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Donetsk's Guerrilla Separatists Kidnap the Ukrainian Guerrilla Artist Who Dared to Mock Them

This is Sergey Zakharov's latest artwork critical of DNR and its former commander Strelkov. Image from Facebook.

This is Sergey Zakharov's latest artwork critical of DNR and its former commander Strelkov. Image from Facebook.

A Ukrainian guerrilla artist who has been stealthily putting up artwork mocking the separatists of the Donetsk People's Republic all around the occupied city of Donetsk has run out of luck—just over a week ago he was captured by the rebels and has been missing ever since.

Sergey Zakharov started creating artworks mocking the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in July, and soon the first plywood figures of separatists sporting clown make-up and camouflage appeared on the city streets. Affixed to fences and buildings, the grotesque silhouettes immediately attracted attention and photos of them started popping up in social networks.

Occupied Donetsk has been flooded with graffiti of terrorists looking like death, clowns and Sharikovs.

Writer and fellow artist Sergii Mazurkevych, whom Zakharov invited to join his budding art collective dubbed Murzilka (after a fictional children's magazine character), said his friend's art was often a reaction to the events of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Сергей реагировал на сбитый “Боинг”, а потом появился портрет Стрелкова-Гиркина, который приставляет пистолет к виску. Он был прикреплен к стене кинотеатра “Комсомолец” в центре Донецка. Эта инсталляция провисела, наверное, часа два и сразу попала в интернет. Я даже у некоторых людей видел такие аватарки. Последняя работа – 30 июля.

Sergey reacted to the Boeing which was shot down, and then he did this portrait of Strelkov-Girkin pointing a gun at his own head. He put that one up on the wall of the “Komsomolets” cinema in downtown Donetsk. This installation hung there for maybe two hours and it immediately started spreading online. I even saw some people make avatars with the image. This was his last work [before capture]—from July 30.

Zakharov himself, attaching a new artwork to a fence in Donetsk. Image from Facebook.

Zakharov himself, attaching a new artwork to a fence in Donetsk. Image from Facebook.

Zakharov's other rebel-themed installations include clown-faced anonymous insurgents with rifles, grinning skulls in military fatigues with the DNR flag and other colorful characters. One of his more famous pieces is a family portrait of one of the rebel commanders nicknamed Motorola (notoriously short, portrayed by Zakharov as a Faun) and his new, much taller bride—this one was affixed to a fence right outside the city's wedding registrar office, and also went viral online.

Donetsk artists continue to fight terrorism using art.

The rebels, of course, also noticed the guerrilla art, and were not happy about it. Mazurkevych says their art collective's webpage was hacked and deleted twice in early August, and is still unavailable, although their Facebook page is active. Then, late at night on August 6, Zakharov was in his workshop when he was visited by four armed men and a civilian. They took him to the Donetsk Security Services building (one of DNR's strongholds), along with his computer and art sketches, says his neighbor. He has been missing for over a week. His friends say it's unclear why he's being investigated with such scrutiny by the rebels, since his only crime was to “display his work in the streets of Donetsk's city center, which can be considered an administrative offense at best. There is no basis for holding him in a de facto prison.”

Zakharov's colleagues have rallied for his freedom: a group of Russian artists installed a figure similar to Zakharov's own work in a park in Saint Petersburg in protest at his kidnapping. The group said they felt they had the right to speak out as it was their government which was waging “an aggressive, interventionist politics which no peaceful person could condone.”

An installation in Zakharov's honour put up by Russian artists in Saint Petersburg. Sign reads:

An installation in Zakharov's honour put up by Russian artists in Saint Petersburg. Sign reads: “Freedom to Murzilkas!” Image from Facebook.

Facebook users commenting on the photos of the installation, like Sergey Storchuk, said Zakharov and his colleagues were very brave to take their art public:

Мурзилки герои! Это надо иметь стальные яйца и большой талант чтобы в оккупированном городе так творчески тролить рашистских-оккупантов! Ждем освобождения, держу кулаки, пусть вернуться живыми и здоровыми.

Murzilkas are heroes! You've got to have balls of steel and a huge talent to troll the Rashist occupants so creatively in a city under siege! We await your release, fingers crossed, come back alive and well.

Another of Sergey Zakharov's creations on a wall in Donetsk. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of his art soon. Image from Facebook.

Another of Sergey Zakharov's creations on a wall in Donetsk. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of his art soon. Image from Facebook.

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