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The cartoonists and the war

SATIRE / MODERN TIMES has spoken to seven Ukrainian and one Russian cartoonist, all associated with the Libex network, about how they view their work in relation to the war in Ukraine.


The first questions go to Vladimir Kazanevskyj (Ukraine) and Mikhail Zlatkovskij (Russia).

- From 24 February 2022, then Russia began its military operations in Ukraine, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian artists have said that they find it difficult to work. Is that true for you too?

Kazanevskyj: – In the first days after the invasion by the Russian troops, I did not draw at all. I followed the news all the time. But then some ideas came to me, perhaps from the cosmos. Since then I have drawn about the war every day. Before the war, I didn't draw political ones cartoonis. I preferred funny or philosophical drawings, or cartoons. But now the mind is occupied with the war and the news. I can't draw anything else. I have made caricatures about warone for the Ukrainian magazine Kraina and for many foreign publications.

Vladimir kazanevsky (Ukraine)-Russian soldiers formation

Zlatovskij: For me it is not difficult, but impossible. There are no independent media in Russia where it is possible to publish critical drawings about the war in Ukraine. In addition, a law has been introduced whereby criticism of the war can result in 8 to 15 years fengsel. And an opponent of the war is labeled a 'foreign agent' with the loss of many rights.

- As in all modern hybrid wars, it is a battle for internal and external information – a war of propaganda. How do you work under such conditions?

Kazanevskyj: – I am like a soldier in information warone where Russia has distorted information in recent years. Unfortunately, some do not understand what is going on in Ukraine. My drawings are without text and can be understood all over the world. If I draw Russian troops, Putin, about the reasons for the war, about the abuses, it makes an impression and helps my country. Some of the drawings are online, in newspapers and magazines. I am happy to be a part of the information war and will not give up on this. It is a hybrid war, both a military war and an information war. Russian propaganda has destroyed a lot. We will win as our fight is for democracy and peace. And cartoonists help us with this.

Zlatovskij: – But we are unable to work under these conditions in any way.

- Much of this information war, whether right or wrong, is based on history and the Second World War. Is this also a source of inspiration for you?

Kazenevskyj: – Russian propaganda uses swastika-symbol (Z) against Ukrainian forces. But if we think about the atrocities that the Russians have committed in Ukraine, we can say that their Z symbol can be compared to the swastika used by the Nazis. We use it. At the beginning of the war, when we heard explosions at four in the morning, it reminded me of World War II. That time, German planes bombed Kiev in the morning.

- Can illustrations made by Ukrainians be seen in Russia, and Russian illustrations be seen in Ukraine?

Kazanevskyj: – It is impossible to publish Ukrainian cartoons in Russian media, or Russian in Ukrainian media. My drawings are blocked because the information channels are closed. But I have many friends who draw in Russia who send me messages every now and then.

Hitler promised at the time to hang the caricaturists in the Soviet Union.

- They are afraid of censorship and of their lives. It is dangerous to be in contact with a Ukrainian satirist. Some cartoonists in Russia support the regime in Moscow, but especially in St. Petersburg many turn away Putin the back. For example, I know two Russian satirists who emigrated after the war broke out, because they did not want to live in a fascist country.

Zlatovskij: – Facebook, Instagram and many websites and social media have been blocked in Russia. That's why I so rarely see drawings from Ukrainian artists. Publication in other countries is possible. I also know one, Sergej Elkin, who was declared a 'foreign agent' and had to leave the country immediately.

- Do you see graphic satire as a weapon? And what kind of significance does it have for the people?

Kazanevskyj: – Yes, I think graphic satire is a weapon. Napoleon equated caricaturists with murderers and forgers. Hitler promised at the time to hang the caricaturists of the Soviet Union, Kukriniksij, in Moscow's Red Square. All tyrants are afraid and try to crush satirists who criticize them. Political cartoons during the war ridiculed the warmongers. They also open the eyes of those who do not fully understand the essence and causes of war. When I draw Putin in my drawings, I try to understand what drives the man. What crazy thoughts can pop into the mind of a dictator? Will he deliriously push the nuclear button? His eyes are terrible – they are deep, set. He is a native of the KGB's black hole, with the cold eyes of a hungry wolf. When I finish a drawing, I feel sick. I should have drunk more Ukrainian horilka with pepper or whiskey, but my health does not allow it. Political cartoons are my formidable weapon in the brutal information war. Terrorists are even afraid of caricatures.

Zlatovsky: – Yes, satire is a powerful weapon, which is why it is banned in Russia.

A cyst.

Another five Ukrainian artists

They draw caricatures to fight Russian aggression.

Aleksander Dubovsky (60), editor-in-chief of several satirical newspapers and winner of a number of international competitions, has stayed in Kiev:

Dubovskyj: – Sometimes a cartoon mocking modern dictators becomes a weapon. We must help communicate this tragedy, which unfortunately takes place in the 21st century, to the entire civilized world. Let's hope that it ends soon, and that we all get clear skies again where we can only draw humor!

Unfortunately, most Russian cartoonists have supported Putin's aggressive policies and the war in Ukraine with their art.

Olena Tsuranova has lost her job as the newspaper where she usually publishes her work has been shut down due to the war:

Tsuranova: – Caricature as information through the internet and other media tells the world about the war in Ukraine in satirical form. I think it's a form of psychological weapon. It is positive for people.

One of the mediums as Oleksij Kustovskyj published his work in, has entered because of the war, and his main work has become difficult. But he has stayed in Ukraine:

Kustovskyj (Kusto): – It is a form of resistance and moral support at the same time. For Ukrainians, humor during the war is a powerful weapon. We laugh not to cry!

Oleg Gutsol: – Caricatures are particularly in demand in times of social and political upheaval in all countries. During the war in Ukraine, Ukrainian cartoonists are warriors on the ideological front, reflecting the enemy's information attack. War cartoons and caricatures in Ukraine are now also drawn by non-professional cartoonists – painters, designers and book illustrators.

- Will it be possible one day to come to terms with the Russian satire community, or will this war definitely break all contacts that existed before the war?

Gutsol: – Unfortunately, most Russian cartoonists have supported Putin's aggressive policy and the war in Ukraine with their art. I have severed all relations and all contact with them, and I can hardly forgive their moral complicity in the killing of people in Ukraine. Many Russian artists are also outwardly neutral to the war, and I have removed them from my circle of friends – have no contact with them. Fortunately, there are Russian cartoonists who have supported Ukraine with their works and condemned the Kremlin's criminal policy. But all are forced to emigrate from Russia, due to fear of repression and prosecution in their home country. My Ukrainian colleagues and I are in close contact with them.

We laugh not to cry!

Dubovskyj: – The question of friendship between Russian and Ukrainian cartoonists is interesting. But the point is, we didn't argue with them. They made their own choice! There are colleagues who sympathize. But there are also some who are not interested – who want us to be punished (i.e. with death). How is it possible to treat such cartoonists as 'friends'? They have all made their choice! But I still communicate with many Russian cartoonists – many who had to leave Russia.

Tsunarova: – I think this war will definitely break all ties that were there before.


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