During the Soviet consumption of Ukraine, Russians were moved in and Ukrainians were moved out in an attempt to homogenize the population and dilute nationalism in the former independent states. It was both a forced colonialism and a relocation program, Russian the new language for all. For 79 years, there was intermarriage and cultural erasure. With the invasion, old resentment for anything Russian even reached the dead. In Lychakiv Cemetery, portraits on some Soviet graves with Russian names were chipped in retribution for Ukrainian soldiers being buried nearby. True “defacing.” They are, once again, photographs transformed, partially destroyed, and I, as photographer, take them as new portraits because something has changed, my eyes witness to their second disappearance.
© 2022 Benjamin Busch
Beginning in March of 2022 I began to see these eye strips pasted on walls in the backstreets of Lviv. They appear in groups, never in the same arrangement, soldiers eyes. By my second trip, they’d all begun to peel and became even more haunting. Nameless, they stare at us. I deployed to Iraq twice as a Marine. I know the look. Whoever sees these eyes should feel their own safety or endangerment measured in comparison. As the western cities try to cleanse reminders of the war from public spaces, street art like this is vanishing. There’s a message in the deterioration of these thin portraits too. A warning about forgetfulness. They remind me of a line from Blade Runner: “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.” By my third trip they were almost all flayed off by weather, an estimated 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed. © 2022 Benjamin Busch