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Mariupol – Meeting With Former UA Soldier (Part 2)

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After my first meeting with Sergei, the following day we agreed to meet again.  And again I sank another few pints whilst I waited, as this was now becoming a regular routine.

We walk around Mariupol and discuss the current situation here.  There’s a lot of paranoia here and that’s probably the reason I took most of shots here with an iPhone.  A large camera draws lots of un-wanted attention from passing Police cars and anyone in uniform.  It also gives them an excuse to stop, question you and demand a bribe which seems to be de rigueur in former Soviet countries.  Old habits die hard.

Walking the streets, I never ask people now if I can take their picture anymore as you’ll only ever get one of two answers.  ‘Nyet’ or ‘Give me money’.  Things seem extra tense here though and even taking pictures with your phone causes people to slow down and watch what you’re doing.  We keep walking.

An abandoned building stands back from the main road displaying a huge banner ‘Mariupol is Ukraine’.  It seems a little overkill.  Sergei explained that since the referendum held here in May 2014 a huge emphasis has been placed on stressing to people that ‘Mariupol is Ukraine!’, although he adds ‘not everyone here agrees to this’.

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The image below shows how a kiosk has covered up the Russian word ‘пресса’ and replaced it with the Ukrainian word ‘преса’.  This doesn’t please everybody, but it is becoming more common in Ukraine now and shows that there are deliberate attempts to start phasing out use of the Russian language.

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As for the people here in Mariupol, I noticed that although many appear to be patriotic on the outside, they aren’t actually prepared to take up arms to participate and fight with the UA forces. You can only draw your own conclusions from that.

 

 

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Written by Dean O'Brien

August 2, 2017 at 9:57 am

Posted in Mariupol, Ukraine, Uncategorized

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Mariupol – My Meeting With Former UA Soldier (Part 1)

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I arrange to meet Sergei at my hotel near the beach on Mariupol.  He tells me he’s ten minutes away when we speak on the phone.  I know he’ll be late.  Everyone you arrange to meet in Ukraine is always late.  An hour later I’m still waiting, but I get to have two more pints at the hotel bar.  Every cloud eh?   Eventually he arrives.  We shake hands and head off for a walk around the area close to my hotel.

I’d communicated with Sergei a few times via email so he’s already had the heads-up about what I’m wanting to see etc…  His command of the English language is fairly good so we’ve no problems communicating.

He’s a former Ukrainian soldier who now works at the local metal plant Metinvest.  Ironically enough they played a huge part intervening in the uprising here in 2014.  Something he tells me not every employee was happy about.

We discuss the happenings of May 9th 2014.  He tells me ‘Nobody knows how many died here but it was very bad.  Nobody went to work for days afterwards’.  First we visit the site of the Police Station and what remains of it.  One can see by the bullet-riddled holes that this place saw a really intense battle which totally destroyed the building.  It’s currently under armed guard so I discreetly grab some shots and we leave.

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Next stop, the city council building which was destroyed by fire.  Again, this was the site of some serious disruption also.  This building too remains abandoned although no armed guard was visible.  I’m guessing as the trouble here is far from over, there’s little point in attempting to do anything with these buildings just yet.

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The streets around Mariupol are fairly quiet but theres definitely a tension in the air.  I’ll cover the rest of my time in Mariupol over a series of blog posts as theres too much to do in one post.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 19, 2017 at 8:17 pm

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Video Tribute to Viktor Tsoi of Kino

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I’ve been fan of Russian rock band Kino for a while now.  Hearing the music blasted through the speakers of a taxi racing me through the streets of late night Kiev.  It brings back so many memories.  I came across this gem on youtube.  A real tribute to Viktor Tsoi who died in 1990.  A true pioneer of Russian rock music.

I’ve translated what’s written beneath the video.

‘To the 55th anniversary of Viktor Tsoi, Yandex presents a video to the legendary musician.
One of the most famous songs “Kino” – “Star by the name of the Sun” – performed by modern Petersburgers: musicians, actors, students and just passers-by.
In the video there are several dozen hidden references to songs, films and episodes from the life of Tsoi: from the blood group on the sleeve of one of the characters to aluminum cucumbers. Most of the details are not accidental, and finding them from the first time is not easy.”

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 14, 2017 at 8:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

I’m Back..

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Well I’m back from Ukraine.  There were a number of reasons for my visit.  One was to document signs of Decommunisation in Ukraine, and the other was to head East, down to Mariupol and speak to people close to the conflict zone.

Whilst in Kiev I managed to catch up with Niels Ackermann who just published his book  ‘Looking For Lenin’ with Fuel Publishing.  Fuel produce some great publications so this one is a must.  It’s a brilliant project which documents the removal of Lenin monuments throughout Ukraine under the new decommunisation laws.  We enjoyed a nice afternoon lunch and discussed the current situation in Ukraine.  I need to spend more afternoons like this.

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Kiev is quiet for this time of year.  Very quiet.  A lot of people do go away for the summer, but the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is keeping people away.  And this was the main purpose of my visit.  I wanted to speak to people close to the contact line to see how they are affected in their everyday lives.

