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In Kyiv, this Ukrainian artist is painting antitank hedgehogs

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In Kyiv, this Ukrainian artist is painting antitank hedgehogs

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Varvara Logvyn may look like any other working plein air artist in Kiev’s historic Independence Square – a cart full of paint at her side, a dirty palette in one hand and a brush in the other – except she turns her attention not to a canvas but to a large steel tank obstacle known as a hedgehog.

In a video posted on Logvyn’s Instagram last week, the 38-year-old artist can be seen hunched over one of several unwieldy gray barriers, which look like massive straw bales, adding bursts of color: red berries inspired by a Ukrainian war song, “Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow,” and green leaves.

Logvyn spent about 80 hours over the past two weeks painting the heron in the highly detailed style known as Petrykivka painting., a form of traditional decorative art that originated in the village of Petrykivka in eastern Ukraine​​​​. After studying the form for nine years, Logvyn remains true to his folk art techniques: She uses brushes made from cat and squirrel hair, and says she sometimes has to lie on the ground to perform the technique properly, which requires brush strokes go in the same direction. She plans to finish this work by August 24, in time for Ukraine’s Independence Day.

Reached via Zoom in Kyiv, Logvyn says that decorating the all-too-contemporary “canvas” of a hedgehog in an old-fashioned style is “my way of talking to the world about Ukraine, about our war, about our values. We must defend our culture. Culture is the basis of a nation, and [Petrykivka painting] shows that Ukraine is very bright.”

At the start of Russia’s invasion in February, Logvyn took refuge in the West and returned to Kiev in April, when she was startled to see steel urchins everywhere. Sometimes known as Czech hedgehogs – because they are said to have originated in that country in the 1930s – the obstacles stop the advancing tanks by turning under the treads of a tank, lifting the vehicle off the ground and trapping it and vulnerable too late.

For Logvyn, they serve not as a sign of security, but as a constant reminder of danger. “I have never seen my city like this. I was terrified,” she says.

So when the annual municipal holiday of Kyiv Day came around in May, Logvyn decided to try her hand at making the steel obstacles a little more accessible. She painted one with the blue-and-yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag as what she calls a “gift to my city.” Now, as the nation enters its eighth month of armed conflict, she is at it again. This time she shows that Ukrainians do not only defend their physical cities with military weapons. They also defend their cultural identity, with a spirit that cannot be destroyed.

Before the war, Logvyn ran a fireworks business; these days she helps the army with fireworks, but she spends her life surrounded by art. Logvyn grew up in Shostka in northeastern Ukraine, where her mother was an art teacher and artist. After her parents gave her a wooden sign which in the Petrykivka style as a gift, she became interested in it and studied under a mentor for almost a decade. Now she uses it to make gifts for her friends and family. She hopes the painted hedgehogs, her biggest project to date, will “improve people’s emotional and psychological feelings, because everyone is exhausted from the war.”

Many artists in Ukraine have reimagined public spaces in response to war. Earlier this week, a group of artists painted sunflowers on the charred exteriors of bombed cars recovered from Irpin. Across Ukraine, murals have popped up condemning the war: On a wall in Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian soldier repels a Russian warship; in Kiev, a figure evoking the Virgin Mary – and holding a Javelin missile – looks down on a street.

However, Logvyn took an instrument of war itself as her canvas. Watching her paint on the video is strange: She takes something hard and ugly and treats it with a painter’s touch—with a softness you might reserve for porcelain.

Hedgehogs, which littered the coast of France during the Normandy invasion, are mostly associated with World War II. In a city just outside Moscow, a bright red monument, made to look like oversized hedgehogs, marks the farthest point Nazi troops advanced into the city.

Under Logvyn’s brush are her hedgehogs become symbols of Ukrainian resilience. Just days after the invasion, civilians began working on the manufacture of the steel devices — including two other Ukrainian artists, Volo Bevza and Victoria Pidust, who made dozens of hedgehogs that were shipped around the country.

Logvyn plans to paint more hedgehogs, with colors representing countries that helped Ukraine. She calls the painting of the steel structures soothing. “It’s kind of like meditation for me,” she says. “This is the only way I can live in these circumstances. Before the war I did art because I wanted to. Now it saves me from my thoughts.”

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