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If Miyazaki Depicted War in Ukraine: Illustrations of Yulia Tveritina

Yulia always related to anti-war ideas of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, she did sketches on his animations in order to distract herself from the daily troubles. And then the war struck in her country, and the drawings became the main way to cope and tell the world about it.

In 1945 when the World War II ended, the Ghibli animation studio co-founder Hayao Miyadzaki was just 4. Though he doesn’t recall the war as it was in much detail, he had to flee his hometown during the air raids and then grow up in the postwar reality. So the whole animator’s creative work has an anti-war underlying theme. “The Wind Rises,” “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” “Porco Rosso,” “Princess Mononoke” and other director’s work tell about the war itself as well as the importance to treat the Earth – and any living being in general – with care.

Yulia Tveritina, a Ukrainian artist, often sought consolation in Miyazaki humanistic artwork, but now she has to draw her works on the horrors of war in her own country. Bird in Flight publishes her story and visual diary.

Yulia Tveritina

Ukrainian artist. Born in Kyiv, has the National Ukrainian Academy of Arts master’s and postgraduate degrees. Her line of work is graphics and illustration. Yulia cooperates with galleries in China and Japan, living between these two countries. A member of numerous foreign exhibitions of Ukrainian illustrators.

— The last “pandemic” years I’ve been living in the Southern China, with a studio and a university teaching position here. Because of the time difference, I could follow the invasion on Telegram channels and Facebook since the very first minutes – it already was 10 a.m. here, if I’m correct. I’ll never forget a call from my mom when she simply said, “I guess, it’s started” – with the sounds of aviation and explosions in the back.

I don’t remember my exact thoughts at the moment, as well as the first week of war. I got ill right away, due to the stress, I suppose, and started drawing with a fever. Then a whole Shanghai region was totally shut down due to the Omicron epidemic, and everyone is still confined to their homes now. So, I guess, I started making art so that I could keep myself busy and take my mind off the news for some time. While making a third illustration, it came to me that I can’t work on my pre-war projects any more, and these nervous reflective sketches are growing into an entire series.

All these pictures are real stories I want to remember. Sometimes I don’t mention names, because the characters ask so for various reasons. Naturally, every day I rewatch thousands of war photos, so I have some idea on what a missile, a battered house, a cellar, a subway station turned into a shelter can all look like. Some technical issues such as choice of colour or composition come in handy to stop from thinking that underneath the picture there is a real story, horrendous at times. That is to say, all the scenery is depicted in locations I saw and can imagine, with people I know well.

All these pictures are real stories I want to remember.

My ambition is to capture the war events, but it is rather secondary. First of all, this is my main therapy now. Same as the illustrations based on Miyazaki in my insta-account used to be therapeutic for me; because before the war this page was merely just for fun. I posted micro-projects there to distract myself from yet another complex work task, or whatever.

In general, I adore Miyazaki artwork. There was a time before the war when I took up animation and was constantly watching Ghibli studio projects to get inspired. Its most meaningful films are in some way skilfully dealing with the anti-war and ecology topics, which I can relate to. Also, I’ve learned that my foreign audience – which is mostly youngsters, my students, or even younger – finds this war to be something distant and unrelated to them, as if some surreal show. In a word, this audience won’t see the objective perspective taken from the war diary, but it will be able to make an adequate associative chain for its understanding if it is based on, let’s say, a favourite film.

I receive mostly positive feedback on my works, but there is a place for the negative one as well. It’s quite peculiar to see how different the viewpoint and perception of the very same events really are, as is the range of aggression some people tend to express. But I set a goal right away to reflect the events in a most realistic and objective way possible, so in jest my works are the raw witness accounts.


Yesterday morning mom wrote to me that my Kyiv was being attacked and the war had begun. Now she with my sis are staying at home, along with our dog, they couldn't evacuate. I have many furious words that I would like to say about this, but they do not add up to a coherent text. Of course, I'm very scared. And I'm also very angry. I haven't been able to work for a few days now, and I can't sleep, can’t eat, can’t draw any pictures, I wanted to do something supportive for the post, like my illustrator friends, but I can't start. my mind is completely empty and there is nothing suitable. I found this pic and changed the colors on it, (Art for the Grave of the Fireflies. I think those who watched the films of Studio Ghibli, you know this movie ) it has been in my computer for a long time unfinished because I was upset every time I look at it. I have watched this anti-war movie only once and will never watch it again. It absolutely broke my heart. Now I think of all little kids now getting to know war and my heart breaks again. That kids , who have been hiding for the second day in the cold subway and sleeping in damp shelters . I would never have thought that in Europe in the modern world something like this could come into our lives again.
Today is the 7th day of the war and I feel a little bit less scary. For some reason, everyone says that the most difficult days are the 5th, 15th and 22nd, but the worst for me was yesterday. Mom, sis and my brave dog are still in Kyiv, in its hottest zone, they can’t and, it seems, don’t want to leave anymore. Of course, I would be calmer if they were in a safe place, at least I could sleep for the first time this week. but nope . Someone said that drawing is good therapy. Today, for the first time since the beginning of the war, I was able to draw a line and then draw something. You know, lately I have really disliked the “doves of the world,” they are everywhere, but there is no sense in them. In the pic is an episode from “The Wind Rises,” an anti-war film by Studio Ghibli, in which the hero of the movie , an aircraft designer, walks across a field of downed mutilated planes - his “children,” used not for good and in the name of beauty, but destroyed for evil . It seems to me that everything is crumbling in this picture, the whole composition and color accents, just like my life now.
Today my hometown Kyiv was attacked. again. I look at the photo of the destroyed house and understand that I know this area well, and I must have seen this house before, because my friend lives very close by. My mom heard the explosions . This pic about the evacuation was supposed to be one of the pages of comic from the previous post, but it didn’t, because little girl Mira is still in Kharkiv, although their house is no longer suitable for habitation, it has gaping holes and no more windows. But for now, I would like to use this pic to thank all the volunteer heroes who evacuate people from hot spots, feed and clothe them, help search for missing people, rescue abandoned animals, and do many more wonderful things, instead of being safe somewhere . I also thank the public utilities that continue to work in the cities under attack, the fire departments, and everyone who goes to work so that the infrastructure can continue to exist. I would like to think that the graphic visualization of Mira's evacuation will somehow affect the universe and this will become a reality for her and all the children locked in hell spots now.
Kyiv city now lives like in a game of Russian roulette: in the relative probability that some missile or its fragments will hit your house.

