Burnaby artist saddened by ‘abhorrent’ vandalism of his pro-Ukraine mural, as RCMP investigate

A Burnaby artist says he’s shocked and saddened after someone defaced a mural he painted in support of Ukraine.

The RCMP confirmed they are now investigating the incident which occurred late Friday night, where vandals spray-painted a message about “Nazis” over his pro-Ukrainian mural’s message.

“Someone put some very abhorrent wording on it to do with the ‘de-nazification’ propaganda that Putin is putting out,” Jordan Malcolm told CBC News.

“My first reaction was to cover it up, because being Jewish as soon as I saw the word ‘Nazi,’ it was a huge trigger for me.”

A two-week-old pro-Ukrainian mural in Burnaby’s Central Park area is seen with words blacked out by its artist, Jordan Malcolm, after it was defaced late Friday, March 18, 2022. (David P. Ball/CBC News)

The two-week-old mural featured Ukraine’s national flower, the sunflower, and bore a bright yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag with the words, “Stand with Ukraine.” Malcolm, 28, painted it on a wooden temporary wall at a construction site near his Central Park-area home.

But early Saturday morning, Malcolm found his artwork defaced: sometime overnight, someone had painted “Down with the Ukrainian Nazis” over his artwork.

He said he’s also concerned about the vandal’s apparent reference to Russian claims to be “de-nazifying” its neighbour.

Russia’s president has repeatedly pointed to some right-wing extremist groups in Ukraine, claiming his military’s actions are to defend Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minorities. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been forced to flee the country since the invasion began.

Burnaby RCMP began investigating after interviewing Malcolm on Saturday mid-afternoon and reviewing area video footage. A camera in Malcolm’s window captured someone wearing a “high-visibility” vest spray-painting over his mural just after 11 pm Friday.

Although he didn’t initially report the incident to Burnaby RCMP, an officer visited Malcolm and obtained his video footage.

“While this incident was not officially reported to us, we became aware of it today and sent officers to the area,” a Burnaby RCMP spokesperson said in an email. “Video from the area is being reviewed right now. Charges can be considered only when a suspect has been identified.”

‘They should try to empathize’

Residents of the neighborhood told CBC News they were concerned about the vandalism, especially after seeing many tragic scenes of civilian casualties and millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Russia invaded.

“I was actually shocked, I just live a couple blocks over,” said one passerby who only identified himself by his first name, Glen. “I’m stounded that in a time of war, and people being killed, that some idiot would paint over it.”

Another passerby who lives in the area said regardless of which countries are involved in a conflict, nobody should face somebody else’s heartfelt and peaceful message.

“It’s art trying to support Ukraine, and I agree,” said Roberto Sandoval. “People just are totally sad or trying to bother somebody.

“They should try to empathize with the people of Ukraine, it’s not their fault and we should do something to help them. If the situation was on the opposite side … we would still try to help people.”

Ever de Alba, another resident, said he “loved” the sunflower-filled artwork brightening his neighborhood, because it “inspired” him a lot with its anti-war message.

“People shouldn’t vandalize public spaces in the first place,” he said. “I’m upset about people supporting Russia in this situation … innocent civilians are being killed and it looks like it’s not going to end soon.”

But as an artist, Malcolm says he’s hoping other muralists will come help him restore — and even expand — his show of support with Ukrainians.

For now, he’s had to paint over his own art with black rectangles, so no one else would have to see the vandal’s words.

“I did this artwork in solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” he said. “Being part-Georgian and Jewish, I only felt it right to do what I could from what emotions I was feeling as an artist, and try to express love.

“There’s a lot of division in the world right now … Artwork can help, I believe, bring communities together.”

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