September 21, 2023


Adorn your Feelings

Creating art in war: Ukrainians use music and illustrations to depict the realities of Russia’s invasion

4 min read


Oksana Drachkovska’s illustrations were typically simple and vibrant intersections of nature and society that incorporated the cooling colors of the ocean, the warming hues of a loving home and the golden shades of fall. They told the beautiful story of everyday life in Ukraine. But that was before the war began. 

Three weeks ago, she watched for the first time as her neighbors cried and ran for a bomb shelter. Within days, she joined millions of others in the rush to evacuate their homes. Since then, she has watched from Poland as apartments, maternity hospitals and entire towns in her country have been reduced to rubble. 

Now, her art is filled with brooding dark reds, fire orange and ash-colored smudges. It’s the latest chapter of Ukraine’s story, and her way of making sure the world knows what’s happening. 

“It’s like my voice to the war to talk about what’s happening now in Ukraine,” the 34-year-old illustrator told CBS News. “…Pictures sometimes send a very strong message to people.” 

One of her most powerful illustrations is an ode to the destruction of the children’s hospital and maternity ward in Mariupol. In it, Ukraine’s national colors of blue and gold serve as the backdrop to a burning hospital and a stork chasing after the angel of an infant. 

“When I read about the news [about the hospital] I was totally shocked,” she said. “It was, for me, the high spot of evil. My mind can’t understand. …This is small children killed.” 

For Drachkovska, it’s difficult to process all the emotions that come from the war. She said she’s realized that she, like many others in her country, will never have the same life as they did before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deadly invasion. 

“Everything’s changing,” she said. “It’s like all my life is sand on the hands and I can’t control it.”

She’s also struggled with guilt. Drachkovska is in Poland staying with a friend, and said it’s difficult for her to comprehend how she has been able to secure safety when so many others have not. 

“A lot of people sleep on the aviation stations in Warsaw because they don’t have friends who aren’t Ukrainian,” she said. “…I’m single. I don’t have a husband or boyfriend in Ukraine, so for me it’s also not very hard for me to leave Ukraine. But a lot of my friends left their husbands with their children.”

Since she can’t physically be on the ground in Ukraine to help, she is now selling her art and sending that money to volunteers in Ukraine to help get food and medicine for civilians. So far, she said she’s been able to send 900 euros.  

“I can’t talk a lot about all these feelings. … I have so much mixing in my brain,” she said. “For me, it’s easy to draw.”

“Now it’s my mission,” she said. “I can’t be silent.” 

Drachkovska is one of many Ukrainian artists and musicians using their art to communicate the realities of war. 

In the basement of an apartment building in Kharkiv, Vera Lytovchenko has been playing her violin for her neighbors amid attacks from Russian forces. She often posts videos of her performances, with songs ranging from Ukrainian folk music on International Women’s Day to more somber classical compositions performed in honor of the lives that have been lost in the war, online.

In each performance, she wears a beautiful gown — as she would if she were to perform in a theater — and the cellar’s dim lighting casts a dark shadow on the concrete wall behind her. 

She’s using her newfound platform to raise money for a fund to help musicians and others in her community rebuild. 

“Since the 24 of February, we had to live in the cellar of our house because it’s dangerous to stay up because the bombs can drop any reason to any place in our city. So we decided to go down to ou cellar and spend most of our time there,” she told the Associated Press on March 9. 

There are roughly a dozen people who stay in the building’s basement, including a child and a teenager. 

Earlier this week, Lytovchenko and her father were inside the building when there was an explosion outside. She posted a video showing their kitchen windows completely shattered, chunks missing from her wall, water on the floor, a damaged store across the street and what appears to be the remains of explosive devices embedded in the road just outside of her building.

Despite the destruction, Lytovchenko played on. Dressed in a black gown, she stood in her living room and played a solemn composition on her violin. 

“All these people are my brothers and sisters now and I was trying to make them think about something, not about war for some minutes while I’m playing,” she said. “…Many people text me now saying that my videos give them such support and hope.”

Drachkovska says that people from all around the world have been showing their support for her and the rest of Ukraine. And she hopes her illustrations will be a reminder that even in war, kindness prevails. 

“It’s important that people keep love, not evil,” she said. “…It’s hard to accept, but I try to keep love and peace and hope in our victory.”


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