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War through the eyes of Ukrainian artist Marina Stognieva

Photos and videos can be found at the bottom of the page

Chapter I

"The stench of war. Two weeks before".

   A message came on Viber: "Marinka, if you have time, come to the library, we are hanging pictures there today!" The mood is good, the astringent aroma of coffee is already wafting through the apartment and I am standing in the wardrobe, choosing an outfit for today. I want to wear something bright, probably red, because I'm already tired of this gray, melancholy month of February. Usually every year around these days I go to warm countries. There were thoughts of splurging and going on a trip this winter as well. But at the beginning of the month, I had a dream about my late grandmother and repeatedly persistently repeated: "Marinka, stay at home so that you can be at home, did you hear?" I asked her how long I should sit, because I have many plans, to which she replied: "The road will be yours only after March 15." Prior to that, I had not received any recommendations from heavenly beings in my dreams, my grandmother and I were the closest people in the world, so I decided to listen. There was no immediate need to fly or go somewhere, and I stayed in Kyiv. February 15 was on the calendar - 9 days before the start of the war.

    My artist friends were already waiting for me in the library, the plan for today was very positive: hang a painting on the walls of the Green Library and then have lunch together. Ukrainian artists Inna Artamonova and Iryna Saibel were preparing for personal exhibitions. I really love such events and preparing for them is part of the holiday itself. The girls began to think about what to call these exhibitions, and against the background of disturbing rumors about the war, the exhibitions were named: "Make ART NOT WAR" and "Make love not war".

During lunch at the Kyiv Mansarda cafe, the conversation about art turned to more dramatic topics: US and other intelligence agencies warned Ukrainians that tomorrow, February 16, war would begin, that it was inevitable and that Russia had already prepared everything necessary on the borders for an insidious attack. Russian politicians and diplomats claimed that this was all a delusion and that planned military training was ongoing. And I remembered how last year in May there was a similar tense situation, but everything worked out and I went on a planned vacation to Odessa, so I advised the girls not to worry about anything and to prepare for the showing of the paintings.

   The opening of the exhibition was loud and fun, guests came from all corners of the capital to enjoy the artistic works of my talented friends. Flowers, greetings, champagne, poetry, clinking glasses, treats for every taste! A record was playing on the gramophone and Irynka and I even danced to well-known Odessa motifs. I was joyful and happy, sadness and anxiety took a backseat, and only the increased attention to my video stories on the network from fans of the "Russian world" in the territories occupied by Russia since 2014, among whom were my acquaintances, made me think, that their mass surveillance, which was so unexpectedly intensified, is connected with the fact that they have a premonition, and are already ready to taste possible terrible events for Ukrainians.

    Such aesthetically beautiful evenings are etched in the memory for a long time, because they are what separate a happy carefree life from a flurry of fateful events that cannot be controlled, which, like a hurricane, break or change millions of lives. February 16 was a wonderful day and a quiet night, the war was delayed and we continued to live our joyful Ukrainian life for another whole week.

   February 23... The last day of peace in 2022 for my native country. We, Ukrainians, did not know anything about it yet and went about our daily business. The tension was palpable, but no one believed in a great war. On Instagram, a stranger left me a comment in Arabic that Putin's army would soon come and kill us all; I never understood whether he was angry or warning. I had to go to the city center, there a certificate was waiting for me at the "Ra" Gallery that I had completed the art curator's course and now had the experience and the right to independently organize exhibitions and create art projects. There we met with the owner of the gallery Ms. Natalya, the conversation was pleasant, but sad, the feeling of a terrible threat ate up the mood: on the morning of February 24, war was predicted again, they said that it would definitely start at four o'clock.

   The evening of that day was gentle, without snow or rain, and after meeting at the gallery I went for a walk in the center of Kyiv. There were not many passers-by, I met several foreign reporters who talked about the state of affairs in Ukraine in front of the camera. She hurriedly reached the Golden Gate - it was closed. I caught myself thinking that I had never been to this place on a historical tour and that I must fix it. A little cold, she went to an Italian cafe and ordered dinner; while I was waiting, I made several sketches in a notebook. In two weeks, the opening of my exhibition in the center of the capital was to take place, and there were several more paintings in the works that I had to finish, thoughts about them did not leave me for a moment. By chance, I overheard a girl at the next table talking on the phone, she was complaining that the city was locked in anticipation of something terrible, and people were starting to panic. To amuse myself, I picked up my phone and started looking at the certificate photos I had taken as a souvenir in the gallery. Beautiful pictures .., but in the background on the wall behind me hangs such an unpleasant picture: two sad Warriors with weapons look from behind my shoulders, as if the War itself is hanging over me; and why did I stand next to them???... I got angry from such random predictions. Finished with Italian pasta and salmon tartare, I called a taxi and went home.

   The night was cozy, the bed was warm, I was reading something and could not fall asleep for a long time, the clock showed 04:20. My heart is a little relieved: the war is canceled, so you can sleep peacefully. I put on a soft, warm robe and went to the bathroom to moisturize my face with cream, then I turned off the light and lay down in the crib under a fluffy cover, put two pillows under my feet for a sweet sleep, closed my eyes and smiled, remembering my vain fears and worries. And half a minute later, loud explosions began, which shook my multi-story building. Kyiv and all of Ukraine woke up...

 Insidiously, at dawn on February 24, Russia attacked peacefully sleeping Ukrainians with hundreds of rockets and shells. The war has begun...

Read more >>> Chapter II: "Basement"

Open to cooperation  translators and publishing houses around the world > > e-mail: art_stognieva@ukr.net

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