The anonymous British street artist Banksy is no stranger to areas of conflict. In 2017, he visited the West Bank, where he created several works on the border walls built by Israel to call attention to the plight the people in the area face. And now, after not putting out any new major works since his visit to southern English beach towns in what he called the Great British Spraycation, Banksy is back at it again, this time in one of the most dangerous places in Europe at the moment. Some people in the Ukrainian city of Borodyanka, just less than 30 miles northwest of Kyiv, noticed works of graffiti among some of the area’s abandoned buildings, partially destroyed by Russian shelling, that appeared very similar to the work of the anonymous Bristol graffiti artist. Not long after, Banksy took to Instagram to reveal that he had been to Ukraine, creating seven new works in Kyiv and other cities and towns in the north of the country.
While these works are of varying subjects, locals in Borodyanka came to find the one with the strongest message in their city. It shows a grown man and a small boy sparring with one another in judo outfits and black belts. The boy is in the process of flipping the grown man onto his back. Some have pointed out that the man and the black belt he wears are meant to represent Vladimir Putin, who is known for his martial arts hobbies. But I believe it contains a greater message. It is the metaphor for Ukrainian resilience against what was supposed to be an unstoppable Russian military tidal wave. The Ukrainians have surprised everyone by beating the Russians back, as shown by the liberation of the key city of Kherson only on November 11th. However, most of the recently discovered works don’t contain elaborate metaphors but point out the suffering of Ukrainian civilians caught in the middle. One piece found in the village of Horenka, less than 12 miles from the city center of Kyiv, is just a person bathing in the tub, displayed on one of the exposed inner walls of a partially destroyed building, showing that this was where people used to live.
Banksy is not the first well-known international artist to visit Ukraine since the start of the invasion in February. The French artist, only known as JR, visited the city of Lviv back in March, working with around one hundred locals to create a giant image of a Ukrainian refugee girl named Valeriia. That image was eventually featured on the cover of TIME magazine. So, regardless of the medium or the location, art and artists are still trying to bring light and beauty to a country ravaged by war, something for which the people of Ukraine expressed their appreciation.