Comic reportage from the Ukraine: When the war seeps into the pictures

Butscha in May 2022: The Ukrainian violinist Tatiana Monko returns with her family to her house, which was devastated and looted by the Russian occupying forces. But in the midst of the destruction, the piano, on which her ten-year-old daughter used to practice, stands seemingly untouched. When the girl tries to play it, she realizes that some keys don’t work. The military examines the piano – a grenade was hidden in the hammer mill.

It’s just one of many abysmal stories from the war in Ukraine that the Italian cartoonist Igort describes in his latest comic “Reports from Ukraine 2 – Diary of an Invasion”.

The terror of the Russian army, the courage of the ordinary people, the fear during the bombing and the hardships of fleeing – Igort highlights in his book harrowing and remarkable events from everyday life during the war, as if he were trying to find the scattered fragments of a grenade to put back together.

A page from Reports from Ukraine 2.
© Reproduct

It is not his first comic about Ukraine: Back in 2011, when hardly anyone in the West was interested in the former Soviet republic, “Reports from Ukraine – Memories of the USSR Period” appeared, a comic report that portrayed the painful present and revealed the country’s past.

Igort had previously lived in Ukraine for two years and made numerous friendships and contacts there that have lasted to this day. They were also the ones who told him many of the stories that are recorded in the drawn war diary.

No glory, just misery

The draftsman, whose real name is Igor Tuveri, is closely connected to Russian culture: “I grew up listening to the stories of the great writers, which my grandmother read to me before I could read myself.” is so close, now invading Ukraine, which is no less, is unbearable for Igort.

Another page from
Another page from “Reports from Ukraine 2”.
© Reproduct

“A war is always a dirty war. No heroes, no fame, just misery.” These introductory words set the tone for the book: Igort does not believe in transfiguration or heroic stories, he always stays close to the ordinary people who are simply struggling to survive.

It’s about the encircled residents of Mariupol who are forced to melt snow or drink water from radiators. It’s about a Ukrainian train driver who is afraid of his own soldiers because he fears they might mistake him for a saboteur and shoot him. It’s about villages that, for lack of cash, return to the barter economy. It’s about Russian soldiers who resign from the army and are then murdered in the back.

Dark colors dominate

It’s a dark comic, with many pages in dark colors. In many cities no lights can be turned on at night, either because there is no electricity or because they have to be blacked out. Igort brings a little bit of this wartime reality into his pictures by drawing them mostly in black and only showing the outlines of people, rooms or buildings in them.

Igort: “Reports from the Ukraine 2 – Diary of an invasion”, from the Italian by Myriam Alfano, lettering by Minou Zaribaf, reproduction, 168 pages, 26 euros.
© Reproduct

As is typical for Igort, he constantly switches from precise realism to expressionist abstraction. Scenes like the one from Butscha are captured with great sensitivity and radiate an oppressive stillness.

Igort also recalls the war in Chechnya, in which Putin acted in a similarly harsh and cruel manner. He processed the crimes there in 2012 in “Reports from Russia – The Forgotten War in the Caucasus” – a nightmarish report, after reading which nobody could be surprised by the brutality of the Russian army in Ukraine.

But in 2014, when the war in Donbass began, disinterest prevailed: “The world knew from the start, but the West looked the other way,” says Igort. His comics don’t do that: they look where it hurts. The fact that Igort combines this with great art of drawing at the same time makes “Reports from the Ukraine 2” not only an intensive interior view of the war, but also one of the best comic reports of the year.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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