Reports from Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from cities across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, in May 2022. It was the first and, at that time, only news organization in Wisconsin that traveled to the country since it was invaded. The purpose of this journalism project was to document personal stories and events that detailed or showed the conditions of the war at that time, and their connections to Milwaukee.

Mexican-American artist Roberto Marquez painted a special mural on the destroyed bridge crossing the Irpin River, in the town of Irpin just 12 miles northwest of Kyiv, to memorialize the refugees who fled to safety from that location at the start of the unprovoked Russian invasion.

Marquez traveled to Ukraine in response to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appeal for international support. The artist painted what he saw while visiting various cities in the war-torn country. From his shelter setup under the Irpin Bridge, Marquez aimed to portray “the true face” of what he has witnessed.

Spanning the Irpin River, the bridge was demolished by Ukrainian forces ahead of the Russian military’s arrival on February 27. A makeshift walkway was constructed from planks to allow area residents to flee on foot.

At an intersection close to the Irpin Bridge, along the escape route out of the city, the Russians bombarded the area with explosive projectiles. At least eight civilians were killed. Among the victims was a family of four, including two children, who were hit by a mortar strike. The incident has been classified as a war crime.

When Marquez arrived in Ukraine, he came wearing an ammunition belt across his chest. But instead of it being loaded with bullets, they held paint brushes. He said he would use art to defeat the Russians.

“After President Zelenskyy said his country needed support, I decided to come here. Brushes are weapons too, and I hope to raise awareness with the paintings I make,” said Marquez. “Through my paintings, I want to show the world the true face of the war in Ukraine. My artworks demonstrate opposition to the war and protests the killings of people.”

Marquez mural on the shattered edge of Kyiv reflected the attacks by the Russian army, massacres in cities such as Bucha and Irpin, bombed houses, and the fear and suffering of people forced to escape from the invader’s brutality.

Hundreds of cold, exhausted, and frightened people had sheltered under the Irpin Bridge’s shattered foundations to avoid sniper and mortar fire. News photos taken from the site became immediately iconic in the early days of the invasion. As many as 300 civilians were killed by Russians in Irpin.

For inspiration, Marquez said the scene made him think of “Guernica,” one of the most influential anti-war paintings of the last century. The oil painting on canvas, created at the height of Spain’s Civil War in the 1937, was one of Picasso’s best-known works. It was an anti-war depiction of the Nazi bombing of the Spanish town. Marquez felt that in Ukraine, 1937 was happening again.

“When I draw, I have to be where things happen. This is where the action takes place. This here is an emotional site,” Marquez said. “People come and tell me their experience and that information is what I use as a mental image.”

The Mayor of Irpin, Oleksandr Markushin, took notice of Marquez’s work. He said that the mural will have a permanent home some place in the town, either in a city administration building or the cultural centre, which was heavily damaged after being deliberately targeted by Russian artillery.

A few feet away from the mural, under the shadow of the collapsed bridge, another mural was installed. It was designed like the Ukrainian flag, and featured a large sign placed beside it. The message asked local residents or anyone passing by to share the names on it of the victims lost due to the war.

The small shoes of children and abandoned toys also adorned the makeshift walkway, serving as a memorial to the youth displaced by Putin’s bloody provocation. Slightly submerged in Irpin River could be seen the remains of a few baby strollers, left behind since February when families fled the approaching slaughter.

Marquez worked on a mural in Medyka of the destruction in Mariupol for two weeks in April, before traveling on to Irpin. All of his work in Ukraine has been a protest against Russia’s invasion and as a tribute to local refugees.

Originally from Mexico City, Marquez now lives in Dallas. Marquez was born in 1959, and graduated from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente. He later moved to the United States. His paintings depict dreamlike images from literature, Mexican history, and the his own life.

“We’re here to help,” added Marquez. “Maybe in a little way, but it’s real sad, and it’s a catastrophic thing that is happening here. Maybe this art will inspire more people will come to help.”

