Photo/IllutrationKaripbek Kuyukov (Provided by Kuyukov)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A painting on canvas shows people collapsing to the floor as a large mushroom cloud rises in the distance.

For a moment, it looks like a scene reminiscent of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. But instead of an urban area, a large grassland sprawls in the background.

Depicted in the painting is Kazakhstan, where the former Soviet Union repeatedly tested its nuclear weapons. It was painted by Karipbek Kuyukov, 51, who was born armless as a result of radiation exposure.

Kuyukov paints holding brushes with his teeth. His subjects include people collapsing to the floor after a nuclear blast, mushroom clouds and a friend who has bumps all over his face.


In Kazakhstan, it had been a monthly occurrence to see the cupboard begin to shake and clatter out of the blue, followed by a radio announcement to the public that a regular nuclear test was conducted for peaceful purposes.

Kuyukov was born in a village 90 kilometers west of a nuclear testing site in Semipalatinsk, where the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 tests during the Cold War.

When Kuyukov was born, the doctor, seeing the baby without arms, advised his father, a truck driver, to give his son a lethal injection. But his father refused. Kuyukov’s older brother and sister had died soon after they were born.

“There were many children without hands or feet in my neighborhood,” the artist recalled. “I had to convince myself that I was lucky because at least I could walk.”

As a young boy, he liked to draw local landscapes holding a pencil with his toes.

After graduating from an accounting school, Kuyukov became a cattle herder at age 20. He joined a citizens’ campaign to close the testing site in the late Cold War period in 1989 while the artist was showing his paintings about nuclear tests in Japan and the United States.


In September, Kuyukov was invited to Japan to speak about his experiences at an international conference on nuclear abolition hosted by the Kazakhstan Embassy to mark the 70th year of the first nuclear test in his homeland.

The artist lives with his sister, who is seven years older. He uses his toes to scroll and tap a smartphone, while he has about 3,000 friends at home and abroad on Facebook.

When asked what he wants to do in his next life, Kuyukov replied: “I don’t mind what I do for a living. I just want to be born with a healthy body. I hope we are the last victims of nuclear weapons.”