Creative Frontline in the russo-Ukrainian War: Part II

Our Creative Talks series usually is dedicated to some inside design industry topics and cover opinions and thoughts of creatives about their working process at peaceful times. It happens so that today this working rhythm is not possible for everybody.

Ukrainian creatives are now working under the harshest conditions possible. The full-scale war came to their homes without the slightest provocation, and now all their focus has switched to spreading the truth about the russian invasion into Ukrainian land.

Approval Studio has a development office in Ukraine, so it’s double the reason why we can’t stand aside — that’s in case you were wondering why we decided to create a blog entry out of our usual scope. We believe that art and creativity can help in different ways even in such dire times. That is why we wanted to gain more insight into the topic and help spread awareness about what people are going through in Ukraine. Here are the questions that we asked Ukrainian creatives:

  • How would you characterize the Ukrainian creative frontline? What do you think makes it so influential and powerful in today’s realities?
  • How do you think design, illustrations, and other creative initiatives help in the russo-Ukrainian War? 
  • Could you please tell us more about your piece(-s) and what message(-s) you want to convey through it? 

This is the second part of the article, and I suggest that check out Part I and Part III as well since there are many great responses. Down below you can find a list of charitable organizations you can donate to support Ukraine in this fight. Also, we provide free licenses for Ukrainian volunteers and creatives who take part in projects aimed to help Ukraine, contact us for more info.

We appreciate you checking out this article and are beyond thankful to all the brilliant creatives who provided their responses.

Glory to Ukraine.

Viter Stepovyi – Pixel Artist

Viter Stepovyi’s Instagram

The creative frontline is coordinated and efficient. Had no doubt about us whatsoever, and I mean not only the creative frontline but all spheres at times of danger.

It’s all about the context, in our case that being war. War provides a lot of attention, and the creativity, its realization, and all that stuff follow this attention. Our artists rock, I like some of their works a lot. 

My personal creative efforts help to avoid my mind’s complete meltdown, while some of them, on the contrary, melt the hell out of it. But mostly it’s an anti-meltdown that makes our rear feel nice and well, which means that our warriors feel nice and well.

We will fu*k up everyone who comes after our cherry orchard by the house [a reference to the poem “A cherry orchard by the house” by T. Shevchenko – ed.]. The creative process is quite simple and boring — photoshop, the ability to draw something, imagination, and the Internet for inspiration. And I do all that in good ol’ pixel art.

Sophia Suliy – Illustrator

Sophia Suliy’s Instagram

The last time I observed such unity and readiness to work selflessly, sacrifice, and volunteer, was in 2014, during the Revolution of Dignity. Ukrainians can argue passionately with each other, agreeing on the order in the country, but when someone else tries to interfere with our lives, we are united against the enemy.

Each of us works on our own front and does what we do best. Personally, I draw illustrations. All my friends are artists, and if they are not in the army or territorial defense — they create art day and night. The main tasks for the Ukrainian artist now are informational war, self-reflection, quick response, and, of course, surviving.

Some try to help by creating funny memes, some fixate on the worst events, and many create charitable NFT collections or create something for the army and informational resources. We sell paintings and prints of our illustrations and transfer money to the army and refugees. Many artists have lost their jobs and houses and live on donations from kind people.

Grey-haired boy sleeping by Sophia Suliy

This is my artwork called “Grey-haired boy sleeping”. In March, it was reported about the case of a 6-year-old boy in Mariupol. His mother had been raped in front of him for several days. She died of her injuries. The boy was found at home alone, and his hair was already gray by that time. The russian army is killing thousands of civilians. They are raping and murdering mothers in front of their children. We don’t need peace at any cost. We need justice. 

We have hundreds of chilling stories of what is happening in occupied territories. In our worst dreams, in our worst expectations, we could not imagine what we see in Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. And despite this, our soldiers and people who miraculously escaped from Mariupol say that it is not the same as what we will see in this still occupied and completely destroyed city.

