Three Ukrainian cartoonists talk about how the war affected them.
‘We have freedom of expression in Ukraine’
Oleksandr Barabanshchykov, a cartoonist from Odesa, is also inspired by the war with Russia, and the Lukashenko-Putin duo.
“Caricature is a weapon that helps us fight in the same way as journalists with words. Their weapon is the pen, ours the pencil. As it happens, no one has ever insulted me because of my caricatures, even when I portrayed Ukrainian politicians, most often Poroshenko, (former Ukrainian President). We have freedom in Ukraine.”
The cartoonist talked about one of the themes his wartime caricatures have explored:
“For example, I was struck by the fact that Russians were being zombified by (Russian-ed.) television. My relation with many Russians broke down because they were watching their TV channels. So I drew them as stone figures sitting and watching TV with a fire blazing behind them.”
Oleksandr Barabanshchykov received very positive feedback about his work at the international exhibition of cartoons in Odesa, “Russian military ship go f*** yourself”. The show hosted 40 cartoonists from 12 countries and will tour in Poland and Germany.
“I think I can draw Putin with my eyes closed”
Yuriy Zhuravel, an artist and musician from Rivne and leader of the Ukrainian band OT VINTA, has been drawing political cartoons since the Orange Revolution in 2005. Now he says he is doing it more actively, because they’re more in need. The whole world is watching Ukraine, and there is a renewed in interest in Ukrainian culture and caricature.
“It's all happening out there. The main challenge is to notice the moment and get it down on paper. Of course, I mix all this with personal emotions, and there have been a lot of them during the most intense days of war. There’s anger, hatred, despair, and sadness, but also joy, admiration and consolation,” explains Zhuravel.
He has portrayed nearly all Ukrainian politicians and those influencing Ukrainian politics. He depicts Putin on a spit, roasting like a pig over a fire in the shape of the Ukrainian coat of arms. Another time, he draws his face in a jar "for preservation", like a historical relic. As the cartoons evolve they become increasingly exotic and revealing.
“I feel like I have studied Putin so much that I could draw him with closed eyes with my left foot covered in dog shit. I will continue to draw it with even greater zeal, because laughter is the first slap in the face before you receive an uppercut and a hook in your jaw.”
Laughing at cartoons adds confidence to the Ukrainian people and lifts the spirits of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, according to the cartoonist
“My drawings quickly spread on social media. They are used by foreign media, such as ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and ‘ZDF’, Russian opposition groups, and figures like politician Alexander Nevzorov, exiled businessman Mikail Khodorkovsky, or satirist Victor Shederovich. The widespread use of my drawings on T-shirts, cups, or bags has been going on for some time now.
Beyond bringing laughter, Zhuravel’s cartoons also have an offensive capacity:
“(Russian) orcs also actively comment on my work, so my weapon is long-range”, says the artist.
Yuri Zhuravel is currently preparing a book entitled The Storytsia to shows the world that Ukrainians are no longer part of a Soviet or Russian community, but a separate independent state that has long deserved happiness.
“Cartoons against Putin's regime could lead to jail”
Although Ukrainian cartoonist Oleh Hutsol has Ukrainian citizenship, he lives in Belarus because his wife is from there.
“Life itself inspires the creation of cartoons. Since I moved here, I hardly drew any political cartoons. First of all, no one will print them, and secondly, the repressive machine is operating on a large scale here: for any drawing against the current government you can be put behind bars. If you don't speak out they won’t come for you, but I have serious fears, because the Russian special services feel at home here. Nobody can guarantee that I won’t end up in a Russian prison for cartoons against the Putin regime.”
Hutsol says that since the start of the Russian aggression, the demand from foreign partners and publications for the works of Ukrainian cartoonists has grown significantly. This has led to his caricatures being published in Danish newspaper Berlingske, France’s Charlie Hebdo, and Ukraine’s parliamentary newspaper Voice of Ukraine. His works have also been shown in exhibitions in Pennsylvania (USA), Tokyo and Kyoto (Japan).