The Black Sun of Mariupol: Daniil Nemyrovskyi’s Drawings from the Bomb Shelter
On Friday, the 8th of July, Daniil Nemyrovskyi’s drawings for the diary he kept while living in the occupied Mariupol will be displayed in Kyiv’s Dymchuk Gallery as a part of a collective exhibition. You can check them out until the 8th of August. The other pieces he created in the bomb shelter are exhibited in The Naked Room gallery. The artist recounted how he kept drawing while the occupied city was shelled.
A Ukrainian drawing artist, he used to teach at the Mariupol branch of The National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture.
— When it became clear that we had to leave Mariupol, it was already too late. At first, we sustained ourselves on frozen foods from supermarket warehouses. However, food and water had run out by end-March, and there was no more time to wait.
On the 28th of March, I went to the city outskirts, where the buses were rumoured to come. Where I went from there made no difference to me as long as I left the city. I deleted the photos of destruction in the city and the pictures and videos of unarmed locals resisting the occupiers from my phone and unfollowed all Ukrainian public channels. When I reached the location, I indeed saw the Russians’ big grey buses there. First, they brought me to some town near Mariupol, and I was stuck for a few days. Eventually, I found a driver heading to Berdiansk — the city was under occupation, too, but at least it was outside the so-called DPR.
I was short of money, but it didn’t hold value anyway. In Mariupol, people bartered: you gave someone a cigarette, and they gave you a glass of flour for it. In Berdiansk, I exchanged soap from the humanitarian aid for a ride on the bus. I decided to keep the bottle of champagne and tinned stew for a rainy day to buy something more valuable with them. I guess I could also barter my drawings, but I decided not to. Also, I gifted several portraits to children in the shelter.
In Mariupol, people bartered. In Berdiansk, I exchanged soap from the humanitarian aid for a ride on the bus.
In Berdiansk, they had a mobile connection and the internet, so I got to read Ukrainian news for the first time in a long while. I remember hearing rumours about Zelenskyy fleeing while in Mariupol. Then I got a message from the State Emergency Service about an evacuation corridor. After a few days of waiting and nine hours on the road, I ended up in Zaporizhzhia.
I spent a month in a bomb shelter where an oil lamp was the only light source. Incessant shelling made it hard to concentrate. Frankly, I couldn’t wrap my head around why draw in a situation like that. However, when batteries and a bunch of paper sheets were found in one of the warehouses, I saw it as a way of distracting myself. At first, I was curious if I could draw at least a straight line. Luckily, I was, so I made a series of drawings underground.
It was warmer and safer in the shelter than outside. We were all covered in dirt after one shell impact, but it was a minor inconvenience, considering that we could have been killed. Still, we could have used some fresh air down there. In the basements, there was mould and thawed water, which used to be the March snow. We slept in puddles, which then froze again. On our way to get firewood and water or cooking outdoors, we soaked in the beauty of the sky. Sometimes, good weather alone was enough to lift our spirits.
My laptop, notes, tools, and works are all in Mariupol — I took nothing from there. The tablet was the only thing I took. I wore a down jacket, two sweaters, pants, and long johns — those were all my clothes.
What’s the most tragic, though, is that my grandparents remain there. Older people are less mobile, and it’s hard to persuade them because they have their own world-view. They didn’t get that they were in danger until the last moment. The Russians took control of their neighbourhood as early as March. After I evacuated, I heard that the military used an armoured personnel carrier to take my grandma to the hospital, which was bombed soon after. Most probably, she died there. And my granddad was bedridden. I don’t know for sure what happened to him, but it looks like he is not among the living either. I urged them to evacuate, but they refused.