AP PHOTOS: War-themed murals in Kyiv honor Ukraine's fallen soldiers

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Set against the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s flag, the vast image of a masked fighter holding a grey-and-white cat towers over a street on the side of an apartment block in Kyiv.

The painting depicts volunteer Oleksiy Movchan, a 49-year-old who was killed by Russian shelling in May 2022 in the eastern Donetsk region shortly after he and three of his fellow soldiers rescued 11 civilians and the cat.

The image reproduced from a photo taken moments before Movchan died is one of two dozen war-themed murals capturing fallen soldiers, legendary figures and key moments in the grueling conflict that have appeared on the city’s walls since Russia’s full-scale invasion began two years ago.

In one mural, a fighter pilot making a thumbs-up sign fills a wall in a Kyiv neighborhood. It's a reference to a famous photo that circulated in the early months of the war, purportedly showing the “Ghost of Kyiv” — a mythical pilot who was celebrated for shooting down multiple Russian planes over the capital in the first hours of the invasion but who Ukraine’s air force later admitted never actually existed.

The phenomenon of vivid street paintings brightening the drab grey walls of apartment buildings is not new in Ukraine. Before the war, those images depicted fairy tales, outstanding musicians and national figures. Now they honor volunteer soldiers and others who have become well-known symbols of heroism and resistance over the past two years.

Saint Javelin, an image depicting a religious-icon figure cradling a U.S. Javelin anti-tank weapon, was a meme developed by Ukrainian-Canadian former journalist Christian Borys to raise money for the war effort. The image soon went viral appearing on anything from T-shirts to tote bags, flags to socks. Sales of merchandise from the site raised over $2 million for aid and military equipment.

In another painting, a legendary Jack Russell terrier called Patron (Cartridge) is immortalized on a wall in a city park. The 4-year-old dog renowned for assisting mine-clearing teams in the northern Chernihiv district became a mascot for Ukraine’s emergency services. He was awarded the state medal by President Zelenskyy and recognized as the first “Goodwill AmbassaDOG” by UNICEF.

Each of the huge images is painted by different artists with permission of the city’s government. Movchen’s mural was commissioned by his wife Olena, Ukraine’s air force backed “the Ghost of Kyiv” and service members of the Azov Brigade supported the painting of their comrade, a former wrestling champion-turned-volunteer fighter Maksym Yalovtsov, 32, who was killed in September 2022 in an operation behind enemy lines in the Zaporizhzhia region.

At the bottom of the giant image that spans the length of a high-rise in the neighborhood where Yalovtsov once lived the text reads: “When your deeds speak louder than words, then your fame outruns light.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine