Ink to Show Links: Ukrainians’ Wartime Patriotic Tattoos
Tattoo parlours stay open in the cities relatively unaffected by the ongoing hostilities. Some are located in basements, and others schedule appointments for the hours where air raid alarms are the fewest.
Tattoo artists say that fewer people come for ink than before the war, although there are still more customers than expected. Tattoos are seemingly something people can do without in such difficult times, but many people come to make their first these days. “It’s now or never,” they say. Nobody is sure now what the future may hold. Also, many people have finally decided on the designs: it’s mostly something war-themed or patriotic. These include some popular subjects like the military ship going in the well-known direction and classic Ukrainian symbols: ears of wheat, tridents, and the national flag, to name a few. Making tattoos like these, the artists often take money for materials only or offer to donate it to the army.
Master&Margarita Tattoo, Vinnytsia
A girl came to me with a sheet of paper. There were a few words on it, written by her grandparents who remained in the occupied Nova Kakhovka.
— We often make tattoos of quotations from the Ukrainian poetry and songs, ethnic motifs, like vyshyvanka, ears of wheat, kalyna, and definitely the motto of the Ukrainian defenders of Zmiinyi Island. But there have been some more personal things, too. One girl that fled the city of Irpin wanted a tattoo of the date when she left. A girl came to me with a sheet of paper. There were a few words on it, written by her grandparents who remained in the occupied Nova Kakhovka. Soldiers’ wives often get tattoos to show their support and faith in their husbands.
The stories of people coming from Kharkiv and Mariupol are the most memorable.
— Out of love and pride for our country, people mostly choose designs emphasizing that Ukraine is our home. The stories of people coming from Kharkiv and Mariupol are the most memorable: they tell about their destroyed houses and how lucky they have been to get out of there.
Inking sessions like these lift spirits and encourage believing in victory.
— At first, I didn’t understand whether I should return to work or not, because who would need tattoos now, anyway? However, people wrote to me, offering exciting ideas or coming to get the motto about the Russian military ship tattooed. Inking sessions like these lift spirits and encourage believing in victory, helping our country, and staying strong. And moving on, too.
Karina Demitseva, Karatattoo, Cherkasy
Many customers joke, like, God forbid, the world is ending, and they always wanted to get inked.
— People tend to postpone everything, like their desires, needs, and having a life in general. It’s always been “not now”, “later” — every time. Now everyone has realized how important it is to live here and now and has started seizing the day. Many customers joke, like, God forbid, the world is ending, and they always wanted to get inked. Their stories are similar, differing only in the details. However, almost all of them say that they wish Ukraine to win and that the tattoo will remind them of that victory.
Khrystyna, ch.f_tattoo. Yuzhne, Odesa Region
Our soldiers with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defence Force get tattoos as mementos.
— Our working hours depend on air raid alerts and our customers’ plans. In some cases, they have to reschedule because everybody commits to helping our country in any way they can.
I made 29 patriotic tattoos in March alone — quite a lot if you ask me. Out of those 29, 8 people got inked for the first time, if I remember correctly. They said it had been their long-time dream, but they could find no design they would want to wear for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, they fancied my patriotic designs. Also, our soldiers with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defence Force get tattoos as mementos.
Alina Lenz, lenz.tattoo, Lutsk
Some people just want to forget it like a bad dream and never have anxiety and flashbacks because of their tattoos.
— The customer who got a Ghost of Kyiv tattoo approached me for their first tattoo about a year ago. And, where there’s one, there’s another — that’s usual for ink. A customer came to me in the first days of war with a custom design, and we made the tattoo a few days later. He told me a tragic personal story about his soldier friend. Everyone endures the war in their own way. Some want to have a memory and show support and identity. Some people want a tattoo of crucified bloody Putin on their back, and others something more thematic like the symbol of unity. Others just want to forget it like a bad dream and never have anxiety and flashbacks because of their tattoos.
People want anti-war designs much less than patriotic ones, meaning they get tattoos for peace, not against war.
— Previously, I mainly did flower or lettering tattoos. Today, it’s mostly the coat of arms of Ukraine, ears of wheat, or vyshyvankas. Some people asked for Bayraktar and Javelin, the famous “Russian military ship, go f*ck yourself!”, and such. However, people want anti-war designs much less than patriotic ones, meaning they get tattoos for peace, not against war.
I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I should keep working in times like these. But when I see a customer happy with his tattoo, I understand that everything’s in its place. It is especially true for displaced people from the flashpoint regions who endured the hardships of war. I donate a part of the money to support the Armed Forces of Ukraine and for humanitarian relief efforts.
Anna Khodkova, Etching Room 1, Kyiv
A Crimean Tatar friend of mine decided to have a tattoo of the date his people were deported from Crimea.
— Tattoo is my hobby — I don’t make appointments. However, I have a friend who helps volunteers, and they wanted to get inked. So, I made tattoos right in their volunteer headquarters — it was some kind of a basement where they lived and distributed relief consignments.
One wanted something from Izdryk’s poetry, another wanted the word “palianytsia”, and yet another a grenade and a hedgehog. I even made myself a Molotov cocktail tattoo. I believe these are essential images. I also tattooed my friend, who brought his own design. He is a Crimean Tatar and decided to have a tattoo of the date his people were deported from Crimea.
Cover photo: bezlad.tattoo