In a small Russian town, a pensioner's street art denounces Ukraine conflict

  • This content was produced in Russia, where the law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine.

BOROVSK, Russia, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Over 20 years, Russian pensioner Vladimir Ovchinnikov gained a following for his street murals in the small town of Borovsk, some 70 miles (115 km) southwest of Moscow, many of which depicted the plight of victims of Stalinist-era repressions.

But on March 25, just over a month after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, Ovchinnikov created a new work, one that would place him in serious legal jeopardy.

He painted a girl, in a blue and yellow dress, the colours of the Ukrainian flag, with a bomb falling onto her from above. Beneath her, in block capitals, he wrote: "STOP".

The mural fell afoul of new laws passed by the Russian government effectively criminalising opposition to the military campaign in Ukraine.

"The police said that this piece discredited our army", Ovchinnikov, 84, told Reuters.

The mural was painted over and Ovchinnikov ordered to pay a 35,000 rouble ($554) fine for the new offence of "discrediting the Russian army", which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

In response, he painted a new piece, writing the word "bezumiye" ("craziness" in Russian), spelt with a Latin letter Z, which has become a symbol of what Moscow calls its special military operation in Ukraine. The police promptly painted over it.

It triggered a game of cat-and-mouse between Ovchinnikov and police in Borovsk, a town of 12,000 people

In place of the painted-over mural, he drew the words "pozor" (shame), "fiasco", and "basta" (enough), each with a Latin Z. Each in turn was painted over by the police.

The Borovsk local administration did not respond to a request for comment.

For Ovchinnikov, opposition to the conflict in Ukraine is underpinned by a family history of Soviet-era repression. His grandfather was shot by Lenin's Bolsheviks in 1919 and his father was arrested during Stalin's purges in 1937.

He has drawn attention to Russia's history of political repression as a motif in his art. In 2017, he persuaded local authorities to erect a monument to its victims - a stone taken from the Solovetsky islands in Russia's far north, the site of the Soviet Union's first Gulag prison camp.

"This topic of political repression and the closed nature of this topic, the wiping of historical memory, is one and the same thing as what is happening with Ukraine," Ovchinnikov said.

Reporting by Reuters Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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