Unesco has listed 90 cultural sites damaged by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Among them is a 1950s building in the battle-torn town of Irpin called the Central House of Culture, which, through tear-filled eyes, the Australian artist George Gittoes drew this week.
“More than anywhere else [in Ukraine], this shows the Russian [forces] have come in as barbarians and destroyed the culture of Europe,” Gittoes says in a video of the heavily-shelled building.
“It was important for me to come here today and do some drawing and show them that they can’t stop art.”
Gittoes is an independent war artist of decades’ standing. He and his wife Hellen Rose, an Australian singer and performer, arrived in Ukraine in late March with a goal of making art and bringing hope to Ukrainians under siege from Russian forces.
Local woman Kate Parunova became Gittoes’ assistant in Kyiv, where he and Rose are based. Parunova’s grandmother had been safely evacuated from Irpin where a month of fierce fighting took place before Ukrainian forces regained control of the town.
Parunova drove Gittoes to see the Central House of Culture after Irpin was devastatingly pounded by Russian military. Gittoes says they also landmined the area around the Central House of Culture, making it dangerous to approach.
“While there’s death all around, and tanks and mass graves, to me this is absolute barbarity,” Gittoes says. “They’ve just blown [the Central House of Culture] to pieces.”
Parunova says the building got its “bulky” name during the Soviet era in which it was established.
“Dance classes, drama club, stage and screen studio, studio of fine art and many more were available for both children and adults within the walls of this House,” Parunova tells The Art Newspaper by email.
The address of the Central House of Culture is 183 Sobornaya Street, Irpin. Google Street View records that the building before the war was neatly maintained with pretty trees on its street frontage.
Gittoes says the building’s roof is now gone, and shelling has left its exterior pockmarked and its statues badly damaged.