© PHOTO NOTE: All the original editorial images published here have been posted to the Facebook page of Milwaukee Independent. That collection of photos contains the MI copyright and watermark for attribution, and may be used for private social media sharing. Do not download and share images directly from this page.

Series: Reports from Ukraine
  1. Reports from Ukraine: Traveling from Milwaukee to a country at war just to take a vacation from America
  2. Images from Ukraine: Latino artist travels to Irpin to paint mural inspired by "Echoes of Guernica"
  3. Images from Ukraine: Irpin residents welcome reissue of Russian Warship Stamp as latest sign of victory
  4. Stories from Ukraine: Wandering in the ruins of a shattered life after surviving Russia's invasion
  5. Images from Ukraine: Similar to the Alamo, martyred cities bought precious time to save a nation
  6. Stories from Ukraine: Tent camp offers shelter for displaced residents until Irpin can rebuild lost homes
  7. Images from Ukraine: Graveyards of Russian war machines show the scale of Putin's failure to seize Kyiv
  8. Images from Ukraine: Following the invasion convoy's 40-mile route and exploring an abandoned base
  9. Stories from Ukraine: Illegal weapons and proof of Russian War Crimes easily seen along streets of Irpin
  10. Images from Ukraine: How Irpin’s cemetery processed the staggering massacre of its local citizens
  11. Stories from Ukraine: Healing remains slow as Borodyanka residents recover from occupation
  12. Images from Ukraine: The deep scars of war remain visibly etched across the landscape of Borodyanka
  13. Interview with Oleksandr Markushin: Mayor of Irpin and the hero of a Hero City
  14. A Meeting of Sister Cities: Former and current Mayors of Irpin ask Milwaukee's business community for help
  15. Stories from Ukraine: Having a shared purpose helped Irpin's leaders protect the city and stop the invaders
  16. Stories from Ukraine: How Milwaukee helped a bakery feed hungry survivors in Bucha with fresh bread
  17. Stories from Ukraine: Bucha resident recalls how Russians turned neighborhood into a street of death
  18. Stories from Ukraine: How a mass grave of executions overshadowed accountability from Bucha’s leadership
  19. Images from Ukraine: Putin’s attack on Babyn Yar is a painful reminder of the broken vow of “Never Again”
  20. Images from Ukraine: An unexpected encounter with Jewish history and the bloody legacy of persecution
  21. Images from Ukraine: Listening to timeless voices of ethnic heritage etched in stone at Lychakiv Cemetery
  22. Images from Ukraine: The experience of attending a military funeral in Kyiv while children died in Uvalde
  23. Images from Ukraine: Stepping out of the fog of war to see the beauty of faith in ancient places of worship
  24. Images from Ukraine: The cities of Kyiv and Lviv were divided by history but remain united in identity
  25. Stories from Ukraine: Anya Nakonechna shares why the Lviv Opera is a symbol of her nation’s culture
  26. Images from Ukraine: A folk village where visitors can experience the life of past generations
  27. Images from Ukraine: Signs of renewal sprout from under Irpin’s rubble as city looks to the future

Lее Mаtz

Lее Mаtz

Milwaukee Independent editorial team for this special series: (UKRAINE) Lee Matz, photojournalist; Oleh Pinta, translator / reporter; Yaroslav Zdyrko, security / videographer; (MILWAUKEE) Halyna Salapata, logistics / translations.

Milwaukee Independent has reported on the situation in Ukraine since it was invaded on February 24. Coverage originally began with reactions and rallies from the local Ukrainian American community, and relationships with Milwaukee’s sister city of Irpin. Through partnerships and good journalism, sources were developed that enabled Milwaukee Independent to publish developments about the unprovoked war in realtime. In late May, a team from Milwaukee Independent spent nearly two weeks on the ground in Ukraine. The award-winning daily news magazine was the first and, at the time, only media organization to send staff into the country since the war began.

Reports from Ukraine: An extensive news series by Milwaukee Independent from a country at war