Tetiana Muliar – Graphic Designer

Tetiana Muliar’s Behance and Instagram

I am subscribed to many Ukrainian designers and illustrators on social media and art platforms. Since the beginning of the war on February 24 and up until now, it seems everyone has published some works where they conveyed their feelings and emotions, showed the situation in the country, accused or mocked the aggressor, or created something fun and inspiring. The same applies to musicians, poets, and writers — to everyone who is considered an artist.

Truly, we can call such people the fighters of the cultural frontline of Ukraine, even if they are not Ukrainians. So many of them put in gigantic efforts to broadcast everything that’s happening now in Ukraine through the prism of their own feelings. In my opinion, it is what makes our creative frontline so powerful.

In today’s realities, the main thing you can do to help and support is to spread the information and evoke emotions. It’s great when many people feel it and start thinking about it. The art community is best at transferring their emotions and feelings to people who weren’t affected by the war. In this way, no one stays indifferent; everyone starts contributing to our common fight against russian occupation and the genocide of the Ukrainian people.

No less important is the fact that art — illustrations, poems, prose, songs — influences Ukrainians who already feel all the grievances of the war. Art is our moral support, it gives us the feeling of unity in our fight against the enemy, it releases the emotions of both the artist and their audience, be that a viewer or listener.

War posters by Tetiana Muliar. Some inscriptions: “russian world”, “Life will defeat death, light will defeat darkness”, Molotov cocktail recipe, “WAR (special military operation)”, “Palianytsia”.

My works dedicated to the russo-Ukrainian war became such a release for me. It’s impossible to find the words to describe all that mix of fear, pain, hatred, and hope with pride at the same time that has lived in my heart since the first days of the full-scale invasion into Ukrainian territory. Although I didn’t have to run from my home, the war heavily affected my psychological and emotional state.

Art has become a way out for these emotions. In the first weeks of the war, I was unable to even think about it, I had no strength to do something either. I pushed myself at first, and then the motivation came to put to life a series of posters I’ve thought of. This project is about the russo-Ukrainian war, about my thoughts and feelings. It’s about the death and devastation brought by the war, about the disillusionment with russians who either close their eyes or support their troops that bring death, pain, and ruin to Ukraine. Also, there are some posters with hope as the main topic, posters about the strength of our spirit and the selflessness of our people in this fight. 

Jenya Polosina & Anna Ivanenko (at Seri/graph Studio) – Artists

Seri/graph Studio’s Website and Instagram

The Ukrainian creative sphere had been powerful before the war and remained the same after it started. We have a great community of visual artists, designers, and illustrators who successfully presented Ukraine on the international scene in the last few years. All of them are working now for our victory. Also, now everyone is as emotionally naked and honest as possible, so the visual art we make is sincere.

Creative initiatives help in different ways. Inside the ongoing information war, they help spread information, tell the truth, and raise awareness about Ukraine. Also, such initiatives collect a lot of money for humanitarian needs and the army by selling prints, pictures, NFTs, making auctions, etc. And, of course, a big part of the job is documentation. Making pictures, comics, and posters is an excellent way to preserve and engrave these times in history.

Comics by Seri/graph Studio, page 1
Comics by Seri/graph Studio, page 2

We make illustrations separately. Together as a studio, we make comics, graphic interviews, and reportage. We document our history, stories of our friends, and people we meet.

Oleh Bilyi – Creative Director and Graphic Designer

Oleh Bilyi’s Instagram and Website

The Ukrainian creative front received a new life after The Revolution of Dignity in 2014. It was the exact moment when the creators got a breath of fresh air due to weakened influence of russia on the culture of Ukraine. What is happening on the creative frontline now is something completely new: a combination of humor, metaphor, drama, and satire into one new creative product that hasn’t existed before. The conditions in which artists, designers, musicians, and poets work are conditions of an emotional outburst due to the bombing, the genocide of the Ukrainian nation, and the victories of our army over ruscists. All this encourages the brain to work actively, create new genius works, and combine incompatible things.

