"I cried, wiped away my tears. And I drew." War diary in the drawings of Olga Krakowiak

An artist from Germany keeps her own chronicle of the war in Ukraine. After February 24, 2022, Olga Krakowiak stopped painting with paints. She created a series of black and white drawings as her response to the news from Ukraine. Olga talks about how the war has changed her life, about emigration and her attitude towards Russians in the "Witnesses" project. We present her story with a few editorial corrections:

– My name is Olga Krakowiak. I am 41 years old, I was born in Kiev, but I have been living in Dortmund for 22 years. My family came to Germany as Jewish immigrants, or contingent refugees. When we decided to move, I was still a minor. Personally, the move gave me freedom from my stepfather, who had made my life a nightmare for years.

Olga Krakowiak
Photo from the personal archive of the heroine

I have a pharmacy degree, but I am primarily an artist. I only work a few hours a week in a pharmacy. But I spend many hours every day in my studio. I am a self-taught artist. I started painting as a hobby, and then I got so involved that it wasn't enough. I graduated from a private art academy.

Before the war, I used intense yet harmonious colours. I painted pictures with nature and human, or a special world of inanimate objects filled with light and colour.

I was inspired by beautiful animals and interesting people's faces, by books and music, by poetry and travel. A few years ago I was very impressed by the play "Salome" - and I suddenly started painting with ink almost as often as with paints. But using colour in painting gave me incomparable pleasure.

Olga with her pre-war paintings in her studio
Photo from personal archive of the heroine

Until February 24, I didn't believe there would be a war. When it happened, I was amazed. I was horrified by what was happening. During the first days the feeling of helplessness was very strong, but then I became confident that Ukraine would hold out. I also felt at the beginning of the war that the world had not yet understood how bad it would be if Russia won and resigned itself to the fact that Ukraine would be invaded. There was a kind of cynicism about this, and it was very frustrating for me.

Dortmund. Photo from the heroine's personal archive

I used to be an apolitical person, which I regretted very much when the war started. I lived in the world of art, culture, books... Now I could no longer read literature - I hadn't read a single fiction book in those 10 months, which was a first time for me. But I felt a strong need to be aware of all the current events, if only by "living through" them with the people of Ukraine. My thoughts revolved around the events in Ukraine, and they still do.

Photo from the personal archive of the heroine."Let the angel save Lidochka from troubles, diseases and harm
On February 24, I started my first work on the war, and since then I've been writing exclusively on the subject. The series now consists of more than thirty drawings. And I create mostly in black and white, I don't want to and can't use colours. 

I watch reports from Ukraine every day, listen to military experts, and read all the major news about the war. There are always more topics and events asking to be put on paper than I can put into my drawings.

I would finish one and immediately start the next. It was a kind of diary of the events and impressions of those months. I cried while looking at photos and videos from Ukraine, and then I wiped away my tears and drew.

I guess it helped me not to get depressed about what was going on. I heard from people around me that they couldn't watch the news anymore and didn't want to see pictures of murdered and tortured people. I couldn't and can't not watch the news and pictures. I put it all through me and then I paint. Each picture tells a different story, or several stories combined.

I read about a woman who had a manicure shortly before her death. She was killed by Russian soldiers (the body of 53-year-old Iryna Filkina was found on Yablunskaya Street, the moment of her death was captured on video from a drone - editor's note). She was identified by a manicurist by her hand covered with earth. The hands, as if reaching out of the ground, became one of the symbols in my paintings. Under the impression of events that shook the world from the occupied territories near Kiev, I created a work "The Road of War. Bucha".

Then there were the horrors of Mariupol, one event more terrifying than another. This is how the "Mariupol Stork" arose — after the shelling of the Mariupol maternity hospital. And "Theater of Military Operations," when a Russian bomb was dropped on a theatre where hundreds of civilians were hiding in the basement and in front of which "CHILDREN" was written in big letters.

I know that many people died there, but in my paintings these people are depicted as if before the terrible end. I try to show the spark of life that is still burning, but will soon be extinguished. The child carried by the Mariupol stork is also still alive. But the stork's heart is broken.

Then Azovstal became the center of attention. Its heroes, who fought bravely. And, even in inhumane conditions, remained courageous. The photos of Dmitry Kozatsky from there made a strong impression. In my picture the man, standing in a beam of light and spreading his arms, grew wings as a symbol of inner freedom. Freedom, despite the obvious limitations and the imminent captivity.

In one of the shellings of Kharkov, a boy was killed. His father sat beside the dead child for hours, holding his hand and praying. I called my painting of this story "Pieta".

The number of children killed by Russian shells is increasing every day - I had the idea for the "Procession of Empty Prams".

One of the most tragic moments of the war was the criminal explosion in the colony of Jelenivka in the room where Ukrainian prisoners were sleeping. My work "Broken Wings" is dedicated to this event.

