Nora Krug illustrates the year-long experience of two individuals living through the Russia-Ukraine War
The German-American award-winning illustrator’s new book gives us a window into what it takes to thoughtfully translate the impacts of war.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 26 October 2023
The greatest illustrators give our most universal and specific stories wings, with visual representations that stay in our minds for years to come. At times, the mere mention of a tale takes us back to some of the most daring drawings of past and present. And, when it comes to non-fiction stories, creating fair representations – that aren’t too sensational or stereotypical – is an even more difficult feat, as they are tasked with influencing how we view the world and history. As Russia escalated its attacks on Ukraine in February of last year, award-winning illustrator and author Nora Krug, became evermore conscious of this responsibility. Reaching out to Russian-born Ukranian journalist K, and D, a Russian artist from St Petersburg, she started a year of correspondence that would have a profound impact on her, that she has now collated in her new book Diaries of War.
Growing up in 80s and 90s Germany, Nora had a plethora of interests – from music to art, psychology and acting, to name a few. At 19, she moved to England to study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts where a love for performance and design would merge. “But it wasn’t until I was studying at the University of Arts in Berlin and meeting the illustration professor Henning Wagenbreth that I realised that illustration is an actual profession,” she tells us. Throughout her career, she has illustrated intrepid accounts of history both in a personal and societal context. Among them is the tracing of her family under the Nazi regime in Heimat: A German Family Album and her illustrations for Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, culminating the lessons of 20th century dictatorships. Diaries of War is something of a continuation of these themes for Nora, only this time she depicts it in the midst of its unfolding.
Nora met neither K or D in person, and communicated with them via text messaging. “With each week I got to know them better, asking them such personal questions that I would usually only ask my closest friends,” she tells us. “I wanted to know what they were thinking, what they were feeling and what they had experienced during the previous week,” she adds. Nora would conduct the interviews over the weekends, collate their answers on the Monday of each week and ask for their approval – though they never asked for any changes – before passing the final so-called ‘op-comics’ on to her editor Terry Tang at the L.A. Times, where they were published weekly.
Throughout the series, she documents K and D’s everyday experiences, while asking questions about the impact of the war on their mental health and physical wellbeing. “How does it change their relationship to their families and their sense of cultural belonging?”
Each spread is frozen in time, but evergreen for its diary format, that translates the specificity of their individual experiences. On week 3, K traces not only their week and experiences of sirens, loss of sleep and the recrudesce nature of war in the region, but they look back to the history of their area’s railway, noting that it served the Nazis during the Second World War, and now serves Putin’s war efforts today.
Nora’s decision to maintain her style throughout the illustrations, sticking to pencil lines and visual representation that are simultaneously clear and digestable, is a differing approach to the usual representations of life during war. A lot of the time, we are made to believe that the more grotesque the imagery, the more audiences will empathise or lean into the story. But, Nora’s approach and style exposes the true spectrum of their emotions and experiences; K’s story has a greater focus on her strength and courage, in contrast to D’s story, which leaves us to sit with whether or not we’re doing enough to fight against injustices committed by the West.
Ultimately, whether it’s through the cropping of their faces in particular illustrations, or her questioning of whether its ethical to turn real people into illustrated characters, Nora’s process and experience has exposed the real work it takes to tell the stories of people in the midst of conflict, a way away from the snapshot journalism or the nosing photographs that we are able to so easily look at and disregard. “I hope that the accounts of two individuals who come at the war from two different angles, will provide an insight into what it does to the human mind.”
Diaries of War is out now and available to purchase here.
GalleryNora Krug: Diaries of War (Copyright © Nora Krug, 2023)
Nora Krug: Diaries of War (Copyright © Nora Krug, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.