Antiwar art on the streets of Saint Petersburg: A form of resistance

Screenshot of YouTube video with one of Misha Marker's earlier works. It is done in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, and it says: “It is time to tighten your belts” (which is a saying in Russian that times are going to be tough).  But it also shows a hanging rope, meaning that the regime will make everyone suffer.

The independent Russian media outlet Important Stories (Vazhnye Istorii) has published an Instagram post featuring antiwar art that appeared on the streets of Saint Petersburg in 2022 and 2023, all of which have already been destroyed by the authorities. These are not the ordinary graffiti that also appear in Russia every day as a way of antiwar protest but art which sometimes is signed with an alias of an artist. Global voices embedded Vazhnye Istorii's and the artists’ Instagram posts in this publication.

This poster imitates a pre-election poster of Valdimir Putin, the current president of Russia. Putin will run as a “candidate” during the presidential election of the president (which will not be free and fair because of the total repression of the dissent and control over the media) in 2024. The poster says: “The country is huge. There will be enough earth for everyone.” The word earth here, земля in Russian is written with a Latin symbol Z in the beginning — Zемля.  The symbolism here is two-fold: first of all, it implies that the brutal war of conquest in Ukraine that Putin started was never anything the country needed — it has too much vast territory of its own which is not taken proper care of by this regime — and second, that Putin intends to send millions to slaughter but there will always be enough earth in Russia to bury them. The author is a graffiti artist with a nickname xbfmthx. He features his other work on Instagram.

The second photo in the post shows a scene from the famous Russian ballet, Swan Lake. The ballet dancers that are dancing the popular “little swan dance” are beheaded and depicted in a bloody red color. The meaning is also twofold  . One is that the “Russian culture,” once so proclaimed and the pride of the nation, turned out to be murderous. Another is that the ballet is usually shown on national TV when things like the regime change happens — which happened during the 1991 coup attempt which ended in the establishment of a semi-democratic Russian state and the final break up of the USSR. Because the authors are unknown, Global Voices did not find it on Instagram separately.

The third photo of the post shows the work of an artist Vano Bogomaz. It pictures a crucified Jesus with two Russian soldiers who appear to have just crucified him. It appeared on Saint Petersburg's streets in April 2023.  Global Voices embedded the post from Vano's Instagram page. The description says: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke: 23:34) were Christ’s words on the cross. It has been more than 2000 years now, and we still cannot stop doing evil.”


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A post shared by Vano Bogomaz (@vano_bogomaz)

The next work belongs to a graffiti artist with the nickname Zoom. This one speaks for itself. The post embedded from the artist's Instagram page.


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A post shared by @zoomstreetart

This work appeared in Saint Petersburg in October 2022.  This is a photo of what it should have looked like: the work was stopped by the police in Saint Petersburg and the artists were both fined. Instead of Google in the search line, it says Goolag (Gulag), referring to the Soviet forced labor camps, and the question for this “search” is “how to escape?” The authors are the art-group Yav (Явъ).

The next work is also by the same art group.  It was put on the streets of the city on April 12, celebrated as the day of exploring the cosmos exploration, on the anniversary of the day when for the first time in history Yurii Gagarin, a man from the Soviet Union, went into space.  It pictures the surface of a different planet (presumably, the Moon), and says: why are we sending rockets NOT there.

 Another graffiti artist, Misha Marker, did a poster in December 2022 in one of the Saint Petersburg bus stops.  It says “There is a *****.” Although it seems at first sight that the artist says “There is snow,” there are five letters in the word that they omitted, and while snow (снег) has four letters, war (война) has five. It is prohibited by law in Russia to call the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “war.”


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A post shared by Миша Маркер (@misha_marker)

Another work that the same artist posted in Saint Petersburg in March 2023.  The table on the poster says “exit.”


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A post shared by Миша Маркер (@misha_marker)

All these forms of resistance may not be enough to end the war or the brutal Russian regime.  But the fact that they are still happening brings a glimpse of hope to those inside the dictatorship. All the artists remain anonymous in fear of persecution.

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