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Ukraine war two years on – graffiti left by Russian soldiers has a dark and sobering message

The graffiti left behind by Russian soldiers sends a sober message about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine

Death to Yankee. Death to the Anglo-Saxons. And to the Jews and Euro-Gay” – froma school in Velyka Oleksandrivka, Kherson region. Photo: Yuriy Shyvala

In a bar in the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, Russian soldiers left behind the message: “It ain’t a war crime if you had fun.” A note in the village of Velyka Komyshuvakha reads: “There are two answers to all questions about Ukraine 1. It didn’t happen 2. They deserved it. Both are correct.”

Glory to Great Russia” – from Liubymivka, Kherson region. Photo: Tetiana Fedornak-Chorna

Two years on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022 and has no end in sight, devastation has been left in areas under occupation by the Russian army.

As Ukrainians clean up the mess left behind – the bombed buildings, looted belongings and unidentified bodies – many have noticed that the Russian army is leaving behind a large amount of graffiti.

More than 500 examples have so far been collated by the Ukrainian non-profit organisation Wall Evidence. In April 2022, they began an online archive to record and translate the graffiti. The Wall Evidence website contains an interactive map of Ukraine. Images are collected from social media or by visiting towns and interviewing residents.

“These inscriptions are evidence of war, providing a glimpse into what the invaders were thinking, the nature of collective violence and the answers to this war,” says project manager Anastasiia Oleksii.

“It’s not just Putin’s war or the Russian government’s war, but a war that all Russians are involved in. The words they said and the narratives of destruction they conveyed… we wanted to show people around the world that this is Russia.”

The Wall Evidence team sort through the materials and have divided the graffiti into four categories.

“Greetings from Siberia! We really didn’t want this! Sorry, we were forced” – written on a school blackboard in Gostomel, Kyiv region. Photo: Roman Timenko Mizhvukhamy

The first is area divisions and information notifications. When the Russian army occupied a village, they would choose private houses as command centres and use schools as military camps. They would mark these buildings with a “Z”, symbolising “Za pobedu”, or victory, and would also leave announcements, such as curfew times for civilians.

The second is hate speech. For example, on the walls of a school near Kyiv: “This is where those Ukrainian orcs were manufactured.”

The third is political propaganda. Graffiti like “Life is good. Why join Europe?” and “Zelenskyy sold you to Nato”, left on a fence in Shevchenkove. These often appear alongside slogans harking back to the USSR, referring to Russia as the “Great Motherland” and “Brotherly Nation”. Many soldiers also leave evidence that they believe they are “fighting against the Nazis”.

“We will feed the bones of your children to dogs” – writing left behind by Russian soldiers on the wall of a cultural centre. Photo: Alexey Furman/Getty Images

The fourth is avoidance of blame. In places, Russian soldiers leave messages of apology, sincere or not, claiming they have no choice.

“We will continue [the project] until Ukraine wins,” says Oleksii. “After the war, we can piece together a more complete picture of the war and leave behind the truth about this invasion for future researchers.”

Translated via Translators Without Borders, courtesy of The Big Issue Taiwain / INSP.ngo

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