The Hand-Drawn Faces of Ukraine's Uprising

An artist sketches the ordinary people behind the Euromaidan protests.
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Oleksandr Kom'yakhov/RFE

Inspiration can come from unexpected places.

For Andriy Pryimachenko, a Ukrainian journalism student, it came from Mykola Azarov, the now-former prime minister and one of the harshest opponents of the Euromaidan protests.

As protesters and government forces clashed on January 22, Azarov accused the anti-government demonstration of bringing "terrorists" onto the streets. So Pryimachenko, 24, decided to profile some so-called terrorists—and enlisted a friend, illustrator Oleksandr Kom'yakhov, to help.

What has emerged is a series of evocative, occasionally funny, hand-drawn portraits of protesters and the ordinary citizens who support them by buying medical supplies or fortifying the barricades.

The Democracy Report

One portrays a "smiling terrorist," a handicapped man with no helmet or protection who wanders happily along Kiev's embattled Hrushevskyy Street, watching protesters prepare Molotov cocktails. A "sympathetic terrorist," bundled in a heavy coat, carries bags of bandages and medicine destined for Maidan protesters. A "wealthy terrorist" in his 50s uses his Lexus to deliver a trunk load of tires to the barricades. As a parting gesture, he hands over a canister of fuel saying, "Well, you know what you're doing." 

Four "terrorist" portraits, accompanied by Pryimachenko's colorful reports on each of the figures, were published on January 27 by The Insider, an information website. They were later translated into English and posted on a blog published by the media group EuromaidanPR.

According to Pryimachenko, the series is aimed at countering the government's attempts to portray ordinary, well-intentioned citizens as extremists bent on violence.

"I'd really like the authorities who have called these people terrorists to look at their portraits and understand that something's wrong in a country where people like this should be thought of as terrorists," he says. "Usually when you hear the word terrorist, you imagine some kind of armed fighter who kills innocent people. Here it's the opposite. Innocent people have become the terrorists, whether they like it or not."

Kom'yakhov, 36, is best known for his complex, deeply detailed illustrations of graphic novels, including Chub, a futurist fantasy based on the space-age travails of a patriotic Cossack. But he began drawing images from Euromaidan after a friend, opposition journalist Tetyana Chornovol, was badly beaten and left for dead. Her bruised, battered face was the subject of his first sketch.

Since then, in addition to the "terrorist" portraits, he's drawn a number of Euromaidan protesters, from solemn priests and moody teenage girls to a passerby who pauses to quickly shovel fresh snow onto the barricades, a violin strapped to her back.

Kom'yakhov attends the protests with a camera and does the bulk of his drawing at home, saying he's striving for "archetypes," rather than precise individual portraits. It's a project he says he plans to continue as long as the demonstrations last.

"I'm a participant," he says. "It's not possible to be simply an observer there. There have been so many people arrested, even beyond the zone of these events. By now, everyone is a participant. It's hard to be an observer when you see everything that's going on."


This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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