Ukrainian artist Misha Tyutyunik unveils a new mural in the Ukrainian Village

Citizens Bank, the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America and Ukrainian artist Misha Tyutyunik put together an interactive mural painting in the Ukrainian Village to show solidarity for the community where the bank’s branch resides.

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Luca Richman

Ukrainian muralist Misha Tyutyunik collaborated with Citizens Bank and the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America to create an interactive installation in the heart of Manhattan’s Ukrainian Village. (Staff Photo by Luca Richman)

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

Ukrainian artist Misha Tyutyunik, 38, began painting a mural of Kyiv on the northeast corner of the Citizens Bank at the intersection of East 9th St. and 2nd Ave. to mark one month since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Passerby quickly surrounded him in a show of solidarity.

The mural came about as a coordinated effort between Citizens Bank, Ukrainian National Women’s League of America — a Ukrainian women-led LES organization — and Tyutyunik, to honor the spirit of the Ukrainian Village where the branch is located. In addition to the mural, Citizens Bank will match $25,000 in funds donated directly to UNWLA. 

“I want this mural to make people feel like they stand in solidarity with oppressed people everywhere,” Tyutyunik said. “The world is at war. Yemen is getting bombed, Israel is an apartheid state, all conflicts shed light on other conflicts.”

A portrait of Misha Tyutyunik against a beige brick wall. He is wearing a black puffer jacket, a fanny pack across his chest and a gray beanie.
Misha Tyutyunik, 38, is a Ukrainian muralist whose work takes inspiration from murals created during the Great Depression. (Photo by Noma Mirny)

Tyutyunik’s specific mural-making style takes from the modus operandi of the murals developed by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, in that it invites the public to become involved in the act of painting. As such, the first brush to touch the walls of Citizens Bank was not Tyutyunik’s, but a baby’s. Almost immediately, others gathered around the mural and began painting too. The interactive process elicited a sense of solidarity among the diverse group of people gathered to support Ukraine.

“I think it’s incredible seeing Ukrainian people getting involved with the community at large,” Ukrainian museum volunteer Sofia Soroka said. “I think everyone feels great encouraging the people around them.”

The crowd gathered around the mural ranged from four-year-olds to 70-year-olds and included everyone from residents of the Ukrainian village to Staten Island commuters who wanted to show their support. A 69-year-old woman who used to be part of the 1980s East Village punk movement wore a bright blue coat complemented by yellow stripes of duct tape spelling out “Fuck Putin.” She shared a few words on why she felt compelled to show up to support Tyutyunik as he painted his mural. 

“I came from Staten Island this morning because Ukrainian people are losing everything they have,” Felicia Villiers said. “We have to fight against that.”

A young boy adds blue paint to a public mural. He is wearing a blue t-shirt and holds a large plastic container in his hand.
Members of the public were invited to participate in the production of the mural, which pays homage to Ukraine’s capital city by bringing together images of its landmarks and portraits of the city’s founders. (Photo by Noma Mirny)

As more pedestrians practiced their art skills by adding on to Tyutyunik’s mural, a clear portrait of Kyiv began to manifest itself. Composed of bright greens, reds, blues and yellows, Tyutyunik’s mural pays homage to the origins of Ukraine’s capital city by bringing together images of its landmarks and portraits of the city’s founders. Seeing this slice of Kyiv on the streets of New York aroused a sense of nostalgia among the many Ukrainian and Ukrainian Americans gathered at the event. 

“My mother is reliving her war years,” Ukrainian artist Sofika Zielyk said. “She’s been in the Ukrainian Village for 70 years. As a first-generation Ukranian American, seeing this makes me a very proud Ukrainian and a very proud American.” 

The many Ukrainian organizations gathered for the mural painting at Citizens Bank were serenaded by a selection of tunes varying from Ukrainian rap to national hymns. Hoping to make the Ukrainian citizens gathered at their event feel at home, Citizens Bank also offered a selection of blue and yellow cookies for participants to consume between brushstrokes.

“This is very touching and it’s interesting how everyone gets to step in,” Arts & Museums Chair of UNWLA Liudmyla Rabij, 45, said. “This is a gift of art for the community.”

The small happening comes at a time when Ukraine is undergoing intense, continued bombing, deaths are adding up and people are being forced to flee their homes, becoming subject to diasporic displacement. Citizens of the Ukrainian Village are losing relatives and strength in their continued efforts to protest the war and organize relief efforts for their brethren. Ukraine needs all the help it can get and Tyutyunik’s small mural on the northeast corner of East 9th St. and 2nd Ave. shall serve as a constant reminder of how such a bright and important culture, and its people, are under attack.

“I hope people feel they can get involved,” Tyutyunik said about how his mural could bring people together in support of Ukraine.

Contact Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]