Peter the Great Gets a Ukrainian Paint Job

In Deptford, there’s a monument to Peter the Great crafted by Mikhail Shemyakin. Viewing it, much like encountering the artist’s other works, is a challenge that often leaves observers tearful—not from the depth of emotion it might inspire, but rather from its sheer lack of appeal.

However, in a bold statement marking the anniversary of the Russian invasion, anonymous artists transformed the sculpture with the vibrant blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, enhancing its appearance significantly, in my view. A clear case of polishing a turd!

Peter the Great in Deptford

This monument has quite a fascinating history. Contrary to initial assumptions, the peculiar box on its left side is not a miniature armoured vehicle but rather a makeshift shroud, ingeniously concealing evidence of vandalism.

In the summer of 2022, the sculpture and its surroundings were damaged—part of its fencing was torn apart, and a side element next to Peter was disrupted. Police investigations suggested the motive was not political but rather the theft of metals by hooded vandals, who remain at large.

The incident sparked a debate over who should restore this unique masterpiece. The owners of the adjacent residential complex promptly distanced themselves, asserting responsibility solely for the promenade, not the statue. The local council, frankly, would rather have Peter demolished, an action it cannot pursue due to lack of ownership. It seems the monument remains under the custodianship of the Russian embassy, which erected this controversial piece in 2001. Yet, in a diplomatic withdrawal, they excused themselves from any financial contributions to its restoration, citing frozen accounts. Lucky bastards!

Thus, the bronze figure stands, a forlorn sentinel beside a dark green box, a poignant metaphor for our era. Yet, the situation could have been grimmer, for concealed beneath the cubic structure lies a Shemyakin creation far more scandalous: a monument to a “court dwarf.” One hopes it remains unseen forever.

Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)

Illustration and photo by Elia Kabanov.