A security guard who was arrested last December for drawing eyes on a painting of faceless figures at the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg spoke about the vandalism in an interview with the Russian news site E1. Aleksandr Vasiliev, a decorated veteran of the Afghan and Chechen wars, told journalist Elena Pankratieva that he thought Anna Leporskaya’s 20th-century artwork was a “child’s drawing” and claimed it had been pushed by teenagers to disfigure him.
“I’m a fool, what have I done,” the 63-year-old told Pankratieva.
News of the vandalism had existed since December, although it took until this month, when the tabloids picked up the story, for the event to be mocked on social media as a comically disastrous first day on the job. Vasiliev’s account, however, was not so funny: he seemed obviously upset as he explained how other veterans helped him get the gig at the Yeltsin Center despite his serious injuries. He suffered gunshot wounds all over his body, as well as head and lung trauma, during the First Chechen War, which was fought from 1994 to 1996. He was awarded a Medal of Courage for his service . According to E1, his “psychological and emotional health” was permanently affected, although he found employment as a security guard for various companies over the years. His personal life was also plagued by trauma: his wife and only son were both deceased. He feared that the work at the Yeltsin Center would be too taxing mentally and physically.
“At first I wanted to refuse, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stand all day, without being able to sit down,” he said, referring to his leg injuries. “But they told me: if you work a shift, we will pay you right away. I went to work.”
The gallery had recently opened an exhibition of abstract art which included Anna Leporskaya’s painting on loan from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Vasiliev was unmoved by the performance, saying, “To be honest, I didn’t really like these works. They left a bad impression.
Vasiliev described the vandalism as a misunderstanding: “I saw how people reacted, and I saw 16-17 year old kids standing there discussing why there are no eyes, no mouth, no beauty! There were girls in the group, and they asked me: “Draw eyes, you work here. I asked them, ‘Are these your works?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ They gave me a pen. I drew the eyes. I thought it was just their childhood drawings!
Painted Leporskaya three digits between 1932 and 1934, and before the vandalism, it was insured for 75 million rubles ($1.4 million). The painting has since been returned to the Tretyakov State for fast restoration at an estimated cost of 250,000 rubles ($4,600). Meanwhile, protective screens were installed over the remaining works of art on display at the Yeltsin Center.
The vandalism was first reported on December 7 after two visitors noticed the graffiti and alerted a gallery employee. The Yeltsin Center filed a complaint with the police, but the Yekaterinburg Interior Ministry initially refused to file a complaint against Vasiliev because the damage was considered “insignificant”.
Vasiliev has since been charged with criminal vandalism and faces a fine equal to the amount the painting was insured for, and up to a year of correctional labor or up to three months in prison, depending on the Guardian. the E1 The article said the teens who allegedly encouraged the vandalism did not appear in security camera footage.
Vasiliev’s second wife told E1 that Vasiliev is “absolutely normal in everyday life”, but in some ways he was “naive as a child”.