The world will remember February 24, 2022 as the day when Ukrainian lives changed forever. Russia’s large-scale military invasion of Ukraine has led to horrific outcomes for citizens, leaving families without homes and taking thousands of innocent lives. In the face of unthinkable violence, the brave people of Ukraine have shown incredible resilience. Many have joined the fight by either enlisting in the armed forces or finding ways to use their unique skills to help their native Ukraine. In the city of Lviv, Hiatus Games art director Mykhailo Skop is one of many artists creating posters, stickers, and cards protesting the war.
Popping up all over the city, these pieces of art have been a rallying cry for the resistance and a way of documenting the history that’s unfolding. In collaboration with fellow Ukrainian artists, Skop launched the Help Ukraine shop and made their poster designs available for the world to purchase, with 100% of earnings going to humanitarian aid in Ukraine. Their designs raise funds for nonprofit organizations including the Voices of Children Foundation and UNICEF, which are actively delivering relief to those in the crossfire of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
As the war wages on, one of Skop’s biggest concerns is the media losing focus on Ukraine’s struggles. Russia’s aggression continues and Ukrainian families still need support, so it’s important for the world to keep its eye on this ongoing conflict. We recently caught up with Skop to get his perspective on the war and to learn how we can all help Ukraine.
Tell us about the concept behind your Artist Shop. How did it come together?
Mykhailo Skop: I’m an Art Director at a Ukrainian board game developers studio, Hiatus Games. You might remember our last game, Deus Lo Vult, or, more likely, the medieval memes that people made out of it. Those memes became more popular than the game itself. They appeared in places like Bored Panda, EL PAÍS, etc. Eventually, we opened our merchandise store on Threadless. Why Threadless? Because we’ve been buying stuff from there since 2013. (I can’t help but mention that many of those t-shirts from 2013 are still in decent shape!)
Then, the Russian invasion broke out and things changed. All our team went volunteering. I started making posters to support our people in their struggles. These posters became popular and we decided to launch a new nonprofit initiative on Threadless called Help Ukraine, so people of the world could have an opportunity to buy original prints and support Ukrainian war victims.
As a citizen of Ukraine, how has Russia’s invasion impacted your life and the lives of people around you?
MS: I’m an artist. Before the invasion, I was reconstructing material culture from the Kingdom of Ruthenia, where my hometown of Lviv historically belongs. I was participating in expeditions to derelict cemeteries in Poland with the Вирій foundation and doing traditional Ukrainian iconography research. This job makes you emerge into symbols and mythos of old. I’ve spent a lot of time emerging into our past and Ukrainian history, reflecting this experience in contemporary art projects and addressing the problems of mythos, memories, identity, and ideology.
But the world changed forever after February 24, 2022. Unspeakable horrors are happening in my country every day. Whole cities are being reduced to rubble. Thousands of people have become victims of Russian rapists and marauders who murder and torture civilians just because they’ve been given the freedom to do it. So the only possible way for anyone not engaged in fighting to endure this madness and keep the despair away is to volunteer at what they’re best at. Everyone I know is either in the Armed Forces or volunteering somewhere.
What does Ukraine’s response to Russia’s attack say about the Ukrainian people?
MS: Ukraine has been occupied by various countries throughout its history. Outside forces have oppressed Ukrainians and treated them as “untermensch,” “subhumans,” or “lesser Russians” who don’t deserve their own identity or even dignity. Thus, even after achieving independence in 1991, we still had heavy postcolonial issues. But we’ve been working hard, pursuing a better future. There weren’t many people who believed in us back then, nor upon the start of this war. But we’ve undertaken the impossible. We’ve debunked the myth of the “world’s most powerful army,” showing the entire world it’s nothing but an enormous horde of rapists and marauders looking to pillage and massacre the civilians. The price we’re paying is exceptionally high, but we won’t give up this fight because we’re fighting for our very existence.
You are donating proceeds from your shop to the Voices of Children Foundation. Why did you choose this particular charity and what are they doing to help the people of Ukraine?
MS: Try to remember your own childhood. Did a real tragedy happen to you? What did it feel like back then? How did this affect you? Imagine thousands of kids in Ukraine lucky enough to stay alive. Many of those had their parents killed right before them. Some have been brutally raped and tortured. Hundreds of thousands of children lost their families, homes, friends, and dreams. Their lives were flooded by darkness, and I doubt this harm could ever be undone. We’re fighting for the future for these kids. And we have to make every effort to give them all the help and support they need now to cope with these horrors somehow.
What role does art play in times of conflict like these?
