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‘Elon Musk’ now guards the mean street of Chelyabinsk A beautification effort brings a little color to one of Russia's notoriously dreariest cities

Meduza

Elon Musk now watches over a street in Chelyabinsk, where a local “urbanist” group has painted his portrait on a transformer box as part of a new beautification campaign. The Russian activists chose the South African-born American billionaire, says “Chelyabinsk Urbanist” founder Lev Vladov, because they see him as a living legend and one of the few people alive today who’s “pushing humanity forward.”

Elon Musk’s portrait in Chelyabinsk
Elon Musk’s portrait in Chelyabinsk
Chelyabinsk Urbanist

Chelyabinsk Urbanist started repainting the city’s old transformer boxes in 2017. The activists clean the boxes of advertisements and rust, and then artists go to work with anti-vandal paint. City Hall has welcomed the initiative, but it hasn’t gone so far as to offer up any funding, and the project relies on donations from the public. In less than a year, Chelyabinsk Urbanist has managed to beautify more than 20 transformer boxes.

A transformer box before beautification
A transformer box before beautification
Chelyabinsk Urbanist
The finished product
The finished product
Chelyabinsk Urbanist

Lev Vladov

founder of Chelyabinsk Urbanist

I’d walk around the city and think about how we could break free from all the gloom and grayness. On every street corner in Chelyabinsk, I’d see these awful, rusty cable boxes. Then I read online somewhere that people are turning these things into pieces of art. And people said this has started to keep away vandals. So I called up the local district head and explained my idea, and he coordinated with the owners of the boxes: the traffic police and Rostelecom.

We started this less than a year ago. The experiment has been a success: the boxes are cleaned and all the flyers and ads come down. This year, we decided to continue the project and do as much as we could with whatever support we raised from the public. We raised money for each transformer box individually, and anyone could make a donation.

People have fallen in love with the project. We’re trying to show the people of Chelyabinsk that not everyone has reconciled themselves to the city’s dilapidation and grayness, and that people are ready to demonstrate this with their own money and resources.

One of our boxes was accidentally painted over. Some city worker just came by with a bucket of paint and painted over everything he saw. I think we all know how this kind of thing happens in our country.

Sergey Prokofiev says hello
Sergey Prokofiev says hello
Chelyabinsk Urbanist
Chelyabinsk Urbanist
Say hi to the Zlokazov brothers, who owned a local factory before the Bolsheviks took power
Say hi to the Zlokazov brothers, who owned a local factory before the Bolsheviks took power
Chelyabinsk Urbanist
Chelyabinsk Urbanist
Chelyabinsk Urbanist