We can say that it is a form of a certain opinion about events and news released through the prism of metaphor and creativity. Instead of 1000 words, illustrators describe an event in an emotionally touching way. This gives a good idea of ​​the events in Ukraine. This is a story with one picture understandable in every language in the workd. This story directly and quickly shouts about the rape or death of children, helps to convey the real needs of our country at the moment, or refutes russian lies and fake news. The more the world sees, the better the understanding of events is, and the more effective decisions are made to save more lives of civilians and protect other countries from the potential threat of war and destruction.

Enerhodar by Oleh Bilyi. Sign inscriptions — “Enerhodar” to go forward, “Fu*k off” to turn back.

My works are metaphorical minimalism; it’s when a limited number of colors and shapes can accurately describe specific facts or predictions. I really like minimalism, and this is my main style in branding, so I transferred this style to my posters and other wartime works. Typically, through unusual metaphors in my works, I try to defuse the situation a little with light humor, as far as it is appropriate for the plot. This makes the result more interesting for the viewer and causes a greater emotional outburst. I deliberately use the colors of the national flag — Blue, Yellow, and the colors of the UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army – ed.] — Black and Red. In the combination of these colors, I saw something new and exciting for myself, this limitation, which gives the expansion of opportunities, such as working with negative space of the canvas or counter-shape.

Sergey Grechanyuk – Concept Artist and Illustrator

Sergey Grechanyuk’s Art Station and Instagram

I think the creative frontline is vital as it speaks the truth. It shows how people feel. On one side, it helps to spread the word and helps emotionally engage people around the world. On the other side, art inspires people. At first, as an artist in this situation, I felt that I was useless. All I knew was how to do art as I was spending all my time to be better at it. But then I heard the Ukrainian music band leader of BoomBox – Andriy Khlyvniuk – singing the Ukrainian folk resistance song “Oi, u luzi chervona kalyna” [“The red viburnum in the meadow” – ed.] in the city center of Kyiv. It moved me, and I understood that it is precisely what we should do as artists — inspire and move people. At least try it.

Victims of War by Sergey Grechanyuk

In my first piece called “Victims of War”, I wanted to spread the message about the bombing of Ukrainian cities by ruscists. So many innocent lives were taken, so many homes and families were destroyed, and so many children were killed. I wanted people abroad to understand how important it is to help close our sky. ruscists do not hesitate to kill anyone and destroy whole cities as they did with Mariupol. I understand that this work is very depressing, but this is the truth that has to be told. 

Warriors of Ukraine by Sergey Grechanyuk

With my second artwork called “Warriors of Ukraine”, I wanted to honor the Ukrainian warriors. They protect Ukraine with their lives. Those who are gone now show us great bravery and devotion; they are an inspiration for the living and next generations.

Oleksandr Aleksandrov – Illustrator

Oleksandr Aleksandrov’s Instagram and Facebook

The Ukrainian creative cultural front is essential in today’s realities. First of all, it’s because russia has been systematically destroying Ukrainian culture and creativity for centuries. But despite these oppressions, now we see a new blossom of Ukrainian culture and creativity in all its diversity. And culture is a crucial front in the fight against the enemy.

First, it is the informational front, which in the 21st century is incredibly important for winning the war. Now, Ukrainian and foreign artists are creating many illustrations on hot and topical themes. They single out the most important events, turn them into a visual image that conveys the right mood, and share it with the whole world. Every person on Earth can feel and understand these images without delving deeply into the context of what is happening.

In addition, images and symbols rule the world. Suppose we want the world to know about something, for example, about the protests of Ukrainians in occupied Kherson. In that case, we (illustrators) create visual images of this event and share them on the Internet, where our message will spread exponentially, and more people will learn about it.

Besides, Ukrainians really cheer each other up and inspire each other to fight by spreading illustrations about Ukraine 🙂

Warriors of Light by Oleksandr Aleksandrov. Inscription on the anti-tank missile system — “Ukraine will win”.

