As the world’s wealthiest travel to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the annual World Economic Forum, a group of artists ensure that the growing human cost of war in Ukraine is placed firmly at the center of debates in this week.
Typically, during the summit, which begins today and runs until May 26, Russian delegates stay and host parties in a building known as Russia House. This year, with no Russians invited to the conference amid widespread sanctions against the country over its military aggression, the house is empty. Taking advantage of this opportunity, a number of Ukrainian artists and art workers rented the building to hold the exhibition War Crimes House in Russia (until May 26) which focuses on Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine. In the window of the building, where passers-by could once spot Russian billionaires rubbing shoulders with other members of the global elite, a sign now reads: “This was once Russian House in Davos. Now it is the Russian War Crimes House in Davos.”
The works in this poignant exhibition include documentary photographs of bombed Ukrainian cities and dead bodies lying in the street with their faces covered with tarpaulin. In a large photograph taken on February 27, Mstyslav Chernov shows medics trying to resuscitate a little girl, injured in a bombardment, in the besieged city of Mariupol. An 11-minute video by Oleksiy Sai provides a voiceover for nearly 5,000 photos alleging various war crimes, including murder, rape and mutilation. The voiceover also contains recordings which the artist says are Russian soldiers admitting to raping and killing Ukrainian civilians “without remorse”.
On an opposite wall is an “incomplete map of Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine as of May 9”, which shows the geographic distribution of dozens of alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine. Alongside these works, the exhibition will also serve as a venue for a series of discussions between Ukrainian officials.
The exhibition was co-organized by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and the Pinchuk Art Center museum in Kyiv, both named after their founder, Ukrainian billionaire steel oligarch and collector Victor Pinchuck.
A number of Ukrainian politicians and prominent humanitarian figures spoke at the opening of the exhibition today, which was streamed live on Youtube and reported via the Pinchuk Foundation’s Twitter. Among them were Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, and the mayor of Bucha, Anatolii Fedroruk. Demands have been made on the international community to punish Russia, as well as demands for reparations from Russia worth “several billion dollars” to rebuild Ukraine.
The exhibition was opened ahead of an official speech to be delivered today by Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky via video link to guests of the World Economic Forum. Last month, Zelensky addressed crowds at the Venice Biennale, also via video link, at an ongoing satellite exhibition hosted by the Pinchuk Foundation in Venice, titled this is ukraine.
Zelenksy is the first head of state to speak at this year’s forum, which has adopted the theme History at a crossroads and where Ukraine should be at the center of attention. A multitude of official panels will address the impact of war on the landscapes of business, commerce and international politics. Some senior Ukrainian officials attend the Davos meeting in person, including the foreign minister, two deputy prime ministers and the mayor of Kyiv.
Several countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, acknowledge that Russia is currently committing war crimes in Ukraine, according to official government reports. Moscow has denied claims that its troops targeted civilians during the invasion, while Ukraine says more than 11,000 war crimes may have been committed, according to the BBC. reports.
Today a Ukrainian court convicted the first Russian of war crimes, according to The New York Times, sentencing captured Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin to life in prison for killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the northeastern village of Chupakhivka on February 28. The soldier admitted shooting Shelipov but said he acted on orders and asked his widow for forgiveness. Several other alleged war crimes are currently being investigated by Ukraine.