When a war breaks out in your homeland four thousand miles away, what do you do? Since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, many Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike have contributed humanitarian aid by volunteering on the front lines, gathering supplies, sheltering refugees, signing petitions, or collecting funds using whatever talents they can offer.
In my case, as a Ukrainian Canadian artist, I have chosen to illustrate and sell a series of drawings with the proceeds of those sales going to help those who have had to flee to neighbouring countries and those who remain in Ukraine.
As a Christian, my sense of responsibility as an artist is heightened. In all cases, art is a response to life. An artist responds to their surroundings, and art has the ability to illuminate those surroundings in a fresh way. As a Christian who happens to be an artist, I have a deep desire and feel a sober responsibility to share the truth in hope and to point towards the One who is the Truth and the source of my hope.
Fr. Julián Carrón writes in his book Disarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, and Freedom that“…helping each other to have a true gaze on reality, on the circumstances we are living in, is the first gesture of friendship we can offer each other for living like human beings in the presence of the needs of the world.”
When the war was beginning to unfold, I started seeing a lot of stories on the news and on social media of ordinary Ukrainian civilians showing resilience in the face of military invasion and occupation. I decided to make a drawing of one such story, in which a woman approached a soldier and told him: “Put these seeds in your pocket, because when you die, at least sunflowers will grow where you lay.”
This story has since become a legend that people have interpreted in various ways, and I chose to depict it in a way that would send a message of hope rather than fear. I didn’t want to cover up the suffering of this woman, because as Fr. Carrón says, friendship is helping each other have a true gaze on reality. And that means both the good and the bad.
And so, I wanted to bring attention to the reality of hope this story represents. Of golden sunflowers growing out of blood-soaked soil. Of life growing out of death. Because hope doesn’t just mean optimism. Hope is looking at the beautiful as well as the horrible and still being able to see the possibility of redemption because of who Christ is, what He has done, and what He continues to do.
That hope can also help us laugh in the face of evil. The role of many political cartoonists, for example, has been to point out the lies and corruption in our world, not to make light of horror, but to remind us that evil doesn’t have the last word. To paraphrase a vivid quote I once heard, “The devil waves a gun around but he has no bullets.” We know that through Christ’s death and resurrection, death and all its allies have been defeated. As Christians, and as companions walking alongside those suffering in Ukraine right now, let’s remind each other of the finitude of evil and the reality of hope.
Originally published in Love is Moving magazine