Kiev: a city that does public art right.
What do you envision when you think of Kiev?
For many in the West, the Ukraine's capital city — plastered on front pages and scrolling across news tickers in recent years — has become synonymous with political turmoil. And there's certainly some truth in that.
But if you've only read gripping headlines, you've missed out on half the story.
Sprinkled across Kiev's towering structures, powerful displays of beauty have transformed the Ukrainian metropolis.
Ever since widespread protests against government corruption sparked change about two years ago, many in Kiev have turned to art.
Murals have exploded throughout the city, turning the country's political anxieties into expressions of hope and strength.
Both international artists and locals have brightened Kiev's weathered brick homes and businesses into wondrous works.
The results are nothing short of stunning.
The murals began cropping up largely after the Euromaidan protests in February 2014.
Angered by mass corruption and governmental mismanagement, anti-Russia protesters shook the political status quo of Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Deadly riots and a national call to action culminated in the toppling of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an overhaul of much of the country's political system.
It was a grueling time for Ukrainians — and that instability has lingered into 2016 — but the unrest also spurred a burst of creative expression that has breathed new artistic life into the streets of Kiev.
Many of the murals are either subtly or overtly political, like Fintan Magee's "The Dreamer."
The artwork features Ukrainian gymnast Hanna Rizatdinova, who's originally from Crimea — a region that was forcibly (and controversially) annexed by Russia.
"I could not understand why," Rizatdinova said of the annexation. "How can the Crimea be Russia? How can our Simferopol school train under a Russian flag? I was outraged."
Others are motivated by pure delight, like Sasha Korban's "Elephant Dream."
Because what's more delightful than an elephant carrying colorful balloons?
But every work of art tells a unique story.
And each unique story should be heard.
As Kiev exemplifies, art often means so much more than pretty pictures.
The healing effects of creating art are well-documented and profound, with many people who've experienced tough times or traumatic experiences — from U.S. veterans to children of war-torn regions — using the medium to cope and grow.
It makes sense that the collective grief of Kiev has blossomed into artistic beauty.
If anything's evident in the artwork peppered throughout Kiev, it's the unbelievable strength of a people — even in the darkest of times.
Because even amid unrest and a deep desire for change, it still rings true that home is where the heart is for the people of Ukraine.
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