In a mural splashed across a four-story building in central Kiev, a small boy nonchalantly throws paper planes. The peaceful image is just one example of the colorful street art springing up across the Ukrainian capital, reflecting a new mood of optimism in a city once criss-crossed by barricades. The artist, 28-year-old Oleksandr Korban, is a former miner who fled the armed conflict in the separatist Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. His mural depicts a small boy called Lev, the son of friends of the artist who gave him shelter in Kiev and “helped me in difficult times,” said Korban.
“When I came up with the idea of a boy with paper planes, my first thought was of Lev.” Korban previously worked as a coal miner for five years and Paper Planes is his first major mural in the capital. In Kiev, he found himself in the right place at the right time.
In just a year, Kiev has exploded with dozens of street art projects created by both Ukrainian and international artists. Australian artist Guido Van Helten painted a portrait of a Ukrainian woman poet Lesya Ukrainka, while Spanish artist Zosen Bandido transformed a facade with colorful mythical creatures inspired by Ukrainian folk art. Some of the images are explicitly political. Ukrainian artist Oleksiy Bordusov created a mural showing a figure in Cossack dress with the head of a falcon, a national symbol of Ukraine, hacking at a two-headed snake. The snake on the mural titled “Ukrainian Saint George” symbolizes the dual threat from Western NATO member countries and Russia, Bordusov said.
“My idea is that Ukraine has become a bargaining chip in the geopolitical game of the West and the East.” “When thousands of people die in your country, you can’t just pretend nothing is happening and create something that doesn’t reflect that reality”, the artist said of his decision to comment on politics. Others opted to depict the Maidan uprising that swept away the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Argentina’s Franco Fasoli painted a figure waving a Ukrainian flag surrounded by Molotov cocktails and men in balaclavas. Meanwhile, a Portugese street artist, Alexandre Farto, depicted the first person killed in shooting during the Maidan protests, Serhiy Nigoyan. And much more is yet to come.
New European look
The people of Kiev mostly support the young artists who are giving the city a colorful facelift. “During work on one of the latest murals, the residents of the building brought us tea and cookies”, says Ukrainian organizer Geo Leros. Leros launched the City Art project, which aims to create an art district in the city centre and is working to find investors and international artists. Bandido said that locals really appreciated his colorful mural and a kindergarten director even asked him to decorate its walls. “There are people with energy who try to open this city and culture more and more to the world”, Bandido told AFP. Not all Kiev residents are fans of street art, however, Leros admitted. “When we were working on Lesya Ukrainka mural, an old woman from the building came up to the artist and started shouting that she would only allow a portrait of Lenin on her house,” he recalled.
Nevertheless, street art is becoming an integral part of Kiev’s new European look. Since August, sightseeing tours have taken in the colorful works of art, which are becoming a must-see for city visitors. “The new art objects fit perfectly with the new, modern and European style of the city,” said Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko.-AFP