Great Motherland, Soviet Nostalgia, Illiteracy, Twisted Shame and a Bit of God: What’s Behind the Inscriptions on the Walls

Documenting Ukraine

Wall Evidence is an open archive of inscriptions left by the Russian military on the occupied territories of Ukraine. The project is led by the Mizhvukhamy team, who conduct expeditions to deoccupied territories and collect data from eyewitnesses and open sources. The result of their work is an extensive database of writings left by Russian soldiers in places ranging from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region to villages and towns in the Kyiv region.

In an article by Ukraїner, Anastasiia Olexii, Mizhvukhamy project manager, recalls the creative process behind the initiative. The idea of archiving inscriptions by Russian soldiers appeared in the spring of 2022, when, during their trip to Hostomel, founder of the project Pavlo Haidai and philosopher Oleksandr Filonenko noticed just how many writings were left behind by the occupiers. Wall Evidence was supported by Documenting Ukraine shortly afterwards. Currently, the main objective of the project team is to find ways to interpret the inscriptions and their place in the broader anthropology of the Russo-Ukrainian war, as well as get foreign audiences acquainted with the thinking of Russian soldiers.

Having documented over 600 inscriptions over 1.5 years, the Mizhvukhamy team was able to observe several patterns in the behaviour and psyche of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Among the most widespread graffiti are the symbols Z, V, and O, first used to mark Russian military equipment and positions but quickly transformed into symbols of the modern Russian regime and ruscism as an ideology. Similarly prevalent are writings that reflect Russian propaganda on Ukraine, with claims about the brotherly bond between Ukrainians and Russians or pleas to protect Ukrainians from its fascist government, as well as the US and NATO.

A dirty concrete wall with a graffiti on it
"Zelenskyi has sold you to NATO": Inscription left by the Russian military in Shevchenkove, Kyiv region (Obozrevatel)
Buildings damaged under shelling
"Our enemy is the USA": Inscription left by collaborators in Kharkiv (Viktor Dvornikov/Mizvukhamy)

Historical motives are also among the most popular, indicating that at least some Russian soldiers are convinced that they are restoring historical justice and, in the spirit of the “victory frenzy,” continuing the deeds of their ancestors who served in the Red Army. Therefore, the walls of Ukrainian homes now bear countless references to the USSR, the Second World War (more so the so-called Great Patriotic War), “Germans,” “fascists,” and “Banderites.”  

The remains of a burned car with an inscription on the door
"And like then, like in 1941 Against the fascists Going into fight... We built the wall With our backs Protecting family And Motherland [...] We WILL NOT let our memory [...] to the other, [...] calls us [...] in straight array! for our mothers' eyes”: Poem written on a burned truck in Sosnove, Donetsk region (Dmytro Larin/
A corridor of the torture chamber with shabby blue walls and two chairs
"Death to Nazis! Glory to Russia": inscription on the wall of a torture chamber in Kherson (Mykhailo Palinchak)
A dirty room with brick walls and graffiti
"1941–1945": Inscription on the wall of Snihurivka, Mykolaiv region (

Many inscriptions convey emotions Russian soldiers feel towards Ukrainians and about participating in the invasion in general. In a material published by Hyperallergic, Roksolana Makar, Wall Evidence researcher, claims that written apologies are among the most numerous and revealing categories, since they are often given with the intention of avoiding responsibility for the crimes committed. Often, as Kyiv Independent writes, Russian soldiers leave twisted guest logs and acknowledgments, as well as declarations of envy over the material conditions enjoyed by the people whose homes they are occupying.

A school board with inscriptions by Russian occupiers in Ukraine
"Greetings from Siberia! We really did not want this... Sorry, we were forced": Written on a blackboard in a school in Hostomel, Kyiv region (Roman Timenko/Mizhvukhamy)
A blue wardrobe in a private apartment with inscription by Russian occupiers in Ukraine
"You got lucky": written in a home of residents of Velykodymer, Kyiv region (ProSLAV)
Inscriptions on the white board made by Russian occupiers in Ukraine
"We don't need this war Us too We were sent Forgive us We work by order Sorri Russia peace Glory to Rus and the Russian people Let's live as friends come on Sorri we left a little mess in here It's ok... Amerikosy [Americans] will help you)": Written on a whiteboard in Trostyanets, Sumy region (Tetyana Ovcharenko)

Russian guilt, however twisted, coexists with even darker feelings of mockery, disgust, and hatred toward Ukrainians. Sociologist Anna Samchuk, speaking to Ukraїner, claims that such inscriptions are a perverted attempt at dominance fuelled by a deep sense of shame.

A wall with an inscription made by Russian occupiers in Ukraine
"And here is where Ukrainian orcs are born": written on the wall of a school in Hostomel, Kyiv region (Roman Timenko/Mizhvukhamy)

In a video about the Wall Evidence project, Anastasiia Olexii shares her reflections about the functioning of the project, as well as the mental toll it has on the team members. She says that the perception of deoccupied settlements changes not so much so from the destruction and damage to buildings, but from those alien signs that are not connected to our culture and way of life. Even when you would like to simply remove those signifiers of the occupier, you make a conscious choice to preserve this knowledge, which constitutes a psychological challenge. Moreover, Anastasiia reflects on the connection between Russian literature and war crimes committed in Ukraine, as soldiers often left short poems, song lyrics, or even quotes from books on the wall in occupied territories.

A brick wall with an inscription made by the Russian occupiers in Ukraine
"Let the one who doubts our love of peace be drowned in blood. For our mercy will be merciless!": a quote from a Russian fantasy novel in Polubotky, Chernihiv region (CheLine)

An interview with Anastasiia Olexii about the work of Mizhvukhamy within Documenting Ukraine is now avaialble on our YouTube channel:

Stories about other grantees and their projects will soon be available on our YouTube page.