Vladimir Kazanevsky, a Ukrainian cartoonist, left his country during the war, but still satirizes Putin

Kazanevsky and his wife Lyudmila left town to western Ukraine on a planned vacation. Yet for several days he was in a fog of shock. Barely sleeping, he continuously talked with his colleagues and watched the news. Then one night his creative hand was moved to pass judgment on what he was witnessing.

“I started thinking and drawing feverishly, thinking and drawing,” Kazanevsky says via email from Slovakia, near the Ukrainian border. “The brain refused to realize that whatever was happening was not a nightmare. Is it really real when, in the heart of Europe, in front of the whole world, a mad dictator with his army of zombies tries to destroy an entire nation?

Soon what emerged was the famous political artist first comment on the invasion. In black lines, he depicted the Grim Reaper reaching out to press a red nuclear button on Putin’s forehead.

What followed was a series of cartoons that imagined Putin and death as characters in an ongoing drama of gruesome metaphors: The Reaper acting as a therapist for a leader bent on mass destruction, or riding a tank in the face of Putin , or presenting the Russian leader with a bouquet of targeted Ukrainian soldiers. Kazanevsky started drawing them in Ukraine and continued his Putin caricatures since he left his country for a while because of the war.

The head of Kazanevsky’s California syndicate, Cagle Cartoons, calls him Ukraine’s most important editorial cartoonist. Whatever his perch, Kazanevsky, 71, sees himself simply as a journalist waging “information warfare”.

“There is a proverb: if the weapons speak, the muses are silent”, says Kazanevsky. “Only that doesn’t apply to cartoon art. Because cartooning is an active weapon.

Kazanevsky is also sensitive to history – how Hitler sought to silence cartoonists, and Napoleon knew the influence of visual representations. “Authoritarian leaders are afraid of political cartoons,” he says, noting that today this art is bolstered by the reach and immediacy of the Internet.

He also knows the power of art without words which is based on the universal visual metaphor: “It is important to try to show the truth through cartoons understandable everywhere.

Kimberly Lusk, editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review opinion page in Washington State, recently shed light on some of Kazanevsky’s art. “There are so many Ukraine cartoons to choose from these days,” she says, noting that she thought her “internal perspective was interesting to give our readers, especially since we have quite a large Ukrainian American population in our country.” Region.”

When Kazanevsky left Kyiv, he left behind most of its supplies. He draws on paper on the move, but for lack of a computer and scanner, he distributes his drawings by taking pictures with his smartphone.

Eventually, when refugees started arriving in western Ukraine, creating a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, he says, he and Lyudmila – who have two adult children in Kyiv and Lviv – crossed the border on foot . They stopped in a Polish town before friends took them to Presov, Slovakia, which Kazanevsky says has a fertile artistic community.

Kazanevsky, who says he worked in a military factory, was fascinated by space radiophysics and literature before he began to understand that cartoons could be intellectual weapons – a realization that came to him during the Orange Revolution, when the he 2004 presidential election in Ukraine sparked widespread unrest.

Now, he sees his art as an antidote to false messages: “For many years, Russian propaganda has zombified not only its fellow citizens, but also the citizens of other countries.

The sharpest political cartoon often requires not only a gift for metaphor but also a passion that flows through the pen. Kazanevsky draws Putin as if it were a painful call to action.

“Strong feelings come to me,” says Kazanevsky. “I hate him with all my heart. I just can’t look at his picture. The artist is not trying to draw an exact physical likeness of Putin; instead, his cartoons are driven by emotional interpretation.

Kazanevksy first aims to capture his gaze: “They are sunk, close to each other. These eyes are angry, cold, like wolves. … These are the eyes of a man who emerged from the black hole of the KGB. He then draws the “high cheekbones” of a “stubborn” military leader and the large, arched lips of a “person who loves comfort and attention”.

The artist says that even the act of caricaturing Putin affects him: “I want to drink horilka with pepper or whiskey, but my health does not allow it”, referring to the Ukrainian alcoholic drink.

Kazanevsky, however, finds hope in the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as in the resilience of his country’s forces. “We are confident that we will win and are grateful to the whole world, especially the American people for their support,” he said. “All the criminals led by Putin will sit in the dock of the new Nuremberg trials.”

He created a cartoon that he says predicts Putin’s fate. The Russian leader is at the helm of a nuclear Titanic, about to hit the iceberg that is Ukraine.

In his optimism, Kazanevsky did not leave kyiv with a sense of dread. Slipped on a backpack, “I felt exceptionally light and looked rejuvenated. I left everything at home: the original paintings and drawings, thousands of catalogs and books, my favorite brushes and paints. But for some reason, I didn’t feel sorry for them.

It is because he considers a possible return trip. “We know we are going to win and we dream of returning home as soon as possible.”

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