So after staying in Kiev for just 2 days, I caught a train down to Mariupol.  18 hours on an overnight train for around £7.  Impossible to beat.  2nd class is the way to travel.  A 4 berth cabin where you’ll get to know your fellow travellers, practice your language skills and exchange food.  Highly recommended.

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Throughout my trip to Ukraine (both in Kiev and Mariupol) I came across numerous OSCE workers (mostly in bars).  They all had the same opinion.  Not to head any further East.  I explained my purposes and told them that I felt that the conflict was not being documented fairly, particularly by western media.  In fact, many people in the U.K believe it to be over as they constantly tell me ‘well it’s never on the news is it?’.  And that was my point.  People are suffering on both sides and yet there seems to be some kind of biased media blackout.

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As for my time in Mariupol, I will cover this with more ‘in-depth’ blog posts.  These will follow over the next few weeks and will include my time spent with a former Ukrainian soldier who shares pro-Russian views.  I’ll also show the places I visited there including the former council offices and Police Station that were destroyed in 2014.

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I’m on Twitter Instagram and Facebook so feel free to follow or ‘like’.

 

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 11, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

First post of the year

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Welcome to my first blog post of the year.

I find it hard to write about Ukraine and what’s happening at the moment.  Somebody at work said to me the other day ‘The war’s stopped in Ukraine now hasn’t it?’  I replied ‘What makes you say that?’  and he said ‘Well you never hear anything about it on the news anymore’.  And that’s the problem isn’t it?  The western media refuse to cover the conflict for reasons only known to them.

There are a very small number of freelance journalists and photographers who have travelled out to the conflict zones and are reporting form there, but obviously they are few and far between and restricted financially.  And with no financial backing, their time in these areas is limited.

I recently heard about two Dutch journalists Stefan Beck and Michel Spekkers who travelled to Donbass to do just this and had their equipment seized when they arrived back at Schiphol Airport.  You can read about the confiscation of their material Here.  Okay, the seizure was linked to material relating the the MH17 flight disaster, but the fact that ‘all’ their material was seized (including street interviews with people not related to MH17) left a big question mark as to the motive of such actions.

Transparency is the key here.  Journalists and photographers should be free to go unhindered when returning back to their native countries.  Authorities attempting to take some form of control over what footage can or can’t be seen is a big no no.  It only leads to numerous accusations and defeats the object of obtaining such material in the first place.

Without stating the obvious, there are lessons to be learned here of course.  Prepare for the worst.  Make back ups of your footage and if you suspect that you might be getting ‘lifted’ on your return, find another way to get your equipment back into the country.  I already know of many journalists who deactivate their finger print recognition on their phone when going through customs for fear of being forced to unlock their phone and its contents.  Real world problems eh?

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Written by Dean O'Brien

January 12, 2017 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Children Of Leningradsky (Full Movie)

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Poverty Porn.  I believe that seems to be the new terminology for programmes gracing our televisions these days.  From programmes about benefit cheats and the unemployed to those who have fallen into debt, they’re all there.

In many countries of the former Soviet Union though, it’s on a different level altogether.  Children abandoned at a very young age are left to fend for themselves.  Drawn into substance abuse, prostitution, crime and gangs.

Hanna Polak is a Polish film director, cinematographer and producer.  She took the streets of Moscow and produced the film below ‘Children Of Leningradsky’ in 2005.  It documents the lives of those children and the hardships they face on a day to day basis.

Although produced in 2005, not much has changed in Moscow or many other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Written by Dean O'Brien

January 16, 2016 at 9:18 am

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Only The Lonely

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As the weather has now started to turn, winter tours in Ukraine can be tough so I’m in no immediate rush to get back out there.

It’s time like this I turn to my box of 6×6 images.  Taken when I was studying for my degree at university here in Coventry, there are hundreds.  But one image that always jumps out at me is the one below of Natasha.

This is one of the last that I took of Natasha and I remember the day well.  I’d agreed to take pictures of her, and in typical Ukrainian fashion it consisted of holding flowers, hugging trees or statues and posing near monuments.

These were the shots she wanted and are typical of the images which grace the profiles of many a pretty ‘devushka’ on VK and similar social media platforms.  On any given day, you’ll see young ladies all over Ukraine (and many other former Soviet countries) doing exactly the same.

Later in the day, I managed to convince Natasha to take me to where she lived.  Her home environment.  We took a bus ride to a small soviet apartment block on the outskirts of Kiev which she shared with her friends.  It was fairly cramped by western standards but considered ‘normalna’ for many here.

Cramped but comfortable, religious icons shared the shelves with perfume and nail polish.  We sat in the kitchen, drank lemon tea, chatted about life in Ukraine and what the future might hold.

She always looked immaculate though and one would never have placed her in such humble surroundings.  She’d have looked more at home stepping into a Bentley down on Khreschatyk with an array of designer shopping bags.

The strange thing is, when I started documenting those who joined marriage agencies in Ukraine I thought it was all about ‘love’ and the search for it.  But after a showing people a selection of my images it’s not about that at all.  Or that’s not how it came across to people anyway.

I think I was getting ready to present my images for an exhibition at the The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham when somebody said ‘When I look at these pictures Dean, I don’t feel they are about love, but more about loneliness’.  And after closer analysis, I realised that’s exactly what they were about.

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Written by Dean O'Brien

November 1, 2015 at 1:52 pm