraine’s strength and struggle through art.

At the end of the day, humans see the world through stories, images, and ideas. Ukraine’s story started more than 1000 years ago, built on an ancient and rich culture. It started with a yearning for freedom and beauty, still seen in Ukrainians today. Now a new chapter is being written in that tale. A chapter about blood, death, and destruction… but also — about love, support, and hope.

Ivan Shovkoplias, сommunications consultant, Ukrainian media volunteer