When 31-year-old Ihor Sumlienij arrived at the site of the rocket attack recently, the rubble of the apartment building was still smoking. He started looking around and found exactly what he was looking for: shrapnel from a Russian missile. The piece of steel became part of his collection of “war trophies”, including everything from grenade handles to a pair of Russian army boots. “They have really bad energy,” he describes.
Although scavenging for war debris may seem outlandish or terrifying, many civilians and soldiers across Ukraine scavenge for empty shell casings, pieces of shrapnel or parts of mortars. Ukrainian artists weave the objects into their works, auction houses sell the finds to raise money for the army, and some people send them abroad as a testimony of the horrors.
Trend by sheet The New York Times (NYT) says that many Ukrainians want to feel connected to the fight, even though they can’t fight themselves or are far from the front lines. “With the existence of their country at stake, they are looking for something tangible to hold in their hands that represents this overwhelming and huge moment,” the paper wrote.
“Each piece has its own story,” says Serhij Petrov, an artist from Lviv, western Ukraine, who incorporates spent cartridges into his sculptures. “I’m holding them in my hands and thinking maybe that was someone’s last bullet,” he described.
At a charity auction in Lviv, programmer Valentyn Lapotkov paid 12,000 kroner for the rest of the rocket that the Ukrainians blew up in a Russian armored personnel carrier. “When I touched him, I felt close to our heroes,” he noted.
“Proof That It Really Happened”
Remembering the war, even though it is far from over, is according to the Kyivan World War II Museums a way to show solidarity with the soldiers and those who suffered. The institution opened an exhibition of war artifacts and images from the battlefield. The goal is to show people what war really looks like.
“It’s common practice to display war trophies, it’s not about bragging,” he told the station France24 Pavlo Netešov, curator from the Museum of Army History, which exhibited destroyed Russian equipment in the streets of the metropolis. “It’s important for me to preserve the artifacts to show that it really happened,” added Neteshov, who as a member of the territorial defense in Kiev helped repel Russian enemies while collecting equipment, weapons and other items from the battlefield.
Serhij does something similar on a personal level. “It’s very interesting. You don’t feel the war through television or news in the press. But when you show people these artifacts, they feel it,” says Serhij, who makes a living as an auditor. He presents his “trophies” in the video calls he hosts. He then sent some of his findings “on tour” abroad through his female friends.
Tatiana Ochtenová from the Ukrainian foundation UAID is also interested in war relics, which has already sold 15 remnants of rockets used by the Ukrainian army. Their auction brought in one hundred thousand crowns, with which the foundation bought protective vests, medicines and supplies for Ukrainian soldiers. “We’re taking things used to kill people to now save lives,” says Ochten.
Sumlienij intends to continue the “hunt”. When a few weeks ago he went with friends to the town of Buča, where the Russians they murdered several hundred civilians during the month-long occupation, to take photos proving the crimes here, find a Russian uniform and the aforementioned pair of shoes. “I feel evil in my fingers when I touch them,” he concluded.
Russian military equipment from the war in Ukraine was also on display in Prague: