Since March of this year, the ongoing project ArtUnitedUs has collaborated with artists from around the globe with one mission in mind, to raise public awareness and attention to the problem of war, aggression and violence, bringing instead a message of love and reconciliation.
With this idea in mind Australian artist Guido van Helten completed a couple of days ago a large-scale mural in Avdiyivka, an eastern Ukrainian town where fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops still takes place 2 1/2 years after the start of a conflict that has killed more than 9,600 people.
About the Mural
The mural features the portrait of Marina Marchenko, a 73-year-old teacher, photographed by Guido shortly after his arrival in Avdiyivka. Having not been in a conflict zone before, Guido van Helten spent two days wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet while working on the wall he had chosen, a wall facing the front lines and therefore visible to separatist snipers. It wasn’t an easy assignment, on both days the artist worked on the mural, the sound of mortars and the rattle of machine-gun fire were present, especially during the late afternoon, so was the insecurity that something could go wrong. But the wish of giving joy to the people who lived there was stronger than the fear of the unknown.
“These people have probably never seen anything like this…. If I can give them something to think about that isn’t war — even for a moment, then it’s worth it.” – Guido van Helten
Without making a formal statement, Van Helten’s mural, organised by ArtUnitedUs and curated by Geo Leros and Iryna Kanishcheva, sends a strong message, not just to the people on both sides of Avdiyivka, but also to the world.
About the Artist
Part visual artist, part anthropologist, Guido Van Helten, 29, is an Australian contemporary artist dedicated to painting large-scale, site-specific mural works. His subjects are watercoloured and sepia-toned, like old photographs that speak of the history and stories of the places he visits.
Ukraine’s ATO zone
ATO zone or Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone, is a term often used by the media and government of Ukraine to identify territory where the war in Donbass takes place. The abbreviation ATO is also used by OSCE in their reports on the situation in eastern Ukraine during the war in Donbass as well as by other foreign institutions in Ukraine.
ATO is also used as a term for territories not controlled by the Government of Ukraine during the war in Donbass including parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (regions).
On 28 December 2015 the song “Brattya Ukrayintsi” (Brothers, Ukrainians) became recognized as the official anthem of ATO zone.
Photos and background information by photo journalist Amos Chapple