MS: I believe that visuals have immense power. The meaning and significance they carry can speak much clearer and more impressively than text or even a documentary. Visual artists have many communicative tools and methods to address every spectator. Thus, they can use their art to raise soldiers’ morale, power up volunteers’ enthusiasm, and build up support for those who need it. But the main problem with delivering messages through art these days is that it’s tough to get through the media’s white noise, grab the viewer’s attention, and stay in their minds.
Photographs of Russian crimes on Ukrainian land are appalling. Razed cities, mutilated bodies of civilians, thousands of graves… but no matter how terrible these photos are, the audience will get used to this war sooner or later. Just as they got used to the same images from Syria, Georgia, and many other warzones. That’s why the artist’s role in a modern war is primarily to use the most potent images and symbols to overcome the media noise and not let people become lukewarm and indifferent. Because war is not “somewhere over there,” it’s right here, close to you, next to everyone, ready to spread around further.
Who are some of the people that have inspired the art in your shop?
MS: I’m inspired by all fellow Ukrainians, so I rarely portray specific people. Instead, I focus more on familiar, generalized images that could represent any one of us. One of the few exclusions is the Ghost of Kyiv. He’s a fighter pilot who successfully shot down dozens of Russian bombers. His identity is totally classified. To be honest, I can’t tell if he’s alive or even a natural person. Because of this, he was named the “ghost” or “angel” of Kyiv. But the truth is that even as a mythical person, he empowers and inspires us in our struggles, so he is a spirit in a certain sense.
In what ways have you seen the art community in Ukraine come together to stand against the Russian government?
MS: Each of us is strong, but together we’re invincible. My city of Lviv gathered thousands and thousands of refugees from all Ukrainian places. Many are artists, musicians, designers, and other creative people. Numerous art centers and spaces emerged to help creative people do their best in helping the country with their skills and talents. Thus, Lviv became the cultural capital of our war-torn country. New connections and collaborations that were impossible before are now in bloom. Like a mythical phoenix, Ukrainian culture comes to life and spreads its wings in the middle of the flames of war. I created most of my current war-themed works at the Lviv Art Center, an art gallery that has turned into a coworking space for artists during the war.
Tarot cards have a strong influence on the art in your shop. What inspired this design choice?
MS: Long before the war, my colleague and co-author, Mikhail Badelin, and I started working on our own Tarot deck. It was supposed to present the original approach to classic symbolism and iconography. But when the war began, we postponed this project until better times. Since then, I’ve been creating posters to help people of the world understand what is happening in Ukraine. I’ve been in an endless search for universal images that are both accessible and expressive at the same time.
This search brought me back to the Major Arcana of Tarot, because every card represents a particular archetype and delivers a profound message that could be interpreted without words. We decided to combine the iconical images of Pamela Smith’s Rider-Waite deck with the realities of the Ukrainian Independence War, employing the real-life pictures of today. At the same time, we’re highlighting the European essence of Ukrainian culture by addressing the European mystic tradition of the Tarot.
What can fellow Threadless Artists do to help the people of Ukraine?
MS: Silence kills! It will take all possible efforts to stop the genocide of the Ukrainians, and it’s more than just material support. When you buy Ukrainian merchandise, you not only give money that helps Ukrainian children, you also become a soldier in the informational war that is blazing worldwide. The war must be told. It must be shown to prevent the Russian atrocities from getting lost in media noise and psyops.
Is there any message you’d like to share with the Threadless community, your fellow country people, or the world at large?
MS: Imagine yourself getting into bed later than usual because you’ve been binge-watching shows on Netflix all night. You scroll through your Twitter, and maybe you think about how you’re becoming a bit tired of all the Ukrainian stuff in your news feed. Then, you go to sleep and wake up early the next day, not to your alarm, but to a series of explosions that make your whole house tremble. And that’s when everything changes. You might not believe something like this is possible, but I know it is for sure. Because I didn’t believe it myself when the war started. I still can’t believe it, but now I’ve seen that hate knows no borders.
Thirst for innocent blood won’t stop with inaction. It is your choice to believe it or not, but I’ll ask you for just a few simple things. Do not let this war sink into the media’s white noise. Tell others, share the truth, spread the word, and buy and proudly wear Ukrainian apparel. And I beg you not to trade with Russians, for your every cent given to them will buy more mass murders, tortures, rape, and marauding for Ukrainians.
Thanks to Mykhailo Skop for taking the time to chat with us during this incredibly difficult time for his country. If you’d like to help nonprofits such as the Voices of Children Foundation and UNICEF deliver humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people, consider purchasing from the Help Ukraine shop. Or, you can donate to the organizations directly. Most importantly, keep the conversation about Ukraine going!