Bogdana Daviduk and Vitali Appex are Ukrainian but they could pass for countercultural youth from the Gràcia or Lavapiés neighbourhood. Both graceful in figure, wearing somewhat tattered and stained clothing, Daviduk and Appex — his stage name — spend their time creating war posters. Every day they print dozens of copies of posters drawn by them at the Lviv Municipal Art Center with slogans and illustrations calling for mobilization against the Russian invader. Later, these copies are hung on the streets of this city, the capital of western Ukraine, or in other municipalities where they are transported in convoys with humanitarian aid.
In a peace situation, the posters would not need to be printed in Lviv and then transported in vehicles: the document would be sent over the internet and printed wherever it was needed. “The problem is that the situation is not normal”, explains Appex, “and in the front areas, for example, it is difficult to find working printing presses”. One of the compositions of this 31-year-old artist is the easiest to find on the streets of Lviv. It is a black and white work, somewhat dark, a tribute to a well-known creation by the Ukrainian graphic artist Nil Khasevych (1905-1952) conceived as a criticism of the imperialism of Germany and Tsarist Russia during the First World War. In Khasevych’s work, four Ukrainian soldiers appear in a forest, a symbol of national roots. Appex has adapted it to contemporary times with soldiers from the Ukrainian Army but with the same phrase that Khasevych used: “We stand to protect freedom.”
Appex’s main source of inspiration is an anthology of classic graphic design from Ukraine. “I want to use an identity typography that conveys strength,” she explains. His nationalist drive began in 2014, after the war between the pro-Russian separatist forces in Donbas and the Ukrainian state. He spent two days creating art at the front: his most prized painting was a mural in a bunker in which he portrayed Cossack Mamai, an important character in Ukrainian folklore, “a symbol of a calm warrior”, sitting on the grass, playing a kobza, with a sword and a gun at his side. Above all, his posters are traces of Army patrols in an alert position but transmitting serenity at the same time.
Daviduk was a muralist and book illustrator in her pre-war life. Today, on the other hand, she spends her nights making war drawings: “I do it for my mental health. At ten o’clock at night there is a curfew and that’s when I compulsively draw. I have the need to do something. I have a little power, but I have a power.” The objectives of her works are three: to request military support from the international community, to raise “the spirit of resistance of the citizenry against the enemy” and to demand “the cancellation of Russian culture in Ukraine”. “There should be nothing in Russian or from Russia in our country, at least for a while,” the 33-year-old artist stresses. The concept of “cancellation of Russian culture” is defended by other creators consulted by this newspaper. Russian is a widely spoken language in the country, especially in the East. Some 17% of the Ukrainian population is recognized as a Russian national minority, according to the 2014 pre-conflict government census.
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One of the consequences of hostilities with Russia is that among the many artists who paste their war works on the walls and lampposts of Lviv, none claim to drink from the rich tradition of Soviet visual propaganda, with the exception of the first decade of life of the USSR, which they consider less linked to the subsequent decades of repression. Daviduk, for example, is inspired by the figures and collages poetics of Henrik Tomaszewski and the Polish School of Poster Design, developed during the years of the Iron Curtain but outside the Soviet Union. One of the Daviduk posters shows a bomb with the double-headed eagle of the Russian coat of arms flying over human shadows with flames in their eyes. “Our fire is stronger than your bombs,” they exclaim as a ghostly Ukrainian flag waves.
As the weeks go by, there are more posters from different groups of artists occupying the street scene of Lviv, the main city in Western Ukraine (750,000 inhabitants) and the capital of the rear. There are those who print hundreds of folio-size sheets with compositions as simple as a logo of the DC and Marvel comic companies and a shield of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine, the unit created in 2014 that mobilizes volunteers and reservists from the country . Under the three emblems, a phrase: “Now you know which are the best superheroes.” In another poster, the urban artist Itmshchk asks the population with a set of graffiti to alert them to possible signs of Russian infiltrators. Another easy-to-find poster in Lviv’s old town features a caricature of a dog tied to a chain and accompanied by the phrase: “Thanks to the Army I can walk my dog.”
The Territorial Defense Forces periodically disseminate works by cartoonists who volunteer their work on social networks. One of his latest memes features a caricature of the father of modern Ukrainian literature Taras Shevchenko (1837-1887) with a Javelin anti-tank missile launcher. The propaganda battle is being waged on platforms such as Twitter, TikTok or messaging applications such as Telegram, but Appex is convinced that there is nothing like the physical poster: “The street is more effective than the networks, it has a stronger sense of reality. powerful among citizens.
Perhaps the clearest example of the impact caused by observing these patriotic messages in person are the works of Andriy Yermolenko. The Lviv City Council has placed several of his works on bus shelters. The most radical refers to some statements that Russian President Vladimir Putin made a few months ago about his confrontation with Ukraine over Donbas. To make it clear that it would end up prevailing, Putin used a popular Russian saying that reads: “Like it or not, beautiful, you will have to do it.” Yermolenko’s illustration shows a young woman, wearing a floral headdress in the colors of Ukraine, sticking a gun into Putin’s mouth as she yells, “I’m not your pretty!” Yermolenko, who is characterized by emphasizing a combative and proletarian aesthetic, did not respond to EL PAÍS’ request for an interview. The director of the Lviv Municipal Art Center, Lyana Mitsyko, said last Wednesday that she had not heard from him for days. She did not rule out that he had moved to the front.
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