- By Reid StandishReid Standish is associate editor, digital, at Foreign Policy. Reid writes on Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia and is the newsroom’s digital point person. He has lived in and reported from Finland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine, where he covered everything from Santa Claus to drug trafficking. A native of British Columbia, he holds a B.A. in international studies from Simon Fraser University and an M.A. from the University of Glasgow.
Viewed from afar, the conflict in eastern Ukraine has a surrealist, absurdist air to it. Weapons and fighters — colloquially known as “little green men” — appear seemingly from nowhere and yet from a known source: Russia. Government buildings are occupied. Strange, official stamps are issued. The fighters battling the administration in Kiev make reference to obscure geographical concepts that were thought to have died with the Russian empire. They release rap videos.
And in Donetsk, a stronghold of the separatist movement, graffiti and art installations that mock the pro-Russian fighters have appeared on the city’s streets and facades. The art captures the absurdity of the current political situation. One work of graffiti shows Igor Strelkov, a leader of the separatist movement, with a gun to his head. The caption rips off Nike: Just Do It. A wooden cut-out renders a rebel as a hooved, horned devil, as if Bulgakov had come to Donetsk.
On Thursday, the underground artist collective Myrzilka released photographs of their work in Donetsk. Here’s that image of Strelkov, being urged toward suicide in the most capitalist of ways.
Here, a cut-out depicts a hooved and horned devil in rebel attire and the insignia of Novorossiya, a geographic term encompassing parts of Ukraine and southwest Russia that Vladimir Putin has invoked to justify his expansionist ambitions in Ukraine. The horned rebel appears next to his bride, who sports a holstered pistol and vacant eyes.
This one features a separatist fighter whose appearance has been likened to Sharik, the main character from writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog. Bulgakov’s novel was a biting satire of the early years of Communism in the Soviet Union and its central character, Sharik — who was a dog turned into human form — was meant to symbolize the new Soviet man. The fighter in question bears a striking resemblance to the main character in a film adaptation of the novel.
According to their website, the collective manufactured the cutouts beforehand and have been putting them up around the city during the early morning hours.
Many of the displays show separatist fighters of the Donetsk People’s Republic as skeletons or demons.
One particularly grim display shows the grim reaper — draped with Donetsk People’s Republic symbols — holding a picture of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 being downed by separatists.