In February 2022, the world watched Vladmir Putin renew his fantasy of reuniting the Soviet Union by invading the sovereign nation of Ukraine. The Russian people were sold a fairytale; propaganda forbade the words “invasion” and “war” and offered a host of absurd fallacies ranging from Nazi proliferation to gay pride parades to justify Russia’s “special operation.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a global call for aid to protect his people from an aggressor who would not stop with the acquisition of Ukraine. He begged the free people of the world to share images of the war with Russian citizens, opening their eyes to the horrors being inflected upon their Ukrainian family members, friends and neighbors.
Artist Forrest MacDonald answered President Zelenskyy’s call with the goal of reaching Russians directly and intimately. MacDonald joined a site frequented by those looking for random sexual encounters online. There he hoped to start a dialogue with the Russians he matched with using photographs, handmade signs, political cartoons and children’s drawings.
This exercise evolved into a nine month long process that resulted in powerful and harrowing interactions with strangers that sometimes lasted only seconds. It became a journey toward empathy for the Russian people, who were also pawns in Putin’s sordid game. This body of work is a tangible document of Forrest MacDonald’s process meant to facilitate conversations on love and loneliness, war and peace and what it means to find a human connection.