A blue cat smiles triumphantly as it stomps on a pile of burning Russian planes on a wall in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa.
Since the beginning of the war, a Ukrainian street art collective has painted dozens of similar cats in this city on the shores of the Black Sea.
Odessa is a port city, so there are many expenses. With the war, they have become patriotic,” says Matroskin, one of the artists with the LBWS group.
It’s the only option we have. Some inhabitants are volunteers, others fight on the front lines and we raise morale with cats,” adds the 32-year-old.
In the Privoz market, cats brandish bazookas and pistols, destroy Russian warships and wear military clothing while making the “V” sign for victory with their paws.
The works have nothing to do with those of the famous British Banksy, who has painted walls around the world. His strokes are less sophisticated and with a humorous touch, but the message of resistance gets through.
Next to a huge cat that annihilates Russian planes is a message that has become a kind of unofficial slogan of the resistance against Moscow: “Good evening. We are Ukrainians.”
– ‘Weak’ threat to Odessa –
The capture of Odessa is a strategic priority for Moscow if it wants to control the Black Sea region. But the city of a million inhabitants continues to boast of its freedom.
Mikolaiv, a city 130 km to the east, fiercely resisted the Russian attack in March and indirectly protected Odessa.
Given Moscow’s heavy losses in its attempt to invade all of Ukraine, the current threat to Odessa seems “very small,” says George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.
The Russians, at this point in the war, have neither the combat capability nor the necessary logistical support to carry out an attack” on Odessa, he says.
For this analyst, Russia should “judiciously” use the remaining troops and “focus on its objectives” in the Donbas region and the city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine.
In almost 50 days of war, fewer than ten attacks have hit Odessa, causing mostly material damage.
And the relatively free lives of Odessa residents seem to fit in with the military situation in this part of Ukraine.
There are hardly any controls to limit movement in the city, except for a few barricades and sandbags placed near the port, a stark contrast to the death and destruction that the port city of Mariupol has suffered.
But with the curfew starting at 9:00 p.m., Odessa turns into a ghostly city, where the lively atmosphere on the terraces of the cafes and the hectic traffic disappear.
The people of Odessa are not panicking… They are prepared for anything, but hopefully it won’t come,” says Mikhail Beyzerman, 59, a well-known cultural figure in the city.
Psychologist Alex Krugliashenko diagnoses a “denial” of the war in Odessa, with people enjoying small pleasures like having a coffee or enjoying every day of life.
We all know what is happening and how people are suffering in other cities, but we want to share some kind of hope that everything is going to be okay,” he says.
– Anger and hate –
But it is not easy to ignore the impact of the war and the collapse of the national economy. Gennadiy Suldim, a construction businessman who had 172 employees, has suffered since the beginning of the conflict.
I have become poor,” says the 55-year-old stoically, whose new vocation is to collect donations and equipment for the Ukrainian army.
All I do is support the army, from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed.”
The only feeling I have is hatred (…) I would like every last Russian troop to be exterminated,” he declares.
For his part, Matroskin has also applied his artistic skills to the military, painting his vehicles in camouflage colours.
I am a pacifist, but not when my country is being invaded,” he says.
I would like the Russian troops to lie on the ground (dead) so that they could not take another step into our country with their weapons,” he confesses.