Every day from bombings, from hypothermia, hunger, lack of drinking water and infections in the occupied cities small children die, same way like poor little Setsuko. There is a humanitarian catastrophe in Mariupol city , the impossibility of evacuating. In my soul I correlate this train scene from "Grave of the fireflies" with another one traine scene from "Spirited Away" which I drawn with great pleasure and good mood. A month ago? In some other past happy life?
Kyiv. 25th day of the war. The smell of burning and air raid alert. I have videoсall with my mom and hear sirens, then I hear an explosion. The window panes survived thank God. I remember that from the window of my room in my previous life I always looked at the forest and lakes, and somewhere behind the forest was Irpin, and Bucha, small green peaceful cities, now everything is destroyed there. Then I think about Mariupol. Every damn day I think about Mariupol, that giant firefly grave.
29th day of the war. Almost exactly a month since I woke up in a new reality. The system of values ​​has changed a lot. What used to seem important now doesn't seem so. The most surprising thing is that depression, procrastination, and decadent moods have gone away. Crystal clear what is valuable and what is not worth attention. Despite the terrifying accompanying situation — this is some new, wonderful feeling and it makes you complete. Suddenly it turned out that we had been happy, we just didn't know about it. The pic, I think, is recognizable, because this is the most popular for fan arts episode from the Miyazaki movie "The Wind Rises." Little bit different composition, because for me, this is not only a touching tragic love story of the protagonist Jiro Horikoshi — he is shown as an unconditionally nice person , who is undoubtedly a positive character. But human and professional dignity does not negate the fact that he also created weapons for unjust wars - which ultimately destroyed his homeland.
33rd day of war. People who survived and evacuated begin to tell their stories. The fired thing is that a part of them are my friends and acquaintances, I know these families personally. I started to keep such a diary in pictures, dedicated to these people. I want Facebook to remind me of these posts later, when the war is over. To never forget.

March 6, 2022, my brave friend Masha takes her daughter Veronika out of Irpin , in a half-broken car that was shot earlier in the yard of their destroyed house. It was the first days of the war, a lot of civilians from Irpin, Bucha and Gostomel tried to leave and escape, but not everyone was lucky. Entire families were shot, no one looked that the word "children" was written on the cars.
March 15, 2022. My other close friend Julia finally answered my message and said that she had already been evacuated from Bucha to Kyiv. Our entire park zone is covered in huge black holes — traces of the bombing. I have nowhere else to walk my dog. A shell hit my house — I have nowhere else to live.
36th day of the war. With a few words about evacuation. None of my family left Kyiv during the war, but I can imagine how deafeningly scary it is when you suddenly find yourself at the train station with a small bag in your hand, in which there are your passport, some food and maybe pair of socks and no return ticket.

March 10, 2022. My friends, newlyweds Sergiy and Lena say goodbye at the railway station in Kyiv. Lena is pregnant and leaves with the hope of waiting out the war in Lviv. Her husband leaves for the front line. Sergiy is a very peace-loving calm man, he is big fan of tea culture and writes essays on oriental studies. The last thing Sergiy wants to do is fight, but he has no choice today, if he wants his former life back, like all of us.
March 11 , 2022. Exhausted people sleep on the floor of the Poltava-Lviv evacuation train.
40-th day of war. As I wrote earlier, I started a small series of illustrations about the war, based on the real stories of my eyewitness friends. These are stories of ordinary people who woke up on February 24th in a “new wonderful world” in which other people want to forcefully and irrevocably change theirs lives.