This work is called “Warriors of Light”. In it, I wanted to show ordinary Ukrainian men 40-50 years old, very good-natured in peacetime. Some grow honey in the apiary, and some sell fish in the market. But when the enemy, the occupier, comes to their home, starts shooting at their house, they take up arms without the slightest doubt and go to defend our home, our Ukraine. This is what is happening now.

russian soldier carries out denazification… by  Oleksandr Aleksandrov

The work is titled “russian soldier carries out denazification of Ukraine as part of a special military operation” 🙂 On one hand, we were all very amused, and on the other, this story shocked us. Fleeing from the Kyiv region, the invaders in some areas abandoned their military equipment and trucks full of stolen items. One of the trucks was full of washing machines. This shows the true nature of the russian marauder soldiers.

Vitaliy Ostaschenko – Digital Artist 

Vitaliy Ostaschenko’s Twitter and Artstation

Ukrainians tend to team up during the hard times; that helped us at the beginning of this war 8 years ago in 2014. The Ukrainian Twitter community is especially versatile. We know every language and could spread our ideas through different forms, art included. We are the real deal when we get together, so I think this is what makes us so influential and powerful in today’s realities. 

It helps to spread our messages in art form. Also, our art promotes us as Ukrainians — an independent nation, not “someone close to russia”.

Zemlia [Earth – ed.] by Vitaliy Ostaschenko

I just want to promote Ukraine as an artistic country with deep culture, ancient history, and great people living here. I also like Sci-Fi and tried to combine these two things. My messages are simple: we are Ukrainians, we lived, we live, and we will live and prevail after that, and we are a part of the world and global culture, though we are independent, free, and visible.

30 Years of Independence by Vitaliy Ostaschenko

Kseniia Pylypenko – Illustrator

Kseniia Pylypenko’s Instagram and Behance

Since the beginning of the war, there has been a powerful burst of Ukrainian art. Art has acquired a new meaning, it has become a manifestation of public opinion, an illustration of the new complex feelings of the Ukrainian people. It has become a strong coordinated frontline in the fight against the russian aggressor.

For the first time since the independence, Ukrainian artists have been cleansed of the inferiority syndrome, and art has become a reflection of the national idea — Freedom and Liberty of the Ukrainian people. Creativity has become completely independent. There is no longer any framework, no censorship, no comparison of oneself with other artists, and no one is bent over to the liking of customers or so-called opinion leaders.

Creative initiatives of Ukrainian artists help people to maintain the fighting spirit and ignite the so-called “Cossack drive” of our people. Many illustrations depict the pain and horrors of war. Accurate and clear stories allow millions of people to understand what exactly they are feeling because we are faced with new emotional states and often cannot explain them to ourselves.

I draw my own “chronicles of war”. My illustrations are based on faith in the Victory and inspired by the Freedom, Unity, and Strength of the Ukrainian people. They bear heart-breaking pain and incredible rage that motivates the struggle for Freedom and Truth on our land. There is Love for people and my native city of Kharkiv in them and firm faith in my unbreakable Motherland, which will blossom with magnificent flowers after our Victory!

List of Charities

Here’s the list of credible organizations to which you can donate money:

I want to yet again thank the artists and designers featured in this entry who agreed to give us their responses. Approval Studio team hopes this article gave you some insight into what is happening in Ukraine and how creatives are trying to help. You people are beyond amazing! We stand with you and with Ukraine and try to do whatever we can to help the cause.

Check out Part I and Part III of this article and let us know if you need an online proofing tool for your project to help Ukraine.

Слава Україні!

Picture of Matthew Roberts

Matthew Roberts

A guy with wide spheres of interest — from project management to board games and to spicy guitar riffs. Has a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism. Big and bald.
Picture of Matthew Roberts

Matthew Roberts

A guy with wide spheres of interest — from project management to board games and to spicy guitar riffs. Has a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism. Big and bald.

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