KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Artist Chris Shaw started a long journey tied to a viral meme initially frustrated that his work was being used by other people.

“She was on t-shirts and stickers and everything and of course, nobody asked me,” Shaw said, referring to his Madona Kalashnikov.

It created her as a piece of art around the Arab Spring in 2012. It got some recognition then online but a decade later, it was a slightly altered version that has plastered the globe.

By 2018, freelance journalist Christian Borys stumbled across the newer version, nicknamed Saint Javelin, in Ukraine while he was reporting there. The rifle had been traded out for an anti-tank weapon called a Javelin.

“Ukraine was asking for Javelins because they knew if Russia ever invaded, full-scale, like they did, [Ukrainians] would need Javelins to essentially push back the Russian tanks,” said Borys.

When Russia was about to invade in 2022, Borys dug it up again.

“I took that symbol and I basically put it on my Instagram and said, ‘Hey, if I made stickers of this, would anybody want to buy it and we donate it to a charity named: Help Us Help,” Borys said.

It took off more than either man could have imagined, eventually linking Chris and Christain.

Chris’ initial hesitancy with his art being used commercially was eased by the mission Christian was using it to achieve. Now, Christain owns Saint Javelin, and it’s popping up on social media, clothing, as tattoos, in murals, appearing all around the world.

“It’s a symbol of freedom and protection and it’s actually a great honor to have my art incorporated into that symbol,” Shaw said.

World War I Museum and Memorial Special Curator Trish Cecil first saw Saint Javelin as the war in Ukraine was starting.

“I was like, ‘Wow, here it is, this modern conflict and they’re doing it all over again,” Cecil said. “It’s the same story, it’s the same sort of imagery, and it’s the same impetus behind it.”

She says similar imagery was used during World War I, also to help fundraise for the war effort and inspire soldiers to join the battle, linking the conflicts that are more than a century apart.

“Even though World War One ended over 100 years ago, we still see these same themes: faith, religion, mobilization, people wanting to help people who are suffering,” Cecil said. “That is very much still here in the present day.”

It gives an artist a chance for his work to have international impact and native Ukrainians like Volodymyr Polishchuck a boost.

“Every time when I lose the hope, I look at this icon and I’m like, ‘This is what we gotta do, this is what the right looks like versus wrong,” Polishchuck said.