Once an RF missile hit a private house where a mother and two children were staying. All that was left of the house was a crater. The dog next door, who loved the children, sat on the ruins all night and howled. The devotion and sincere grief of this dog inspired me to paint "A Dog Embracing the Ruins of Its Home".

One of the most heartbreaking wounds was inflicted on me by a very good (now ex-friend). She was trying to prove to me the rightness of the Russian invasion by posting fake information about the war on Facebook, like "they're bombing themselves. It was so painful to read all that. She really believed it all. Then I realised that many people were in a similar situation. Some even had family members on "different sides of the barricades". I watched Andrey Loshak's film "Breaking the Connection", that helped, too. You have to live with this pain.

I have great respect for those Russians who, despite the consequences, tell the truth about this war. They are honest and brave people, and if they are now in prison and in disgrace, their time will come. But they are still sources of strength and hope for Russians who do not support Putin's criminal regime and the criminal war against Ukraine. 

I am sympathetic to those who have gone into internal exile, who suffer from what is happening but are afraid or cannot do anything against it. People tend to be afraid of pain and suffering and not everyone is willing to sacrifice their life and health.

Photo from the personal archive of the heroine."Let the angel save Lidochka from troubles, diseases and harm

What can one feel for those who support war? And thus support the deaths of many thousands of people, the destruction of cities, torture and violence? - Incomprehension and contempt, to say the least. But rather, it is rage and hatred.

But the biggest rejection is caused by former Russians and natives of the USSR who have lived in Germany for a long time and support Putin. These people have access to information, they have the ability to understand everything, and they let themselves be fooled by Russian propagandists! Bitter and disgusting.

Putin and his entourage are responsible for this war. People like Kadyrov and Prigozhin, who improved their status at the expense of the war. And, of course, the propagandists from Channel One, who incite hatred of Ukraine and Ukrainians.

But also Russian contract soldiers who go to kill to pay their loans. And all other members of the Russian army who came as invading occupiers to Ukrainian territories.

All those who have killed, raped, robbed, and pillaged. And those who, sitting in a warm bureau, program the course of cruise missiles flying on the Ukrainian peaceful infrastructure. Those who work in the Russian military industry, receiving bonuses for doing so.

As well as the policies of the conventional "Western countries," which have not sufficiently demonstrated their stance on this war: not supplying sufficient weapons and air defense systems to Ukraine, not imposing sanctions against Russia before the large-scale invasion. 

We should have done this since the annexation of Crimea and the conduct of hostilities on the territory of Donbass and, of course, during the build-up of military forces on the border with Ukraine in the winter of 2021/ 2022.

Photo from the personal archive of the heroine."Let the angel save Lidochka from troubles, diseases and harm

Before this war started, I never thought I would do anything for Ukraine. After the Russian invasion we collected warm clothes and other necessities for Ukrainian refugees. We transferred medicines and bandages to Ukraine. Then I realised that the best thing to do was to donate to foundations that buy everything necessary for the army, because only that way there would be fewer casualties among both civilians and Ukrainian soldiers. I opted for the "Come Back Alive" fund.

In March, when the flow of refugees was most rapid, we took in two refugee women: a mother and her daughter. They lived with us for two months. 

After a few months, the topic of the war in Ukraine began to fade in Germany, and I began looking for a way to bring it back into the spotlight. I decided to hold a three-month painting course, all proceeds of which would be donated to Ukraine. My goal is to keep people from war fatigue.

Photo from the heroine's personal archive

Living in Germany, one realises the mistake made by European (and especially German) politicians in making European countries completely dependent on cheap Russian gas. Billions of euros flow from Europe to Russia. This is the subject of my work "The Gas Pipeline Cage for the Dove of Peace".

And, of course, I could not avoid the topic of the destruction of the energy infrastructure. The struggle between light and darkness in the literal and figurative sense. Several of my works are devoted to this, such as "The Destruction of Light".

I already had a personal exhibition of these works called "Ukraine. War. Close to My Heart" at the Gewelsberg Town Hall. In February an exhibition is planned in Dortmund, and in May in Kastrop-Rauksel. I would like to hold this exhibition as often as possible. It is very important for me to show these paintings now, I have put my other projects on hold  until better times, until victory.

I wish Ukraine the most important thing  victory! And after victory  to see the trial of war criminals. To receive reparations. To rebuild the country.

The greatest fear is that Western countries will get "tired" of helping Ukraine. And as a consequence, Ukraine will have to make concessions and cease hostilities. And Putin will accumulate forces and attack again and seize even more of Ukraine. What follows from this fear is that the war criminals, from Putin to the propagandists, will not get what they deserve, and the world will swallow it.

In general, my greatest fear is that evil can defeat good; and how to live after that?

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