Russian artist Andrei Molodkin has created a portrait of Russian president Vladimir Putin filled with Ukrainian blood in a protest against the invasion of Ukraine, he spoke to BreakingNews.ie about his hope to have it displayed in Moscow.
While some may find this gruesome, Mr Molodkin, a former soldier in the Soviet Army, believes art and culture play a key role in taking a stand against regimes that promote war and violence.
He served in the Soviet Army for two years from 1985 to 1987, transporting missiles across Siberia.
A 2013 exhibition by Molodkin in the Void Gallery in Derry entitled Catholic Blood was created specifically for the context of Derry and Northern Ireland.
Mr Molodkin lives with a number of Ukrainian friends and colleagues at The Foundry in France.
Some of Mr Molodkin's Ukrainian friends went home to fight, and their wives and children remain in France.
Eight of them donated blood for the portrait, including six men currently fighting in Ukraine and two who are doing humanitarian work.
"We made this portrait quite quickly, 10 days after the war started, we collected blood, kept it in a fridge, we used 860 grams of blood from eight Ukrainian people," he explained.
He spoke to BreakingNews.ie along with Cristina, whose husband is currently fighting in Ukraine.
Despite her fears for him, her pride and bravery was clear as she spoke calmly about the situation at home.
Her husband is one of the men who donated blood for Mr Molodkin's art.
"I’m very proud he participated in this project. It’s very striking and a true thing that innocent Ukrainian blood is being spilled by this war. I hope people will see it, and it will change their opinions about the war."
Cristina is in contact with her husband, but she explained that the connections can be poor at times.
"It is very scary, but I am proud of my husband and his friend fighting on the frontline, trying to protect our country. I am so scared because the connection is sometimes not good, and I don’t know the next morning if he will be alive or not. The news is not always good because the war keeps going. I’m living in fear and worry."
With 85 per cent of Russians said to be behind Putin's so-called 'military operation', Mr Molodkin explained that the goal of his project is to show people there are "no winners" in war.
"You don’t see the human behind Putin, you see the bloody criminal," he explained. "His ratings were very high after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. He is in power for 23 years, he is a criminal. He is afraid to lose his power now, and he believes that the war and blood is how he can keep his popularity."
While waiting for news from home in France is very difficult for Cristina, she said pride is the main emotion she feels for her husband.
"For mothers and children here it’s very difficult knowing their husbands and fathers are in the trenches day and night, sometimes hungry and without the best equipment. It’s not like the movies, it’s much more real and scary for everyone involved. It’s a very big worry."
While it is widely acknowledged that Putin expected to achieve his goals in Ukraine in a matter of days, the fierce resistance and bravery of soldiers and civilians has kept the Russian army at bay.
Cristina said there is a renewed sense of unity in Ukraine, "we're fighting for our independence and freedom, that's where our strength is".
"We are dreaming of home and want to be there as quickly as possible, but we don’t even know if our houses are standing. We miss home, we miss a secure and stable life. None of us are the same as we were before. We miss home and hope it will happen soon, but the news now is not good."
Mr Molodkin feels it is his role as an artist to do what he can to highlight the "atrocities" being committed in Ukraine.
He cited Pablo Picasso's famous anti-war portrait, Guernica.
"I feel responsible as an artist to do something and the Ukrainians with me are in collaboration for this work.
"This image can help to deconstruct Russian propaganda. I believe that in this moment it’s only culture that can change the world. Russian media is all Kremlin controlled, but images like this can deconstruct the language of power."
Mr Molodkin said some Russian media outlets have already shared images of his portrait.
He is now working with contacts in Russia to have it displayed in Red Square on Victory Day (Monday, May 9th).
Putin will reportedly send a "doomsday" warning to the West when he leads celebrations on Monday marking the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany, brandishing Russia's vast firepower while its forces fight on in Ukraine.
Defiant in the face of deep Western isolation since he ordered the invasion of Russia's neighbour, Putin will speak on Red Square before a parade of troops, tanks, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Mr Molodkin's team are working to show his portrait using an AR (augmented reality) display, despite the obvious risks.
He said he has support from a large group of people at home, and their hope is to demonstrate the barbarity of war to Russians who share this view.
His family has already been affected personally by these efforts.
Mr Molodkin's brother was arrested a few days after the invasion started.
"My brother is still in Russia and was arrested on the second day of the war for speaking out against it, my family are against it and there are many like us, there are people trying to help us bring this image up.
"Some people in Russian media have already published this image, so our idea is to show Russian people this bloody portrait.
"We have a projection, and we want to show it in Moscow for Victory Day. So we can show people he is using the blood of innocent men, women and children to hold on to power.
"This is our role, to show Russians who are being subjected to this propaganda manipulation.
"I was ex-military, so I want to tell them any killing of people for your popularity is criminal, it’s not patriotic.
"We’re trying to get it shown in Russian media space. Our dream is to show it on Red Square on Victory Day. We have been putting people together to try to make this happen, that Victory Day will be a bloody portrait of the dictator who has decided to kill innocent people.
"We’re working on it. People are trying to find a place to understand how we can do it. I’ve been through very difficult military service, I know how it functions. I’ve worked with strategic missiles, I know what a nuclear missile would mean.
"My piece is from the perspective of an ex-military person, I know what war means and I know its human cost. In every barrel of Russian oil, there is Ukrainian blood. Money for gas and oil is continuing this war."