Visiting a military base in 2014, Ukrainian artist and icon painter Oleksandr Klymenko was struck by how much the bottom and cover of a wooden ammunition box could resemble a Christian icon panel.
He borrowed one of the boxes from the base and painted a Byzantine icon featuring the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child on its cover. Klymenko said the icon looked at least 800 years old.
The experiment led Klymenko and his wife, artist Sofia Atlantova, to start a charity project to raise money for a volunteer field hospital treating soldiers in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Since its launch in 2015, the project has raised $300,000 and the artworks have been displayed in Belgium, Germany, Canada, the United States and elsewhere.
Klymenko says the project, called ‘Buy an icon – save a life’, is based on the idea of transforming death, symbolised by the ammunition boxes, into life, symbolised by the icons.
“An ammunition box – like a coffin – is taken from under the ground, where it was previously stored. Once it is opened, death breaks out of it and destroys everything around,” Klymenko told Reuters in his workshop.
“We transform it by painting life.”
Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in the eastern Donbass region has killed 14,000 people since 2014, Ukraine says. Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for a recent spike in violence.
“Most people think of this war as of something very far away… It was important for me to show people that the war is real, that this ammunition box is real and it stored real weapons which killed real people,” Klymenko said.
“I don’t want this war to exist. And I don’t want this project to exist either.”