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Facing the wall

How an 84-year-old artist from Kaluga protests against the events in Ukraine by painting on the walls

Vladimir Ovchinnikov
Photo provided by the article’s character
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Journalists compare Vladimir Ovchinnikov with world street artists, although he does not like these comparisons. His canvas is the walls of buildings in the  city of Borovsk, Kaluga Oblast. Residents and tourists, when walking around the city, see Ovchinnikov's paintings, which acquired an anti-war tone after February 24, 2022. His most famous work during the recent months has been a girl in blue and yellow clothes under painted bombs. Because of her, the 84-year-old artist was fined for discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Ovchinnikov is facing a new protocol under the same article, possibly a criminal case. Read 7x7’s material to learn why he continues painting protest pictures, despite the repression.

Wall painting

Civil engineer Vladimir Ovchinnikov began actively painting in the late 1990s. In his post-war childhood, schoolteachers said that he should develop his artistic talent. He got time for this only as a pensioner, when he left Moscow to move to a house inherited from his father in Borovsk, Kaluga Oblast.

First, Ovchinnikov mastered the classics — easel painting. The artist approached street walls with brushes and paints for the first time in 2002. Then he painted Crying Sky Underfoot — a painting of a rainy day with puddles in which the cathedral and pedestrians were reflected — on a building in the center of Borovsk.

Residents liked the picture, the mayor suggested that Vladimir should paint further. He did like the "wall painting" — that is what he calls his street art. The artist has created 100 works on the walls of Borovsk within 20 years. They have become a tourist attraction of the small city near Kaluga.

The local authorities did not approve of some paintings, in which the artist reflected urban devastation and the memory of Stalin's terror — Ovchinnikov's father spent 10 years in labor camps on Kolyma. "There is no need to divide society. It is too soon," they told Vladimir.

“In fact, the strongest societal division can be seen now, after the beginning of [Roskomnadzor] in Ukraine,” says Ovchinnikov.

Владимир Овчинников во время работы над произведением памяти жертв сталинских репрессий

Vladimir Ovchinnikov is creating a work in memory of the victims of Stalin's terror. Photo provided by the article’s character

Reaction to the events in Ukraine and understanding police officers

On the night of February 25, 2022, Vladimir Ovchinnikov could not sleep. He was sick of the news about the Russian army's actions in Ukraine. He was worried because he did not know how to influence the situation:

“If my country violates international law, interferes in the affairs of the neighboring sovereign state, it is no good.”

A few days after the special operation started, the artist came to a residential building in the center of Borovsk and painted two soldiers' helmets pierced by bullets on its wall. One of them had a ribbon in the colors of the Russian flag, the other one — of the Ukrainian one.

The house that Ovchinnikov chose for his first anti-war work can be seen from the main square of Borovsk. Vladimir considers this building to be his "permanent canvas". On it, he painted silhouettes of people shot during Stalin's terror, left appeals to remember the events of 1937. The city authorities painted over the images about the terror, but preserved a three-story-high mural on the main facade. It depicts the feat of arms of Borovsk residents in the distant past.

According to the artist, the painting with soldiers' helmets in the center of Borovsk was painted over by the mayor's office. On March 5, Vladimir recreated it and added the inscription "Stop [Roskomnadzor]!".

“So that people who cannot read symbols can understand what it is all about,” Ovchinnikov explained.

Первый антивоенный рисунок Владимира Овчинникова в центре Боровска. Изображение уничтожено

The first anti-war painting by Vladimir Ovchinnikov in the center of Borovsk. The image has been destroyed. Photo provided by the article’s character

While the artist was painting on the wall for the second time, a local police lieutenant approached him. Vladimir was taken to the department, a report on property damage was drawn up against him. That day, the law on punishment for discrediting the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was already in force, but the Borovsk police either did not know about it, or decided to use a claim from the management company, which estimated the damage at 4850 rubles.

The lawsuit was never considered in court. The artist does not know why he got away with the painting:

“The police officers actually treated me with understanding, even said something I took as an excuse. They say, we are subordinate, we have superiors.”

Girl with bombs

Vladimir Ovchinnikov painted a second picture on the events in Ukraine in front of the city military commissariat on March 25. He depicted a girl whom painted bombs were falling on. The next day, someone painted over the girl.

A policeman, who came to the artist with a ready-made protocol under Part 1 of Article 20.3.3 of the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation on discrediting the use of the army, said: "So you have done it during my shift — again!"

The court fined Vladimir 30 thousand rubles for the girl with painted bombs. Users of social networks launched a fundraiser for the fine and gave the artist five times more money than necessary.

Police officers warned Vladimir Ovchinnikov that if he violated the law again and discredited the Russian army with his paintings, the fine would be bigger; a criminal case with jail time would also be possible. The artist thought that this was how security forces had been trying to stop him, but he has no fear:

“Instead of fear, on the contrary, I am willing not to give up, not to back down, not to leave defeated.”

Галерея портретов поэтов с цитатами из их стихов возле боровской автостанции

Portrait gallery of poets with quotes from their poems near the bus station in Borovsk. Photo provided by the article’s character

Doves of peace and audience’s approval

After the trial under the protocol on discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Ovchinnikov switched to images of doves — symbols of peace. He painted eight birds in different places of Borovsk in one day. The artist left an inscription against the letter Z under the dove on the breastwall of the Annunciation Cathedral. The inscription was painted over three days later, the dove remained untouched.

In May, Ovchinnikov supplemented the portrait of Vladimir Vysotsky on the wall of a house near the bus station of Borovsk with his anti-war poems. He also added portraits of and poems by Viktor Tsoi, Alexander Galich and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Then Ovchinnikov returned to the dove on the brestwall of the cathedral and left a new inscription under it.

“As I was renovating the painting, a group of tourists stopped nearby. Several people wanted to take a picture with me,” the artist recalls. "It was full support. Not a single person said anything about America’s harmful influence on the author, the aggression of NATO countries, or what else they say on TV."

Passers-by tend to approve of Ovchinnikov’s work. He does not know for sure who exactly supports him, because "he is facing the wall and trying not to be distracted from the process":

“I only hear passers-by behind me saying, ‘Well done!’, ‘Nice one!’”.

Голубь с надписью на подпорной стене Благовещенского кафедрального собора в Боровске. Изображение птицы сохранилось

A pigeon with an inscription on the breastwall of the Annunciation Cathedral in Borovsk. The image of the bird has been preserved. Photo provided by the article’s character

Nothing to lose

The authorities noticed the painting of the dove with the inscription, "Shame" with the letter Z. On the afternoon of May 16, police officers arrived at the artist’s house to take him to the department. There, Vladimir had to give explanations due to repeated violations of the law on discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Ovchinnikov explained to the police that he had made the inscription because he had been opposing the actions of the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine. After that, the police took Vladimir Ovchinnikov home.

“I have nothing to lose, I have not much time left. And being silent means being an accomplice,” the 84-year-old artist believes.

Vladimir does not know when the police will draw up a protocol, whether they will transmit the materials to the court. After paying the first fine, he still had money raised by users of social networks. He used them to reissue an album of his works and is preparing a new one for publication. It will include anti-war drawings.


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