When black and white murals in Banksy’s signature style started popping up in Ukraine this November, locals wondered whether the anonymous British graffiti artist was in town. On Friday, November 11th, Banksy confirmed on Instagram that at least one was his, depicting a young gymnast performing a handstand on a pile of rubble outside a building devastated by shelling in Borodyanka. Three days later, he he posted images of six additional works located around Kyiv and other cities. Many Ukrainians see the images as symbols of hope and reminders that they’re not alone.
Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, tweeted “Ukraine today is the center of attention, center of resistance, freedom, true art. @banksy confirmed that he created seven murals in different parts of Ukraine, including Borodianka, Irpin, and Kyiv. It means a great deal to us. We are so grateful, Sir!”
In Horenka, on the ground floor of a devastated apartment block hit by Russian bombs in March, one mural shows a man lounging in a clawfoot tub, scrubbing his back with a brush. “For me, it means washing off all the dirt. The dirt of the Russian Federation,” local resident Tetiana Reznychenko told Reuters. “And this drawing makes me feel as if I have cleansed myself of the dirt that descended on us.”
Reznychenko told reporters that she served Banksy’s team a mug of instant coffee in her apartment when she saw them outside in the cold. Her damaged building currently has no electricity, heat, or running water, but she’s using a wood stove to get by for now. “Winter has begun, and we don’t know what will happen next,” she told Reuters. “Firemen brought us non-drinking water… but it will freeze unless we move it inside.”
Another mural in Borodyanka depicts a man resembling Russian president Vladimir Putin being thrown to the ground during a judo match with a young boy. Putin held an honorary black belt in judo until it was revoked earlier this year by World Taekwondo. The fourth mural shows children playing on a seesaw made from part of a tank. The fifth mural depicts a young gymnast holding a streamer aloft, and the sixth is a woman in a gas mask bearing a fire extinguisher. They all share a common theme of resilience in the face of horror and destruction.
Located about 35 miles northwest of Kyiv, Borodyanka was besieged by Russian forces early in the invasion and suffered extensive aerial bombardment, with many buildings reduced to rubble. Most of its 13,000 residents fled prior to its Russian occupation in late February. When the town came back into Ukrainian control in April, returning residents found that even those structures that had escaped bombs and shelling had been ransacked and burglarized.
Ukrainians like Alina Mazur, a 31-year-old from Kyiv, have traveled to the Borodyanka area to see the murals in person. “This is such a historic moment for our country, that people like Banksy and other famous figures are coming here and showing the world what Russia has done to us,” she told Smithsonian Magazine.