in Odessa, the cats on the walls go to war

On a road in Odessa (southwest), a blue cat smiles, a pile of Russian planes at his feet. Since the beginning of the war, an urban art collective has painted dozens of cats on the city walls, a testament to the almost unreal neglect that prevails in this part of Ukraine.

“Odessa is a port city, so there are a lot of cats,” says Matroskin, a graphic designer for the LBWS group. In the current context, the “icon” of the metropolis of one million people, he said, could not continue to purr peacefully. “Cats had to become patriots.”

“It’s the only option we have, the 32-year-old artist continues. Some are volunteers, some are military. We paint patriotic cats.” Now ubiquitous in the city.

On the wall of the covered market of Privoz, the emblem of Odessa, a kitten is carrying a bazooka, while his friend is screwing a muffler to his pistol. Elsewhere, a cat crushes a warship. Another, dressed in a military jacket, points his finger at the “V” of victory.

Nothing to do with the political and precise staff of Banksy, the illustrious British street art artist who has colonized the walls around the world, and whom Matroskin does not know. In Odessa, the lines are more naive, willingly, but the message arrives.

Around the goiter cat, lover of Russian planes, an ironic: “Good evening. We are Ukrainians,” which has become an antiphon in the country, a challenge thrown at opponents. It is also a sign that the city, Moscow’s priority target, has not fallen into its hands.

-Shopping-

Because Mykolaiv, located 130 km to the east, a strategic lock in the context of the conquest of Odessa, fiercely resisted in March. And Russian offensives to avoid Mykolaiv have been repulsed by Ukrainian forces.

While the Kremlin has suffered heavy losses due to the number of assaults in the four corners of Ukraine, the threat to Odessa now seems “very low,” said George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for War Studies. .

“The Russians do not have the human resources or logistical support to carry out an attack (on the city) in these times of war,” he said. Because they now have “less combat power, they must use it wisely and focus on their targets,” either the territories of the Donbass in the east or Mariupol, hundreds of miles from Odessa.

A fact fully integrated by its inhabitants, who seem to live normally, without control points or almost hindering their movements, with the exception of the hypercenter, near the port, to which sandbags and other barricades restrict access. .

Elsewhere, the traffic is constant, people chatting around a coffee outside … at least until 9pm, when the curfew transforms the city into a ghost town. But before that, Odessa lives on a planet other than eastern Ukraine, where destruction, death and desolation reign.

In 50 days of war, less than ten strikes have targeted the city, mainly due to property damage.

– “Denial” –

“The people of Odessa are not panicking. They are on autopilot. Ready for anything, hoping nothing happens,” said Mikhail Beyzerman, a cultural figure in the city.

Alex Krugliachenko, a psychologist, diagnoses a very “human” denial of the war there. “We all know how much people suffer in other cities, but we want to share the hope that everything will go well for us,” he said.

Although the Odessa economy, in unison with the rest of Ukraine, has collapsed, the population is content with small pleasures, a “cappuccino”, “having lived one more day”, continues the psychologist .

Gennadiy Suldim, a formerly prosperous construction entrepreneur, is not quite there yet. His business, which previously employed 172 people, is stalled. “I’ve gotten poor,” he says without getting excited.

“All I do is help the military, from morning till night,” collecting donations and supplies from Ukraine and elsewhere, says the 50-year-old. And let go: “The only feeling I have left is hatred. (…) I wish all Russian soldiers were exterminated.”

Graffiti artist Matroskin helps the Ukrainian army by painting vehicles with camouflage colors.

“I’m a pacifist, but not when my country is invaded,” says the artist, who says he “doesn’t know how to grab a gun.” This does not prevent him from wishing “to see the Russian troops thrown to the ground (dead, ed.), So that they can no longer walk through our country with their weapons.”

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