March 4th 2022. Kharkiv city. The children sleep in a basement, on the earthen floor.
April 3. 2022, Bucha. My childhood friend Andrew looks at the river through a hole in the bridge, which he passed thousands of times to visit grandparents in his pre-war life. This bridge is covered with burnt cars and civil dead bodies now. It's hard for me to write anything objective about Bucha, because I knew this region too well. I can only say that I feel the same hole inside right now.
March 19, 2022. My friend Lera from Mariupol. Her father and granny died because of shrapnel wounds in the yard of their own house when they left the basement to found some food. She was evacuated from the Marine Boulevard area along with a dog that she picked up along the way. As a result of shelling, 90% of the housing stock was damaged in the city. Mariupol no longer exists.
I don’t remember which day of the war, it seems to be the 43rd. I continue illustration series of stories of my friends. The good news is that my dog ​​has finally gotten used to the sounds of exploding shells and alarms, and furiously barking back now. And of course, the very good news is that the front has moved away from Kyiv for a little bit, and the dog has nothing to bark at. I don't know for how long.

April 5. 2022. Mariupol. Veronica, my friend Lera's sister, together with her neighbors near their house (already almost destroyed, they sleep in the basement), cook food on a fire in dug pits. The most dangerous thing is to do it under shelling, but in their area it has already become calmer. Veronica's neighbor planted flowers in flower beds, right in the ground, plowed up by shell fragments. The flowers have sprouted.
February 24. 2022. Kyiv. My friend and colleague Sasha writes on her daughter's back name, age and contact details in case something happens with her in the chaos of evacuation. Recently, Sasha posted her daughter's back photo on Instagram and the post went viral. The photo was shared, in most cases without giving a link to the source, which in turn encouraged thousands of “nice” people to write rather cruel comments and call the photo a fake. But it's not a fake. I cannot be sure about much that is happening now, so I use only stories confirmed by a personal contact. I would really like it to be fake staged, or a movie, or a drama, but unfortunately it's all real.
48th day. Continue my “war diary.” I didn't think there would be a series when I drew the first picture, so that's how it happened. I really want to return to painting, hope I haven’t forgotten how to draw something other.

April 10, 2022. The resilient grandmother of my friend Masha (89 years old!), from Bucha, sits in her former living room on her favorite sofa. She came out of the basement, where lived for more than a month with her five cats and an old dog, and says that now she is quite happy just to be.
March 6, 2022. Kharkiv, the shell in a residential area. Photo of the dog expressing its dismissive attitude towards falling military shells does really exist, but it was a brown dachshund.
From the very beginning of the war, I periodically asked myself what material things I would take from home to save if I could. What bothered me most of all was not even the loss of a large number of paintings and graphics, but the family archive of photographs. What an irony, to survive a revolution and two wars, and be destroyed in an absurd third.

April 8, 2022. Bucha. Sophia, my friend's younger sister, could finally get out of the neighbor's basement, in which she hid more than a month, and return home. She found her home completely defeated by marauders. All the household appliances were carried out, even the fridge and old washing machine. Dear guests smashed the furniture, burned books (probably, to warmed in the flame of knowledge) and made a toilet in the nursery. But Sophia found her cat alive, and was glad about that.
Here I tried to portray Valentina Stepanovna from Bucha, from whom we once rented rooms for summer holidays. I remembered that the house was made of white brick and it was built instead of another, old house that burned down. I remembered that we bought goat milk and cheese from her, then she was still an active cheerful woman in multi-colored dresses. Behind the house there was a field where they planted something, it seems potatoes and corn. Her daughter said that unexploded shells were sticking out of the field, but this did not prevent Valentina Stepanovna from planting something there and grazing her surviving goats. A month in the basement under shelling undermined her health, but did not deprive her of optimism.
54th day of the war and I am very tired. I have a calm post today. I drew these pictures time ago without any association with the fact that Ukraine has a yellow-blue flag. Finally, that there is a lot of yellow-blue in the world, it’s a beautiful and natural combination of primary colors, such as field and sky or Van Gogh dreams. It's just the last two arts to Ghibli “Nausicaa of the valley of the wind” that I drew right in the last two days before the hell (February 22-23!, oh my), in order to systematized finish my fan arts series for this movie and was going to move on to "The Hobbit," but it seems that their time has come. For those who haven’t watched, “Nausicaa” is a wonderful anti-war environmentalistic animation and best if you will google about symbolism of plot story. It's unreal actual now.
57th day of the war. Ok, I'm a little stressed. Mom visited my apartment yesterday to pick up bills and it turned out that a shell or its fragments fell near (not today, we don’t know exactly when it happened, probably at the end of March), damn it, it fell literally near my house. It’s just the area near the wood, beyond which Irpin city is. Garages were destroyed and in the house, which was a little closer, lot of windows were broken, and the gatekeeper was also injured by shrapnel. This is Kyiv guys. Probably 20 meters from my house.

March 24 , Kharkiv. My friends with the whole family, with newborn kids and pets, lived at the subway station for more than a month. They cooked on the platform and slept in the train cars. They wrote to me that they were feeling very lethargic and physically exhausted, and they were planning to flee to Budapest because the little children couldn't take it anymore. I don’t know where they are now, there is no connection with them, but I know that they finally left Kharkiv.

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