Creating Wartime Art: Ukrainians Use Music and Artwork to Describe the Realities of the Russian Invasion

Oksana Drachkovska’s illustrations were typically simple, dynamic intersections of nature and society that incorporated the refreshing colors of the ocean, the warm hues of a loving home, and the golden hues of fall. They told the beautiful story of everyday life in Ukraine. But that was before the war started.

Three weeks ago she first saw her neighbors crying and running towards an air-raid shelter. Within days, she joined millions of others in the rush to evacuate their homes. Since then, she has watched from Poland as apartments, maternity wards and entire towns across her country have been reduced to rubble.

Now his art is filled with dark reds, fiery oranges, and flecks of ashen color. It’s the latest chapter in Ukraine’s story, and its way of making sure the world knows what’s going on.

“It’s like my voice at war to talk about what’s going on in Ukraine right now,” the 34-year-old illustrator told CBS News. “…Images sometimes send a very strong message to people.”

One of his most powerful illustrations is an ode to the destruction of the Mariupol children’s hospital and maternity ward. In it, Ukraine’s national colors of blue and gold serve as the backdrop to a burning hospital and a stork chasing an infant’s angel.

“When I read the news [about the hospital] I was totally shocked,” she said. “It was, for me, the culmination of the hurt. My mind cannot understand. … They are little children killed.”

For Drachkovska, it is difficult to process all the emotions that come from war. She said she realized that she, like many others in her country, will never have the same life as before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deadly invasion.

“Everything is changing,” she said. “It’s like my whole life is sand on my hands and I can’t control it.”

She also struggles with guilt. Drachkovska is in Poland staying with a friend and said it is difficult for her to understand how she was able to provide security when so many others did not.

“A lot of people sleep in Warsaw aviation stations because they don’t have friends who aren’t Ukrainians,” she said. “… I am single. I don’t have a husband or boyfriend in Ukraine, so for me it’s not very difficult to leave Ukraine either. But many of my friends left their husbands with their children.”

Since she cannot physically be on the ground in Ukraine to help, she now sells her art and sends this money to volunteers in Ukraine to help provide food and medicine to civilians. So far, she says she has been able to send 900 euros.

“I can’t talk much about all these feelings. … I have so much of a mix in my brain,” she said. “For me, it’s easy to draw.”

“Now that’s my mission,” she said. “I can’t be quiet.”

Drachkovska is one of many Ukrainian artists and musicians who use their art to communicate the realities of war.

In the basement of an apartment building in Kharkiv, Vera Lytovchenko plays the violin for her neighbors amid attacks by Russian forces. She often posts videos of her performances, with songs ranging from Ukrainian folk music on International Women’s Day to darker classical compositions performed in honor of lives lost in war, online.

At every performance, she wears a beautiful dress – as she would if performing in a theater – and the dim lighting in the basement casts a dark shadow on the concrete wall behind her.

She’s using her new platform to raise money for a fund to help musicians and others in her community rebuild.

“Since February 24, we have had to live in the cellar of our house because it is dangerous to stand because the bombs can drop any reason anywhere in our city. So we decided to go down to our cellar and spend most of our time there,” she told The Associated Press on March 9.

There are about ten people staying in the basement of the building, including a child and a teenager.

Earlier this week, Lytovchenko and his father were inside the building when there was an explosion outside. She posted a video showing their kitchen windows completely shattered, missing pieces of her wall, water on the floor, a damaged shop across the street and what appears to be the remains of gear explosives embedded in the road just outside his building.

Despite the destruction, Lytovchenko continued to play. Dressed in a black dress, she stood in her living room and played a solemn composition on her violin.

“All these people are my brothers and sisters now and I was trying to get them thinking about something, not war for a few minutes while I was playing,” she said. “…A lot of people text me saying my videos give them such support and hope.”

Drachkovska says people around the world have shown their support for her and the rest of Ukraine. And she hopes her illustrations will remind her that even in times of war, kindness prevails.

“It’s important for people to keep the love, not the bad,” she said. “…It’s hard to accept, but I try to keep love, peace and hope in our victory.”

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