"Peace Before Pieces" (2022) by Peter Seaton "CTO" (photo courtesy Peter Seaton/CTOArt)

On July 20 in Melbourne, Australia, artist Peter Seaton (“CTO”) began painting a mural of a Russian and Ukrainian soldier hugging. Seaton — who listed the painting for sale as an NFT — said it was “about peace and love,” but the Ukrainian community delivered sharp criticism and pointed to its false equivalency between victim and aggressor.

In a September 3 tweet, Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko called the work “utterly offensive to all Ukrainians” and demanded its prompt removal. Over the following days, Myroshnychenko retweeted a series of comments comparing the murals’ subject matter to a Holocaust victim hugging a Nazi. And on September 5, Seaton painted over it.

“What would people think if a mural featured a rapist and a victim hugging?” wrote Stefan Romaniw, the first vice president of the Ukrainian World Congress and co-chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, in a September 2 Facebook post. He called the implication “a profound insult” that detracts from “the brutality of the Russian army, its treatment of civilian populations, its war crimes, and its unwillingness to negotiate unless Ukraine gives up its independence and territorial sovereignty.”

“Trying to be ‘even-handed’ and accepting a false narrative that ‘all we need is peace’ in this case supports evil,” Romaniw continued.

Seaton painted over the mural on September 5. (photo courtesy Aleona Labran)

The mural’s method of creation elicited backlash as well. Art4Ukraine, a Melbourne collective that highlights pro-Ukrainian art and hosts benefits for the invaded nation, said they tried to collaborate with Seaton and warned him about how his mural would be received. “We were shocked when we were notified the original concept went up despite this,” an Art4Ukraine representative told Hyperallergic.

Seaton stated that the profits from the mural’s NFT sales would be donated to World Beyond War, but many people online suggested malicious intentions. On September 8, Myroshnychenko retweeted a post from Ukrainian economics professor @MykhailoXPIH calling the painting: “A cynical plan by an artist (whose name I won’t repeat) to elicit uproar which would promote him & his work.”

Yet, despite the overwhelming amount of criticism directed toward him, the artist hasn’t backed down. In two September 4 Instagram videos, Seaton — wearing a graphic tee that says “Increase the peace, homie” — offers an explanation rather than a substantial apology. The comments are scathing, but again on September 7, Seaton posted a screenshot of supportive message he had received. On Twitter, Seaton has also continued to advocate for himself and his mural, even retweeting a September 5 post that reads, “It’s not okay for grown adults to call the invasion of Ukraine ‘unprovoked’; that’s a fartbrained fairy tale for idiots and children.” Even before Seaton posted the strange Tweet, many social media comments had called him and his mural pro-Russian.

In an email to Hyperallergic, Seaton said: “My deepest sympathies with all the Ukrainian and Russian humans dying; This mural is about peace and love. We are all one/love at themes fundamental level of our existence.”

“Ukrainians would dearly love peace,” Romaniw wrote in his September 2 Facebook post. “They want to go back to their homes, their jobs and their lives. But until Russia stops its brutal war in Ukraine and withdraws from areas it has occupied, including the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, how can true peace be obtained?”

On September 11, Ukraine shut down the Zaporizhzhia power plant, which generated a fifth of the nation’s electricity, as a safety measure. On September 9, the United Nations reported 14,059 civilian casualties since Russia’s invasion but asserted that the number of actual deaths is “likely considerably higher.”

Editor’s note 9/14/22 1:09pm EDT: A previous version of the article included a reference to a since-deleted screenshot of an Instagram comment attributed to Seaton. This reference has been removed.

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.