Odesa artist shines spotlight on unity

Julia Shamsheieva used to project 3D artworks on cultural sites across the globe. Now it is her hometown that is in the spotlight – and Putin's crosshairs. Russian forces are closing in on Odesa, Ukraine's biggest port city, and residents fear it will be the target of a major offensive. NHK World spoke to the audiovisual artist about life under bombardment, and the shift from making symbols of peace to camouflage nets.

Missiles flying overhead

Shamsheieva's home is located near a Ukrainian military facility. She and her family decided to flee to a nearby city soon after Russia invaded in February.

But Shamsheieva says no one is safe. On April 23rd, Russian shelling claimed the first civilian lives in Odesa, including a three-month old baby and her mother.

"Air raid sirens sound four times a day. My father has actually seen missiles flying overhead. It is hard to live where explosions occur all the time.

A bomb can find you anywhere, not only places near a military target … in a supermarket, in your house, in your bed. It is horrible."

“Every breath” by Julia Shamsheieva

Invasion interrupts career

Shamsheieva started making audiovisual art 10 years ago. She specializes in projection mapping – turning buildings and other structures into a massive canvas for her work.

Last year, she presented one of her creations in Tokyo. "Every Breath" was dedicated to essential workers fighting the pandemic. It was also a rallying cry for peace and tolerance. A few months later, Russia invaded her homeland.

"Now in Europe we have a big war in Ukraine, despite all the talk of 'never again.' We have to find a way to live in peace and build something really good on our planet, not destroy it. That's something I want to tell the world."

'Don’t hate Russians'

Russians and Ukrainians have lived side by side in Odesa for centuries. Now, people from both countries are suffering as Moscow's "special military operation" closes in on the city.

Shamsheieva's roots trace back to Russia, but she considers herself to be Ukrainian. Above all, she says nationality should never be an issue.

"We have enemies and friends. But we can't hate all Russians. Unfortunately, a lot of people in Russia support the government. It's horrible. But we have a lot of friends and a lot of people there who don't support it. We need to help them and to connect with them, not to hate these people because they are Russians. I hope many in Ukraine will get behind this idea."

Bearing witness and building connections

Shamsheieva's artwork has been put on hold since the invasion. She works with other civilians including children to support Ukraine soldiers, making camouflage netting and delivering food. She insists she will never leave Ukraine – and never abandon her call for global unity.

Photo by Julia Shamsheieva: Camouflage nets created by her and other volunteers.

"We are not talking about nationalities and borders. I want to help everyone around me. We try to help the military. We try to help animals.

I think it is important to stay here, so I can explain the situation in my country to you and anyone who wants to know about it. The only way we can solve problems is to come together. When we connect, we can be very strong."