Bratislava Castle as a tattoo is a cliché, according to Ukrainian tattoo artist
Slovakia was not a place where 17-year-old Olesia “Les” Paskarenko wanted to be kicked out by her parents, but six years later the Ukrainian tattoo artist calls her home even though she feels like an immigrant here and the.
“Things changed two years ago when I moved to Bratislava,” she said in a crisp Slovak. She sits on a chair in her cozy attic apartment in Bratislava’s Old Town with her makeshift tattoo studio behind her, the premises on the ground floor of the same building transformed into her permanent workshop. “But every time I renew my visa, that feeling of being an immigrant comes back.”
It took a long time for the young artist, rebellious at heart, to understand why a policeman and a former accountant would want their daughter to leave Ukraine – the neighboring country of Slovakia – and study abroad.
“They wanted to give me a better life,” Paskarenko said. “They said to me, ‘You shouldn’t waste this opportunity. A handful of people get it. We did not do it.
The Paskarenkos first wanted to become a landscape architect. She became a tattoo artist instead. (Source: Paskarenko Archives)
So in 2015, with a big suitcase and a knitted bag in her hand, the Ukrainian teenager left her hometown of Odessa and embarked on a film adventure, as she put it. , to study at the Slovak Agricultural University in Nitra. , in the hope of becoming a landscape architect.
Learn from YouTube
The beginnings were difficult for her, not speaking Slovak and the inhabitants of Nitra refusing to speak to her English. However, due to her young age and studying Slovak, she managed to learn the language quickly.
“Today I think in Slovak most of the time,” said Paskarenko.
During her studies in Nitra, in addition to landscape architecture and learning Slovak, she also discovers and decides to learn something else and unknown to her until then: the art of tattooing.
“As soon as I walked into a tattoo parlor, I knew this was the thing I wanted to pursue as a career,” said Paskarenko, who has yet to complete his university education.
Inexperienced and convinced that no one had ever had two black lines tattooed on their arm, she decided to get them inexpensively tattooed on her 18th birthday while vacationing in Ukraine. Soon after, she discovered that the internet was teeming with similar tattoos. This experience did not deter her and she continued to return to tattoo artists every time she returned to Ukraine for a vacation, but this time with her own designs.
This is now my home, and I don’t think my life will take me anywhere else.
Today, because of the “trashy” patterns, which she herself doesn’t remember, her left arm is tattooed entirely in black, all the patterns disappearing under the color.
As a student, Paskarenko tattooed other people in a dormitory on the Nitra university campus for a pack of cigarettes.
“I learned how to do it on YouTube,” she said, adding that she used fruits to master the craft.
Her friends and acquaintances, to her surprise, were okay with her job even though she had little experience. In fact, she was the one who saw a problem in the first tattoos Paskarenko made, unsuccessfully offering to repair the tattoos later.
Personal approach of the girl of the forest
In Slovakia, the young tattoo artist also found her model, tattoo artist Mare. She always wanted to join his studio and learn from him, and she did after all.
“He was the first person to believe in me as a tattoo artist,” said Paskarenko, who is fascinated by the “incredible” evolution of tattoos.
Over the years, for her personal approach, she has built a community of like-minded clients who come back to her for more tattoos, and the community is growing steadily. Unlike a tattoo parlor, which has nothing to do with art and looks like an anthill, she said, a tattoo studio is not just about art, but also an intimate relationship between a tattoo artist and a client.
“In the room, it’s just me and the client,” she explained.
The Paskarenko learned to tattoo on the Internet. (Source: Paskarenko Archives)
Together with the client, Paskarenko consults the specific tattoo she is going to draw, where it is to be placed on her body, and she even calms the person if they are stressed. She can spend hours tattooing a design on the body, devoting a day to each client, regardless of the size of a tattoo.
Just as she had to get used to life in Slovakia, her parents took a while to come to terms with the fact that their daughter has tattoos all over her body, including “hello” in her native Russian language on her. foot, and that she earns a living by decorating the bodies of others.
“They understand it now. They even brag about their daughter to their friends, ”she said.
I’m a rebel inside, and I need to nurture this part of me somehow.
In her opinion, they would probably agree to get a tattoo from her. If that ever happened, Paskarenko would suggest flowers from his mother’s garden. Plants are a common theme in her works anyway, perhaps because her first name Olesia means ‘girl of the forest’.
