Volodymyr Titolenko is haunted by early childhood memories of World War II. Now 82 years old, the artist expresses his pain about the current war through his paintings.
Mr. Titolenko’s home was in the village of Rosanev, an hour east of Kyiv, on the front line between the Ukrainian army and the invading forces from Russia. With his wife and granddaughter in Kyiv making sure that his work at a fair there was safe, he spent two weeks in a shelter in his village house alone.
Mr. Titolenko, who can see well with only one eye, was bound by television reports about the war, and this is reflected in his art.
Returning to his studio in his flowery backyard, one of his first paintings was “Spring in Rusanev,” which shows wildflowers in bloom in the foreground and burning Russian tanks in the background. On the road near the tanks, the bodies of two Russian soldiers were scattered.
During a visit on Tuesday, Mr. Titolenko was painting dazzling brushstrokes on his latest work: ‘Mariopol 22’, a large painting depicting the devastation of the city and a Madonna-like figure cuddling a child. He said he decided to paint it when he couldn’t get a picture out of his head from the city’s steel mill where Ukrainian fighters had held out for weeks. It was a photo of Anna Zaitseva, who has been sheltering in the bowels of the steel plant since February 25 with her infant son, Svyatoslav.
“I saw a picture of a woman walking out of the Azovstal steel mill with a baby,” he said.
The figure of the mother was surrounded by a halo on her head, a nod to another passion of his: icon painting.
Behind him, his granddaughter Eva was painting on a small easel. One of her paintings was to be auctioned to raise funds for the Ukrainian army. Her mother was in eastern Ukraine volunteering to help the army.
Mr. Titolenko, who also sculpts woodcarvings, has long painted political figures alongside his icons and rural landscapes. Some of the paintings hanging in his studio gallery mock leaders such as former president Viktor Yanukovych, who used his political position to become Ukraine’s richest man, and another businessman who became president, Petro Poroshenko. The two men are shown in one act cutting down the country’s natural resources with a sign that reads “New Tariffs.”
Nearby hangs a painting of two young children standing in front of a pile of destroyed military equipment. The work was completed several years earlier and was inspired by Mr. Titolenko’s childhood in post-war Berlin, where his father, a Soviet soldier, was stationed. During the war, he was with his grandparents in Ukraine, separated for several years from his mother, who was studying art in Moscow and was evacuated to the Urals, and from his father, who was also an art student in Moscow before. being posted in front.
His mother eventually left Russia, pretending to be a nurse to pick up Mr. Titolenko in Ukraine before going to Berlin to reunite with his father, spending several post-war years in Germany. He did not expect childhood memories of his old age to be repeated, and he especially did not expect the Russians to invade his home.
“My mother was from Russia,” said Mr. Titolenko, who himself was born in the Russian capital while his parents were studying. “Who would have expected that someone from Russia would kill us?”
His wife, Lyudmila, said she had a hard time understanding why he invaded Russia.
“We have always lived here in peace, quietly,” she said. “No one has language or sexual problems. No one has ever talked about that before.”
Mr. Titolenko has one last major project in mind. “I will paint a mural to celebrate the Ukrainian victory,” he said.