The art of protest in Euromaidan
During protests, street-art became a barometer of social consciousness. Scrawled words and images reflect changing attitudes and a disdain for authority. Morgan Meaker writes
07 Mar 14

Detail from New Ukraine by Roti (Photo: Chris Cunningham)

Detail from New Ukraine by Roti (Photo: Chris Cunningham)

Detail from New Ukraine by Roti (Photo: Chris Cunningham)

As the Euromaidan protests gripped Ukraine, French street-artist Roti travelled to Kiev. He was eager to support protesters who were struggling with a violent police response to their government’s tilt toward Russia.

For months Roti had worked on an idea for a sculpture: A woman emerging out of water. The concept, which was originally meant for Paris, took on new meaning as the demonstrators in Kiev became set on revolution.

Roti cast his idea in marble and the sculpture, New Ukraine, became an allegory for Euromaidan protesters. The woman’s face, toes and hands protruded from the block of stone. As she struggled for freedom, she created ripples in the stone surrounding her – after all, discontent spreads.

On January 7, 2014, the artist illegally installed his work at the center of Kiev’s Independence Square. “It’s a gift. Not to a nation but to its people”, Roti declared. His intentions were clear. The work came as attacks on journalists and protesters became more and more regular. New Ukraine was a symbol of hope and progress at a time when resolve could have easily wavered.

The night of the installation, protesters celebrated by dancing and singing in the street. Confidence seemed momentarily rejuvenated. In the following weeks clashes between police and protesters would claim their first lives.

New Ukraine is not the only street-art to offer support to the Ukrainian people. Graffiti decorates Kiev’s main square – crossed out swastikas and the slogan “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” have become common features.

During protest, street-art becomes a barometer of social consciousness. Scrawled words and images on city walls reflect changing attitudes and a disdain for the ruling authority. The stencils of President Yanukovych’s body, punctured with bullet holes, were a more extreme example.

Like the ripples of New Ukraine, street art spread ideas through Kiev and further afield. With Twitter and Reddit offering a more collective version of the news, artists’ efforts escaped the borders of Ukraine and communicated their message to the global community. They achieved impact through imagery and reached a more diverse audience than most newspapers.

It was on Reddit that I discovered a photograph of a police barricade. It had been painted with a cartoon depicting a Ukrainian flag holding hands with a European flag as Russia looks on, scowling. The message was simple but memorable.


Protest posters also played an important role in boosting morale. Displayed around Kiev during the early days of the crisis, they highlighted the government’s inconsistencies and the power of the Ukrainian people. Of course, the country’s flag’s blue and yellow is the overriding color theme. Pairing graphic design with emotionally engaging political statements – “I am a drop in the ocean” – these works were incredibly empowering.

With a selection of these posters currently on display in Edmonton, Canada, it’s easy to see how imagery has the power to spread a political message. The exhibition features 50 designs which were posted around Ukraine. Each work was designed to encourage their audience to identify emotionally while keeping the message clear.

Artists use symbolism to monumentalise protesters’ efforts. With museums and galleries filled with artist’s renditions of historical events, we are programmed to link iconic moments with art. As creativity littered Kiev’s Independence Square, demonstrators were spurred on – the art around them transformed Euromaidan into a very stirring moment. Demonstrators were reminded: Here is the chance to make history.

Although they have since been annulled, anti-protest laws and restrictions on social media revealed the extent of how close Ukrainians came to losing the right to express themselves.

But on the streets, ideas would have continued to appear on walls and barricades. Street-artists cannot be tracked by algorithms. During times of crisis, they will always be on hand to support the people and spread their message.

This article was published on March 7, 2014 at

By Morgan Meaker

Morgan Meaker is a Brixton based writer. Whilst living in Berlin, she founded the political art magazine, The Illuminator. She is now the editor of Kids Of Dada Magazine.