Ukraine’s Bold Biennale Show, Two Years Into the Invasion

It’s Day 17 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A mother hurries back to her underground shelter after a trip to a nearby store. From her shopping bag, she pulls out two ice cream cones, and watches her young son and daughter squeal in jubilation as they tear open the wrapping.

This is one of the early scenes in “Civilians. Invasion,” a 56-minute film having its international premiere at the Ukraine Pavilion during the Venice Biennale. Twenty-six months after the start of the war with Russia, it is one of four works being presented by Ukraine.

Made by the artists Daniil Revkovskyi and Andrii Rachynskyi, the film is a compilation of some 200 videos posted on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok in the first few months of the invasion. They show the war not as you see it on the evening news, but as you would experience it firsthand, from the inside.

You witness the moments when bombs fall on apartment buildings, blow off rooftops, crash into moving cars. You see desperate people crowd into dingy shelters. You watch footage of citizens looting in the local mall, and carting away shopping bags stuffed with goods. From a distance, you see an older woman hold up a painting of a religious icon, and, every few steps, kneel, pray and kiss the ground.

As the film draws to a close, there are bodies everywhere: on the streets, in bus shelters or piled up in shell craters. The bodies are unclaimed, and there’s no one to bury them.

The exhibition is titled “Net Making,” referring to a practice in which Ukrainians weave camouflage nets, which are used to conceal tanks and other weapons, as well as hide-outs, from the Russians.Credit…Rob Battersby, via the Ukrainian Pavilion
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