"Communicating with Russians is like moving embers."

Nick Fedyaev in New Zealand
Photo from personal archive

Nick Fedyaev is 57 years old. He is now in New Zealand. Since the beginning of the war, Nick had been under so much stress that he could not paint for a while. Then he cut off almost all Russian contacts. He writes only in English in social networks, donates money from the sales of his paintings to Ukrainians, prefers to say: "Actually, I was born in Kazakhstan", and discusses the "abolition of Russian culture" not on an official level, but inside himself as an artist.

- My Russian friends and I used to tell jokes to each other, but now, communication barely begins and the talk turns to war. So the less context around me, the better. Talking to Russians is like moving old embers. So I try not to do it.

On February 24, I was flying from Europe to New Zealand, turned on the Internet in Singapore - and I saw that 2-3 hours ago the bombing of Kiev began.

I thought I was having a dream in which I was committing murder. I thought it was me who had done such a despicable thing. I felt so ashamed of myself, like everyone was looking at me, pointing their fingers: "You're the shit." It was a disgusting feeling. I've never felt this way in my life. From being Russian. It took me a long time to find a way to get rid of this feeling, because it's impossible to live with it.

But I cannot say that the war was such a surprise, because on the eve of the war in Europe they were already saying: something will happen, will happen... Lufthansa had already changed the route, and we were not flying over Ukraine, but around. On the other hand, I also believe that the collapse of the Soviet empire had to continue at some point. The 90s were a shock, but bloodless. And now it has begun in earnest. And this is just the beginning. A lot more will happen.

At a concert in Tomsk. The 90s.
Photo from Nick Fedyaev's personal archive

I left Russia 25 years ago, but I still have a lot of things from there: favorite books, nostalgia, music, movies, friends. A whole lot of everything. And now it's all suddenly shattered. I can't sit down now and make myself watch an old Soviet movie. I can't read a new book in Russian. I analysed what annoys me. I had a big Facebook, half of which was Russian. When I posted that I was ashamed of what was going on, most people jumped on me. And within a couple of months I had cleaned up my social circle.

Generally, as soon as I see that someone is excited about life, I cross it out of my friends. Some people haven't even said anything yet, and I feel like they will. I do not want to listen to them, I do not care if Vasya Pupkin is for Zelensky or Putin, or "everything is questionable". Or someone makes dumplings, or invites someone over and enjoys it while Ukraine is being bombed, I don't want to see that.

Of my former Russian contacts I have five or six left. Because it naturally made me sick when I heard from people, with whom we were constantly laughing about something or discussing creativity, that they would send their son to fight Fascism.

Nick Fedyaev in Germany near the gallery selling his paintings
Photo from the personal Nick Fedyaev's archive

In the summer I was saved by books. I took from the shelf the memoirs of Paleologue, the French ambassador to Russia in 1914-1917. He described the turmoil in Russia, Rasputin. I saw very strong analogies with modern times. But as an artist, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't draw anything. I had only blood in my mind. Images that are not intrinsic to me as an artist. I'm not one to paint grief. And I stupidly went to my easel for two months and painted some stripes. So now I try to live my life differently. I told everyone where to go.

I do not deny that I am Russian. However, when people ask me at exhibitions: "You have an interesting accent, where are you from?" (and there are, let's say, 30,000 people passing through the exhibition, and many want to meet me), and I answer that I am Russian, then the reaction of some is blunt: "Ew, leper".

At first I tried to change their minds: 'Yes, I'm Russian, but I don't like Putin'. And now, when they ask 'Where are you from?', I answer: 'Actually, I was born in Kazakhstan'.
Nick Fedyaev in New Zealand
Photo from personal archive

I used to stand and laugh at the show, but now I have to be very careful. Life has changed, but that's nothing compared to what's happening in Ukraine. My Ukrainian friend, for example, had a son who died at front line. He is Russian himself. He lives in Kiev. And his children are fighting for Ukraine.

I speak Russian and English equally well. With children, for example, I speak English. And I think that now I have to be choosy. I don't want to carry a tail with Putin and the clichés of this nation.

The sense of shame that Germans felt after the war will now be felt by Russians. It is better not to boast about one's origins, "Tchaikovsky-Dostoyevsky". Even if you know that you are not personally guilty.

I support Ukraine financially. Since the beginning of the war, I've been painting sad, heartbreaking paintings, like the ones with the angel, or the beasts pierced by arrows. They were so bleeding... During the auction, when I was selling my paintings for the benefit of the Ukrainian people, out of a hundred comments, only one was of the sort that "since you're Russian, you're by definition a turd". I still feel guilty.

Nick Fedyaev's work

If you take the number of Russian books I've read and the number of Russian movies I've watched, it has decreased since the war began. Maybe someone will go to a Russian protest concert, for example, Semyon Slepakov is coming to us now. But I won't go. Because I just don't want to be on this subject. Earlier in my creative work I had Russian subjects, matryoshkas of all kinds, now even if I am asked, I will hardly succeed. I do not see Russian culture officially abolished. I have exhibitions, my surname is Russian, and in my booklet it says "Russian born".

No one cancels me. Moreover, I sell paintings as a Russian. We have immigrant countries here. Surnames are strange. It's not about nationality. Cancellation happens within myself.
Nick Fedyaev's work, sold at a charity
auction for the benefit of Ukraine

Logically, I understand what Putin is trying to do in the war - he is trying to wear Ukraine down. I, on the one hand, wish Ukraine a victory, but on the other hand I don't understand what that victory should mean. To return its territories to the borders of 2014? That doesn't seem to me to be enough. That's how Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and then the USSR reached Berlin. That's what it means to win. But it is unlikely that Ukraine will invade Russian territory. The question of winning the war is a complicated one. Another thing is that Russia will continue to disintegrate, there will probably be economic dependence on China. And Ukraine will be rebuilt even better than before. 

1 comment on "Communicating with Russians is like rubbing embers"

  1. The man is 57 years old, but he is crying like a woman, with mental problems on his face. There are 666 ethnic groups living in Russia, but for some reason they persistently want to blame the Russians.

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