Live news on the Ukraine-Russia war: latest updates

Valerie Hopkins

Volodymyr Titulenko has long been haunted by memories of his early childhood from World War II. Now, at 82, the artist expresses his sorrow for the ongoing war through his painting.

Mr. Titulenko’s house in the village of Rusaniv, one hour east of Kiev, was on the front line between the Ukrainian army and the invasion forces from Russia. With his wife and niece in Kiev making sure his tunnel work was safe, he spent two weeks sheltering by himself at his home in his village.

Mr. Titulenko, who can see well with only one eye, has been glued to war television reports, and this is reflected in his art.

After returning to his studio in his flower-filled garden, one of his earliest paintings was “Spring in Rusaniv”, which shows blooming wildflowers in the foreground and burning Russian tanks in the background. On the road near the tanks, the bodies of two Russian soldiers are spread apart.

During a visit on Tuesday, Mr. Titulenko was painting beautiful brushstrokes on his latest work: “Mariupol ’22”, a large canvas depicting the destruction of the city and a Madonna-like figure cradling a child. He said he decided to paint it when he couldn’t get a picture out of his head from the steel mill in the city where Ukrainian fighters held out for weeks. It was an image of Anna Zaitseva, who had taken refuge in the bowels of the steel mill since February 25 with her infant son Svyatoslav.

“I saw a picture of a woman emerging from the Azovstal steel mill with a baby in her arms,” ​​she said.

The mother figure had a halo around her head, a nod to another of her passions: icon painting.

Behind him, his niece Eva was painting on a small easel. One of her paintings was allegedly auctioned to raise funds for the Ukrainian army. Her mother was in eastern Ukraine volunteering to help the military.

Mr. Titulenko, who also carves wood carvings, has long painted political works along with his icons and bucolic landscapes. Some paintings hanging in his studio gallery satirize leaders such as former president Viktor Yanukovych, who used his political stance to become the richest man in Ukraine, and another businessman who became president, Petro Poroshenko. The two men are shown in a work stealing the country’s natural resources with a sign that says “New Tariffs”.

Nearby hung a painting of two small children standing in front of a pile of destroyed military equipment. The work was finished several years ago and was inspired by Mr. Titulenko’s childhood in post-war Berlin, where his father, a Soviet soldier, was stationed. During the war he was with his grandparents in Ukraine, separated for several years from his mother, who studied art in Moscow and had been evacuated to the Urals, and from his father, who had also been an art student in Moscow before being deployed to the front.

His mother eventually left Russia, posing as a nurse to pick up Mr. Titulenko in Ukraine before going to Berlin to reunite with his father, and after the war she spent several years in Germany. She did not expect to see childhood memories repeated in her old age, and above all she did not expect the Russians to invade her home.

“My mother was Russian,” said Mr. Titulenko, who was born in the Russian capital while his parents were studying. “Who can expect someone to come from Russia to kill us?”

His wife, Ludmila, said she had a hard time understanding why Russia would invade.

“We have always lived here peacefully, calmly,” he said. “No one has had any problems with language or nationality; no one has ever talked about it ”.

Mr. Titulenko has one last big project in mind: “I will paint a mural to celebrate Ukraine’s victory,” he said.

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