In February 2023, a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Ukrainian Post issued a new stamp featuring an artwork made by Banksy. The artist visited Ukraine in late 2022. While there, he created a series of murals. But what do they mean for Ukraine, and why did they get turned into stamps? What is the political meaning behind a judo fight scene? Read on to learn more about Ukraine’s Banksy stamp.
What Inspired Ukraine’s Banksy Stamp?
In November 2022, seven murals appeared in various regions of war-torn Ukraine. Soon after their appearance, the representatives of the artist Banksy confirmed that the artist went to the country in order to create works in support of Ukrainian citizens. Several months later, a year after the Russian invasion began, the Ukrainian Post (also known as Ukrposhta) featured one of these pieces on a new stamp, marking a year of resistance and hopes for victory and liberation. Here are the seven murals Banksy created in Ukraine.
1. The Irpin Ballerina
In this graffiti work, a ballerina wearing a neck brace is seen dancing on top of a hole left by a Russian bomb. The work appeared in Irpin, a city close to Kyiv, which lost several hundred civilians during one month of Russian occupation. While painting the ballerina, Banksy was supposedly caught on camera. The man who released the footage claimed it was recorded on a CCTV camera. It shows a man wearing black approaching the wall and painting something on it. Although the location matched the mural, some researchers believe that the video was not made by accident but a part of Banksy’s campaign.
2. Children Riding a Tank Trap
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One of the works that appeared in Kyiv is a small graffiti made on the side of a concrete block. Here we see two children playing on a seesaw. However, the ride is made from a metal tank trap. This mural, located in the center of Kyiv, raised suspicion even before the true authorship was revealed. The recognizable style made the capital’s residents wonder if the famous graffiti artist really visited them. Although Banksy’s style is widely known, it is also relatively easy to fake. Soon after the authenticity of seven works was confirmed, dozens of unverified Banksys suddenly started appearing all over the country.
3. A Russian Truck with a Twist
In another small mural in the center of Kyiv, Banksy made use of an already existing work. Another anonymous ‘artist’ left a crude drawing of a penis on a wall. Banksy turned it into an armed vehicle that was now shown as carrying the organ. Soon after the painting’s completion, another local artist left their mark by ‘framing’ the vehicle with a condom held by a Ukrainian Cossack.
4. A Woman in a Gas Mask
The town of Hostomel was one of the first attacked places on the day of the 2022 Russian invasion. Hostomel suffered greatly from shellings and was used by Russian forces as a military base during the first phase of the war. It was liberated in April 2022. In Hostomel, Banksy painted a woman in a bathrobe and hair curlers, with her face covered by a gas mask and a fire extinguisher in her hands. Less than a month after its appearance, the artwork was stolen by a resourceful local man, who managed to peel the paint layer from the building and slide it onto wooden boards. By January 2023, the artwork, worth more than $240000, was retrieved. Prior to the theft, concerned citizens actually planned to cover the work with protective glass.
5. A Man Bathing
According to the data provided by the United Nations, the village of Horenka was one of the most affected by military action, with 77% of it destroyed. Banksy honored its inhabitants and their lost daily routines with a mural of a man taking a bath inside a ruined residential building.
Despite heavy damage, the building marked by Banksy’s mural is still inhabited. Some people refused to leave their homes even if they had no water supply or electricity. The Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture students volunteered to design a reconstruction project for the building and its premises.
6. Gymnast Borodyanka
In this piece, a gymnast is seen balancing on the remains of a building. The ruins, which are hardly still standing, also appear to balance their own weight. Like other Banksy murals in Ukraine, the work was soon covered with shock-proof glass in order to prevent damage from possible bombings in the future. According to Banksy’s statement, while making one of his murals, he was seen by an old Ukrainian lady. Outraged at someone vandalizing a wall, she called the police, forcing the artist to flee in an ambulance lent to him for secrecy purposes.
7. A Judo Fight
Perhaps the most famous mural of the series also appeared in Borodyanka, the settlement infamous for the shocking number of civilians tortured and killed during the occupation.
In this piece, we see a young boy dressed in a judo uniform throw an older man wearing a black belt on the ground. The image appeared on the remains of a wall, which was quickly covered with a protective structure. This work was used for the new stamp.
What Does the Judo Mural Mean?
While other murals left by Banksy in Ukraine are easy to understand, this one requires additional context. Although the face of a male figure on the mural is not visible, it is implied that it represents the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Putin is known for his love of judo and he holds a black belt in it. His love for judo was an important part of state propaganda, representing their leader as a strong and competent man capable of defeating even the Russian Olympic team. However, soon after the invasion of Ukraine, the International Judo Federation stripped Putin of all his titles and suspended his membership. A young boy defeating a grown man serves as a metaphor for Ukraine, a relatively small country compared to Russia, defeating its more powerful aggressor. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry compared the work to the story of David and Goliath.
Marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Post issued a new stamp featuring Banksy’s mural. Apart from the image, they added a small inscription in Cyrillics, translated as FCK PTN. A portion of the money received from stamps was meant to be used to repair schools and universities damaged during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Stamps as Symbols of Resistance
This was not the first time Ukrainian officials issued collectible stamps commemorating war-related events. In October 2022, Ukrposhta released another stamp featuring the main characters from the movie Titanic, standing on the edge of the collapsed Crimean bridge. The bridge was constructed after Russia annexed Crimea and is now considered the longest in Europe. The day before the stamp’s release, a part of the bridge exploded, cutting Crimea off from the Russian mainland. The explosion coincided with the 70th birthday of Vladimir Putin.
Other stamps included images of the dog Patron (a Jack Russel working as a sapper for the Uk), the famous Russian warship incident, and the 2022 Eurovision winners Kalush Orchestra. Most of these were sold out but can be found on international marketplaces. Issuing stamps is a small yet meaningful gesture. Some compare these stamps to wartime posters, uniting people and giving them hope. In a world dominated by intangible media, a small piece of printed paper can serve not only as a collectible but as a symbol of unity and resilience.
Ukraine’s Banksy Stamp, Anti-War Messages, and Fragile Prints
Political engagement lies at the core of Banksy’s art. The artist protests all forms of war and violence and openly criticizes military and political establishments. Over the years, he created works reflecting on the Vietnam War, the Palestine-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other regions of military action.
Banksy expressed his support for Ukraine when the war started. Apart from his unannounced visit in November 2022, he created a new edition of prints meant to be sold in order to help the Legacy of War Foundation. The charity organization provides support for civilians affected by wars worldwide. It is necessary to notice that Banksy, despite his fame and appraisal, rarely sells his works. However, every time he does, the staggering amounts of money received go to specific charities often associated with Banksy himself. The motif of a rat—in this case, the one scratching the print—is one of Banksy’s signature symbols. For him, rats symbolize the triumph of the oppressed, the unloved, and the ordinary. Banksy’s rat is an anti-capitalist fighter, a grassroots activist, and a tiny but powerful element.