Two artists traveled to Kiev last month for a vernissage. They ended up staying to build metal tank traps for Ukrainian forces

When Ukrainian painter Volo Bevza left his apartment in Berlin to attend the opening of his solo exhibition in Kiev last month, he never imagined he would find himself in the middle of a war zone, using his artistic talents not to create sculptures, but to build anti-tank metal structures called “hedgehogs”.

Bevza traveled to Kiev to open his exhibition at the WT Foundation, a museum established by American collector Walter Tamke. It was due to open on February 24; it never did.

On the morning of the opening, Russia invaded its neighbor, and the bombs began to fall on major Ukrainian cities. The shock and severity of the invasion was still felt eight days later for Bevza and her traveling companions: his girlfriend, photographer Victoria Pidust, and his younger brother, Mark Pidust.

Artist Volo Bevza. Photo: Courtesy of Volo Bevza.

The trio fled Kyiv and headed west, ending up in Lviv. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are trying to escape through the picturesque town just 70 kilometers from the border with Poland.

Once there, Bevza and the Pidust siblings began contributing to local homeland defense efforts. For the first five days, they made metal structures called “hedgehogs” in a factory five minutes from the apartment where they were staying. (The pointed structures, which are made of metal beams and chains, are known as Czech hedgehogs because they were originally used on the Czech-German border during World War II.) They joined a group that was already working there; Volo and Mark carried, measured and cut metal while Victoria took pictures.

It’s a far cry from the work they do as artists. Bevza’s abstract oil paintings explore the space between digital and painting. Pidust’s photographs range from everyday still lifes to digital landscapes.

More recently, the group has also begun raising funds for Ukrainian defense and humanitarian aid by appealing to their connections, including artists and dealers, back home in Germany.

Reservoir traps built by the artists. Photo: Victoria Pidust.

“Everyone around us is helping out however they can,” Bevza, 28, told Artnet News in Russian. His parents, who still lived in Vyshneve, a town near Kiev, managed to fight their way 150 kilometers south as Russian forces advanced towards the capital. Since the beginning of the invasion, more than one million Ukrainians have left the country.

But many artists from the middle of Bevza are reluctant to leave. “They don’t want to give up their home,” he said. “A painter in Kiev told us that she was sitting in her bed, listening to the bombs falling.”

The situation is unfathomable. “It’s the theater of the absurd,” Bevza said. “Despite all of the warnings from US President Biden over the past three months, we could not believe that full-scale war was possible.”

He and his companions are now considering their next move. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country. As a Ukrainian citizen, this ban also applies to Bevza, who teaches at Weissensee School of Art and Design in Berlin. He hopes the school can help her get release papers, “but the odds are slim,” he said.

A flyer announcing the Volo Bevza exhibition, which never opened. Photo: Courtesy of Volo Bevza.

In the meantime, they have been encouraged by the outpouring of support from their friends and networks in Europe.

“The support has been unreal,” said Victoria Pidust, 28, an artist based on the photo. “During the first few days, we didn’t have enough time to respond to every email.”

They have raised a few thousand euros so far, Pidust said. About 20 of their friends are driving from Berlin to help the injured as medical volunteers. Another Ukrainian friend returns to his native country from Los Angeles. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said 80,000 Ukrainian citizens, almost all of them men, have returned from abroad since February 24 to help fight for their country.

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