A blacksmith in the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk is practically beating swords into ploughshares, and turning one man’s trash into treasures. Viktor Mikhalev takes weapons and ammunition and produces what he calls the flowers of war.
Mikhalev, who trained as a welder, lives and works in a house whose fence and door are decorated with forged flowers and grapes. In his workshop are piles of half-burnt machine guns and shells from the war’s front line. Friends and acquaintances bring them as raw material for his art.
Donetsk, the center of Ukraine’s industrial heartland of the Donbas, has been engulfed by fighting ever since the Moscow-backed separatist rebellion erupted in April 2014, weeks after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
The Kremlin has made capturing the entire region a key goal of its invasion that began a year ago, and it illegally annexed Donetsk along with three other regions in eastern and southern Ukraine in September, declaring them part of Russia.
Fierce fighting has focused on the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, and the city of Donetsk itself also has been frequently hit by shelling.
The smell of iron and paint permeates Mikhalev’s workshop, also decorated from floor to ceiling with dozens of religious icons. He makes the art as a keepsake, a souvenir of the war in eastern Ukraine.
“Real flowers will not last long, and my roses will become a reminder for a long memory,” the blacksmith says.
He began the project when a friend brought him broken machine guns. A month later, he exhibited his war art in a Donetsk museum. Since then, he’s constantly been making what he calls “flowers of war.” In addition, he constructs stands for writing pens from parts of a grenade launcher and a cartridge case.