Ukrainian artists and other civilian volunteers are building anti-tank obstacles to help the war effort (images by and courtesy of Victoria Pidust, unless stated otherwise)

A Ukrainian artist whose exhibition in Kyiv was halted due to the Russian invasion is now building anti-tank obstacles. About two weeks ago, Volo Bevza was preparing to open his exhibition Soft Image, but on the morning of the opening, Russian forces rolled into Ukraine, upending his plans and throwing the entire country into war. Now, instead of showing his paintings, he’s helping Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces block Russian tanks.

When the Russian bombardments began on February 24, Bevza and his girlfriend, Ukrainian artist Victoria Pidust, relocated to Vyshneve, a suburb of Kyiv, to hunker down with their family. Since then, the couple and other members of the family have fled to the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine, which is considered relatively safe.

Located near the border with Poland, Lviv has become the focal point for Ukraine’s refugee crisis. More than two million people have fled the country since the invasion, according to data from the United Nations Refugee Agency. Though air-raid sirens often ring through Lviv’s skies, the city has so far remained remote from the battle zones.

Anti-tank obstacles, also known as “hedgehogs” (photo by Volo Bevza)

Bevza and Pidust boarded an overcrowded train to Lviv, joining the hundreds of thousands who were fleeing the bombings. The trip took 10 hours instead of the average six hours, they told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation.

“People filled the aisles and sat everywhere they could,” Bevza said. “We were lucky to be the last two people to be able to board the train.”

The couple settled at a friend’s house in Lviv, waiting for other members of their families to arrive from Kyiv. It’s there that they heard about a group of local men, among them several artists, using an old metal workshop to construct anti-tank obstacles (also known as “hedgehogs”). Bevza immediately decided to join the effort and Pidust took a camera to document the men’s work.

Ukrainian volunteers constructing tank obstacles in a workshop in Lviv

“I couldn’t do any work since the invasion. I couldn’t think about art anymore,” Bevza said. “It was good to do some physical work and feel that we’re helping somehow.”

Bevza and the other volunteers have so far built about 100 hedgehogs that were sent to protect cities across the country. But on the third day of work, they ran out of metal.

“We started using old railroad tracks to build the hedgehogs because we also ran out of money to buy metal,” the artist said.

Both based in Berlin, Bevza and Pidust have decided to stay in Ukraine for the time being and contribute to the war effort. Together with Berlin’s Galerie Judith Andreae, they have launched a fundraiser to support the anti-tank obstacles project and help other local humanitarian groups.

“Ukrainians are more united than ever,” Pidust said. “Everbody is helping in some way.”

“We will win this war anyway, I’m not concerned about that,” Bevza added. “What concerns me is: How high will the price be?”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...