On Tuesday, April 11 2018, Theological Studies professor Cyril Hovorun and Oleksandr Klymenko, a Ukrainian artist, opened the “Icons on Ammo Boxes” exhibit to a standing-room only crowd in the Marymount Institute. The exhibit features accessories of war that have been transformed into works of art, symbolizing both life and death in the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone of eastern Ukraine.
The War in Donbass, a region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk – southeastern oblasts bordering on Russia – erupted in 2014 following the Russian annexation of Crimea, when protests by pro-Russian separatist groups escalated into armed conflict with the Ukranian government. To date, over 10,000 soldiers and civilians have died in the fighting, and the region continues in turmoil despite attempts at more than 10 ceasefires within the past five years.
These ammo boxes, taken directly from the eastern front, have been hand-painted with care by Oleksandr Klymenko and Sofia Atlantova. Harkening back to work of the Byzantine masters, the beautiful Christian icons that adorn the wooden planks remind us of the hope and healing that is possible in the face of suffering.
“People weaponize religion and icons… we try to convert symbols of death to the symbols of life,” explained Klymenko. But the icons represent more than symbols of hope for reconciliation and efforts to bring peace and justice to Ukraine. Sales of these works of art go directly to the Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital (PFVMH), a non-government effort that brings civilian doctors and medics to the ATO Zone. Since its inception in 2014, PFVMH has treated over 30,000 patients and stationed hospitals in 47 different locations varying form city, to village, to field. Sale of the icons, which first presented in the National Reserve “Sophia of Kyiv” on February 24, 2015, now provides the primary support for the PFVMH.
“It is important that the victory of life over death occurs not only at the figurative and symbolic level, but also in reality,” states PFVMH’s Buy an Icon – Save a Life webpage, where icons are available for purchase. Where there is pain and violence, the icons bring salvation and relief, explains Klymenko. “We transform death to life by helping the hospitals.”
As a travelling exhibit, “Icons on Ammo Boxes” is being featured at Loyola Marymount as part of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute’s spring event lineup. The icons will remain on view to the public in the Marymount Institute through Monday, April 16, 2018 before moving to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Los Angeles. To learn more about the Icons on Ammo Boxes project and to support PFVMH efforts, visit www.medbat.org.ua.