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Letters from Ukraine: 15/03/22

Writing as he and Hellen Rose journey to Ukraine, George Gittoes describes his current works in progress, which examine the experience of war throughout the nation, and its representation in mainstream media.

Into the Dragon’s Lair, 2022, is highly autobiographical, with me taking Hellen under one arm as we go towards the Red Russian Dragon. Hellen’s hair is black but in the painting it is yellow; she is my Venus, and the background is in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag. Ukraine produces more sunflower oil than any other country in the world – so we are going into Yellow House country with Vincent on our shoulders and fields and fields of yellow sunflowers.

WAR IN EUROPE, VENUS AND MARS, 2022, is working from Rubens’s two famous paintings, Minerva Protecting Peace from Mars (also known as Peace and War), 1629-30, and Consequences of War (also known as Horrors of War), 1637-38. Rubens was a great diplomat and helped to end the war between Spain and England.

DRAGONS AT THE GATE, 2022 (not pictured), was done a month ago when the war was brewing and we were first contemplating Ukraine while working on our recent films in Chicago and Afghanistan. My mother always described obstacles as “dragons at the gate,” and told me to ignore them.

We are incredibly inspired by the brave protest action of Maria Ovsyannikova, the Channel 1 editor who made a placard spelling out “No War” in English and Russian, and held it behind the primetime news reader on the Kremlin’s most watched propaganda channel. Marie will face fifteen years in jail and miss seeing her two children. Incredible courage and conviction – she must be thinking that Putin cannot last long. I see this as a tipping point – the first crack in the porcelain ceramic of Putin’s brittle hold on the Russian people. We plan to be in Kyiv for one month, and believe the Russian invasion will have begun to unravel by then.

Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, is more of an artist than a seasoned run of the mill politician . . . he knows how to invent the script and, hopefully, have it turn out as a  happy ending. Who said art and nonviolent protest cannot make a difference!

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