Ukrainian painter Volo Bevza left his home in Berlin in late February to attend the opening of his solo exhibition in Kyiv, reports Katya Kazakina for Artnet News. But his exhibition, which was set to unveil on February 24, was curtailed by the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Now, Bevza; his girlfriend, Ukrainian photographer Victoria Pidust; and her brother Mark are staying behind in Lviv to create spiky metal structures known as “hedgehogs” to block Russian tanks.
When the attack began, Bevza and Pidust were staying with family in Vyshneve, a suburb of Kyiv, according to Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara. They later fled to Lviv in western Ukraine. A safe haven, Lviv has largely avoided Russian bombing and is currently functioning as a fallback capital, reported the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison last week.
Lviv has become a central hub for Ukrainian defenders to retrieve medical supplies, food and weapons, per the Wall Street Journal, making it an appealing place for refugees, both diplomatic and Ukrainian, to seek shelter. The influx has put a strain on the city’s housing, forcing the government to utilize hospitals, university dormitories and even a soccer stadium for extra lodging.
Upon arriving in Lviv, Bevza and the Pidusts joined a local group of artists building the tank traps in an old workshop. Bevza and Mark helped carry, measure and cut the metal, while Victoria documented their efforts, according to Hyperallergic.
The anti-tank structures—specifically referred to as “Czech Hedgehogs” due to their original use at the Czech-German border during World War II—are made by piecing together metal I-beams and chains in way that resembles a giant toy jack. According to a U.S. Army Engineer correspondence course, cited by Kelsey D. Atherton of Popular Science, these obstacles puncture tires or flip vehicles, like tanks, that attempt to drive over them.The group was able to build about 100 hedgehogs to help protect cities across Ukraine, but ran out of materials and funding on the third day of production. Bevza tells Hyperallergic the group resorted to using old railroad tracks for construction.
Elsewhere in Lviv, bartenders have started making Molotov cocktails, a form of explosive, out of craft beer bottles. The Wall Street Journal reported that about 2,000 cocktails had been produced and delivered in cardboard boxes to local defense groups and military units. Government officials have been distributing information about how to use Molotov cocktails against Russian vehicles by targeting tires, windows or the intake ports of their ventilation systems.
Meanwhile, Bevza and Pidust are using their personal connections to contribute to the war effort. They’ve launched a fundraiser with Galerie Judith Andreae, an art gallery in Bonn, Germany, to raise money for anti-tank obstacles and local humanitarian efforts, per Artnet News. The artists also convinced about 20 of their friends in Berlin to come to Ukraine to serve as medical volunteers.
“The support has been unreal,” Pidust tells Artnet News. “During the first days we didn’t have enough time to respond to every email.”
For now, Bevza and the Pidusts are staying in Lviv, as men ages 18 to 60 aren’t allowed to leave the country. Even though Bevza lives abroad and teaches at the Weissensee School of Art and Design in Berlin, he’s a Ukrainian citizen, so the prohibition applies to him. He tells Artnet News there’s a chance the school could help him obtain exit papers, but it’s not likely to happen.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says that more than 80,000 Ukrainian citizens have returned to the country to help defend against the Russian attack, per Artnet News.
“Ukrainians are more united than ever,” Pidust tells Hyperallergic. “Everybody is helping in some way.”