When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the British artist Mark Neville was in the process of distributing copies of his latest book, Stop Tanks With Books, to politicians, opinion formers and policy makers, from his flat in Kyiv.
Stop Tanks With Books addresses Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the toll the war has been taking on the lives of Ukrainians in Donbas since 2014. In seeking to raise awareness of what was until recently, the overlooked reality of Russia’s militarization of Ukraine, Mark’s call to action reminds us of the role that artists play in helping us understand the world and our place within it.
In 2017, we staged an exhibition of Mark’s work, Child’s Play, featuring images of Ukrainian children displaced by the conflict. This year, we had planned to make an online presentation of Stop Tanks With Books in May, to coincide with his exhibition at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kyiv.
Now, everything has changed and our awareness has been raised in the worst possible way. The internal displacement of people within Ukraine has become a full-blown humanitarian crisis. It is impossible to look at these images and not wonder where these children are now.
We show this work in solidarity with the brave citizens of Ukraine.
Excerpt from Stop Tanks With Books:
Why the world should care about this war:
Since the breakup of the USSR Putin has been determined to see a Russian Empire reborn as Soviet Union 2 . 0. But none of this can happen without the subjugation of and absorption of democratic Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of whose people increasingly are turning their backs on an autocratic Russian past and towards a free democratic European future. Having voted by a majority of 92% for independence in 1991 Ukraine’s democratic appetite to be part of the free West and to move away from an autocratic Russia has only increased, especially since 2014.
Since 1991 Ukraine marks the eastern boundary of a free and democratic Europe that has been at the heart of a post-war transatlantic alliance. But cracks are beginning to appear in the alliance and almost everywhere the malign interfering hand of the Kremlin can be found. 43 million Ukrainians have democratically chosen freedom over unfreedom. Unlike many in the West who have come to take that freedom for granted they are also willing to fight for that same freedom and have been fighting for it since 2014.
On 17 December, 2021, under the completely false and risible pretext that NATO threatens Russia, Putin issued a list of completely unreasonable demands on Europe and the US. Fail to meet these demands and Putin would not only invade Ukraine but would also strike at unspecified NATO targets. The world must now stand with Ukraine and stand up to Russia. If we do not Putin’s desire for a new Russian empire will not end with Ukraine. He will turn his attention westward to other neighbouring states and will be further emboldened to increasingly interfere in the internal affairs of more and more of our countries.
Since 2014 Russia’s undeclared war on Ukraine has cost some 14,000 lives and driven over 2.5 million people from their homes. An escalation of that war, as threatened, will likely cost tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives and drive millions more from their homes. Those displaced will not this time be so readily absorbed within Ukraine, but will likely flee westwards causing refugee and humanitarian crisis for other European countries. And we know from Russia’s support of the Assad regime in Syria that the loss of tens of thousands of lives and displacement of millions is something that Putin will not shy away from.
The greatest threat to Putin’s ambitions is an independent, free, democratic and thriving Ukraine on his doorstep. Ukrainians made a democratic decision over 30 years ago to forge for themselves a free nation. They have had two popular revolutions in 2004 and 2014 to stay on that path when corrupt pro-Kremlin leaders threatened to take them off it. And they continue to fight against an enemy that occupies 7.5% of their land, illegally, to this day.
What is at stake in Ukraine is more than the just the liberty of some 43 million of her people. It is the fate of the ‘International Rules Based Order’ that has brought prosperity and freedom to so many since 1945. There are cracks appearing in that order, fail to stand by Ukraine and face down Russian threats at this time and those cracks may well turn into a dam burst. Few if any of us will remain unscathed if that happens.
Below are five specific areas in which the international community can bring significant pressure to bear on Russia while supporting Ukraine at the same time. We would ask all people of influence to highlight these with their relevant governments and press for their urgent implementation.
Call to Action:
Ukraine’s membership of NATO should now be taken a step closer with an invitation to produce a Membership Action Plan. This would achieve two things. It would send a clear signal to the Kremlin regime that NATO will not be intimidated by unreasonable demands for a guarantee that Ukraine should never be allowed to join the alliance. It would also serve to accelerate the current reforms of the Ukrainian Military and the democratic structures that oversee it.
The Kremlin has frequently used the Russian stranglehold on energy supplies as leverage on countries that depend on them. In the past, it has had to depend on Ukraine, as a transit country through which its gas pipelines needed to pass. With the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, they will gain the ability to cut off Ukraine without also cutting off the supply to western Europe on which a large part of the Russian economy depends. If Nordstream 2 is ever to be turned on this must be linked to full compliance with the Minsk Protocols and deescalation of current threats and drawdown of Russian forces currently being massed on the Ukrainian border and in the illegally occupied territory of Crimea.
It is accepted that there is not the political will for allies of Ukraine to send troops to fight against Russia in the event of an invasion. Ukraine also does not expect this. What Ukraine does need is the very latest weapons to put itself on more of an equal footing with Russia. So far NATO allies have been slow to do this. Ukraine has a large battle-hardened standing army and very considerable reserves ready to fight should the country be further invaded. Giving Ukraine the armament she requires will be a very significant deterrent to further Russian aggression. Accordingly Nato member states should send their senior army personnel to speak with their Ukrainian counterparts to determine what Ukraine needs and how it can be supplied.
Limited economic sanctions have been the main tool used by the international community since 2014. Some argue they are ineffective and even that they hurt the sanctioning countries. The truth is that sanctions probably hurt Russia more than Russia cares to admit. In the face of increased Russian aggression it is important not only that existing sanctions are applied rigourously. New sanctions should be introduced, up to and including cutting Russia off from the international SWIFT global electronic payment and messaging system.
The Kremlin uses false narratives and disinformation as part of its hybrid warfare strategy. As former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has said: “Russia lies on an industrial scale”.
Following are five of the most common myths actively deployed by the Kremlin to undermine Ukraine but with absolutely no basis in fact.
Ukraine is divided along language lines into pro-Russian and pro-western support — False 92% of Ukrainians in all provinces voted for independence 30 years ago. Since the Maidan revolution, pro-Western support has grown strongly with 67% in favour of joining NATO and over 70% in favour of joining the EU.
Ukraine is a fascist and antisemitic state — False Like all western countries there is a small far right movement but they never get traction in elections and have no influence in the Rada / Parliament. In the last presidential election 73% of the electorate voted Volodymer Zelensky, a Jew, into power. For a short time before he stepped down the country also had a Jewish Prime Minister in Volodymyr Grosman.
Ukraine is a failed State — False Year on year Ukraine continues to make progress with reforms, deal with corruption and grow its economy. It has been said by many international figures, including the World Bank, that Ukraine has made more progress since Maidan than in all the years back to 1991 and that is despite the country having to fight a war with an aggressive neighbour who wishes to retard her progress and occupies 7.5% of its land.
Ukrainians and Russians are the same people — False Vladimir Putin has claimed this many times but it has been debunked by the Ukrainian people themselves who affirm democratically time after time their wish for a separate national identity and future.
Maidan was an American backed coup — False Maidan was a popular revolution where millions poured into the centre of Kyiv for over 100 days to ultimately overthrow a corrupt pro-Kremlin dictator.
If you know of someone who has it in their power to help Ukrainians and Ukraine’s continued fight for independence, please contact Mark directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. He will send a complimentary copy of the book along with the most current ‘call to action’ which urges for a no-fly zone.
If you would like to help, please consider donating to one of the following charities: