"Death Valley." The Battle of Mykhaylivka Village


This print showing a battle at the village of Mykhaylivka where the Russians defeated the Austrians is from the collection of World War I lubok posters held at the British Library. The caption explains: “Under a torrent of Austrian shrapnel and machine guns, our offensive columns quickly gained advanced positions and forced the enemy units into the ravine. Meanwhile our defensive columns were able to reach the opposite hills, and then enclose the enemy division pushed into the ravine. After a few well-aimed shots from the Russian batteries, the enemy, realizing the hopelessness of any resistance, decided to surrender. The whole battle, which began at five a.m., was finished by three p.m. Thousands of Austrians surrendered, with cannons, machine guns, and plenty of booty from the nearby area. A tragic episode occurred during the surrender. An Austrian general, the commander of a division, seeing how Austrian flags were passed to our units, quickly took his revolver from its holster and shot himself. The valley, where the Austrian division surrendered (about 15,000 people), was named the ‘Valley of Death.’” In this print, the events of this battle have been condensed into one image. As the battle still rages, the surrendered Austrian banner can be seen under the arm of the Russian soldier in the foreground. Meanwhile, on the left, the Austrian general is seen with his revolver to his head. Lubok is a Russian word for popular prints created from woodcuts, engravings, etchings, or later, by using lithography. The prints were often characterized by simple, colorful graphics depicting a narrative, and could also include text. Lubok gained popularity in Russia beginning in the late 17th century. The prints, which often depicted narratives from a historical event, literature, or a religious tale, were used to make such stories accessible to illiterate people. These expressive prints had a wide range in tone, from humorous to instructive to sharp political and social commentary. The images were clear and easy to understand, and some of the pictures were serialized, predecessors of the modern comic strip. Prints could be reproduced inexpensively, and were thus a way for the masses to display art at home. Initially, this artistic style was not taken seriously by the upper classes, but by the end of the 19th century, lubok was so well-regarded that it inspired professional artists. During World War I, lubok informed Russians about events on the frontlines, bolstered morale, and served as propaganda against enemy combatants.

Last updated: April 3, 2015