As It Happens

Ukrainian artist turns abandoned Russian tank into resistance art 

It's not easy making art in an occupied city, says Max Kilderov.

When you can't buy art supplies, burned out tanks make the 'best canvas,' says Max Kilderov

Max Kilderov, a street artist in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, makes a fireball with a spray-paint can and a lighter as he poses in front of the abandoned Russian tank he transformed into art. (Max Kilderov/Instagram)

Story Transcript

It's not easy making art in an occupied city, says Max Kilderov.

The painter and street artist lives in Nova Kakhovka, a southern Ukrainian city that's been under Russian occupation since the start of the war.

Russian soldiers are stationed everywhere, he said, and residents must abide by a strict curfew. Very little is coming in and out of the city, and art supplies are hard to come by. He's already used up all the canvasses he had on hand before the invading troops rolled in earlier this month.

So when he came across an abandoned and burnt-out Russian tank, inspiration struck. 

"It's very hard to make art in an occupied city when you don't have canvasses," Kilderov told As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay.  "In [a] city where you can't get canvas, burned tanks [are the] best canvas."

Staying occupied under occupation

With the help of some other residents, Kilderov turned the broken symbol of occupation into a work of art, spray painting it with the swirling white pattern that is one of his signature looks.

He says it was partly an act of resistance — transforming something ugly into something beautiful  — and partly a way of staving off the monotony of occupation.

"All my life before the war was just painting," he said. "After the war starts, I keep creating and making some good things [for] the people because people [are] really going crazy in the city because of [the] humanitarian catastrophe."

The tank is adorned with Kilderov's signature swirls. (Max Kilderov/kilderov.com)

Kilderov says his hometown has been occupied since Day 1 of the Russian invasion. And unlike many other Ukrainian cities, there are no Ukrainian troops on the ground.

But there are plenty of Russian soldiers. 

"They come into our shops sometimes to buy beer and cigarettes or something, but we don't have any interaction," he said.

"I don't try to talk to them, but I hear from my friends some stories when they come to the Russian soldiers and say, 'Guys, go home. That's not your war. You didn't see ... any Nazis, any fascists. And your mothers are waiting for your return.' And the Russian soldiers don't answer anything."

Still, Ukrainians are resisting however they can, he said. Some have banded together to ensure that the most vulnerable among them get access to what limited supplies are available. 

And earlier this month, thousands of people in Nova Kakhovka and other occupied cities took to the streets in protest, coming under fire by Russian troops.

"That was really powerful. That was [a] really inspirational protest," Kilderov said.

Kilderov is a Ukrainian street artist living in a Russian-occupied city. (Maxim Kilderov/Instagram)

He says things have calmed down since those early days and he hasn't seen much conflict between residents and Russian soldiers recently. 

He says he was a little scared to work on the tank for fear of reprisal by Russian troops, but at the end of the day, he's an artist, and he must make art.

"That's my way to communicate. That's my way to show what's inside me," he said.

"I'm not provoking Russians, because I understand I'm [under] occupation. I need to minimize risks. I don't make Molotov [cocktails] or something, and I don't do any illegal things, you know, not including [the] tank. And by the way, is this illegal? That's just a burned tank. Come on."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. 

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