As for her own body, although it is covered in tattoos, it has nothing to do with Ukraine or Slovakia yet. However, she had clients who had asked her in the past for tattoos on Bratislava Castle or well-known Slovak peaks.
“These are now clichés,” she said. “In my case, I would go for a big folk motif Čičmany, because it’s something I imagine when I think of Slovakia.”
Rebel heart exploring abandoned places
Paskarenko cycles in Bratislava, the city she considers her home and a safe place for cyclists. Every now and then, she finds herself comparing the Slovak capital to her hometown of Odessa, which is five times more populated than Bratislava.
“I’m comparing the differences, not whether things are bad here and good there,” she said, noting that her first trip to Bratislava was pretty epic. She went to town from Nitra, with no internet on her phone. She got lost and found herself in a field and in the rain.
“It turned out that I got off at a train station in the remote Vajnory district, thinking it was the main train station in Bratislava,” she recalls.
Today, she knows the city well. During the pandemic when she had nothing to do, she discovered and visited the Bratislava bunkers built during the war. Impressed by the cold aesthetic, she decided to explore this side of town a bit more, visiting run down and unfinished buildings as well as very old cemeteries.
The Paskarenkos (center) discussing urban exploration at the 2021 Urban Market event in Bratislava. (Source: Soňa Maletz / fjúžn festival)
“When we were kids, my friends and I used to climb rooftops,” she recalls, saying these kinds of activities gave her a new perspective, although it doesn’t have to be legal all the time.
“I just want to absorb the atmosphere of such a place for 30 seconds, and that’s it,” Paskarenko said. She went on to point out that she was not a vandal and that she had never taken anything from abandoned buildings or under construction in Bratislava.
Also, some time ago, after attending the Walls of Loneliness event near Piešťany, she discovered that Slovakia is a land of ancient mansions and that she would like to visit as many as possible. But it’s not just about aesthetically damaged walls, ruins, vaults and the like in his case.
“I’m a rebel on the inside and need to nurture that part of me somehow,” explaining why she enjoys urban exploration.
Tattooed ballet dancer
Some of the tattoos on Les Paskarenko’s body. (Source: Courtesy of Les Paskarenko)
Paskarenko’s life could have been different from what it is now. For about a decade, as a child, she danced ballet in Odessa. Ukrainians enrolling their daughters in ballet or gymnastics classes were very common during the days of the Soviet Union.
“They were considered elitists,” she said. “It still happens, but not as much as in the past. “
Paskarenko was talented and accepted for study at a ballet school in Kiev, but the idea of a life spent under strict rules and in a ballet cage was not for her. When she arrived in Slovakia, she gave up ballet. Now that she knows who she is and what she wants out of life, she can’t wait to return to ballet just for the fun of it.
“It’s like a sport. You want to do it, ”Paskarenko said. She is not embarrassed by the perfect image of a ballet dancer contrasting with her tattooed body, claiming that she is a “black swan but still beautiful”.
No return to Ukraine
Ballet is not the only thing he lacks. She also mentioned the Black Sea as well as shawarma, a Turkish meal similar to gyros or kebab, as the first meal she bought with the first money she earned in Odessa as a teenager. In addition, Paskarenko is missing part of the Ukrainian mentality.
“You know you have very little, but you can still enjoy the little things in life and give it your all,” she said of The Mindset.
Paskarenko doesn’t know if she is more Ukrainian or Slovak, but she does know that she is these two things. She now has two homes, although she feels like a “tourist who lives and works in Slovakia” when it comes to her visa situation.
“I cannot vote here and I do not want to vote in Ukraine,” she noted, stressing that she was not satisfied with the way things are going in her country and the way Slovaks also perceive Ukrainians negatively.
Plants are a common theme in the works of the Ukrainian tattoo artist. (Source: Michal Babinčák / fjúžn festival)
The tattoo artist claimed she wouldn’t want to raise children in Ukraine, which she describes as a less stable and poor country stuck in the 90s, where corruption is rampant and opportunities are scarce.
“Even if you wanted to be a 100% honest person, you can’t. Because of corruption everywhere, ”she added.
During the pandemic, when many people lost hope for better days, Paskarenko was indeed considering returning to Ukraine, even though she had no idea what to do there.
“This is now my home and I don’t think my life will take me anywhere else,” Paskarenko said. “Certainly no return to Ukraine. “
This article is part of the Our Minorities project, produced with the financial support of the National Minorities Culture Support Fund.