Dean O'Brien's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Kyiv

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.



Written by Dean O'Brien

November 1, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Before the Troubles

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For many it’s hard to imagine what life was like in Ukraine before the troubles.  But I remember clearly, and especially around this time of year.

The seasonal changes seems to happen quickly in Ukraine.  Like some scene from ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, the cold snowed stacked streets with six foot icicles are replaced almost overnight with blooming trees and spring flowers.  The fur coats and hats disappear and are replaced with short skirts and sunglasses.  The sound of knee high boots crunching amongst the snow covered streets rushing towards the metro station is exchanged for the click clack of heels of the many devushka’s rushing towards landmarks to have photos taken for their Vkontakte page.

It’s a great time of year to grab a coffee and people watch.  Hitting the streets, I recall going to my favourite coffee seller and practising my Russian phrases with her.  And like many Ukrainians, she in turn was keen to practice her english with me.  I had made many friends there and gradually started to understand how things work.




Written by Dean O'Brien

May 25, 2014 at 6:03 am

Posted in Ukraine

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O’Briens Pub – Kiev

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Upon entering O’Briens Pub, depending on the time, you could be mistaken for thinking that you have walked into the classic bar scene from Star Wars.  Being an ex pat bar it seems to have become an attraction for the misfits in Kiev.  Ranging from those who have just arrived on the plane to those who have been here far too long and are well past their expiry date.  They all gather here like stray animals at the watering hole.

Men stare into the abyss of the bottom of their pint glass and are only too happy to tell you about their lovely Katya who left them high and dry.  They’ll tell you about how things were ten years ago when they ran their own businesses back in the UK and decided to abandon their wives and kids back home to start up afresh in Ukraine with the lovely Olga.

You’ll be graced with the stories of how they landed in Ukraine with their half of the divorce settlement to start a new life.  And how shortly afterwards their beautiful slavic sex siren drew them into lucrative business deals which never came to fruition.  Their tired eyes tell a thousand stories.

I can’t help but think that in hindsight, had many of these westerners been prepared to adjust more to a Ukrainian way of life their stay could have been more productive.  Most people ‘live and learn’ but not here.  These guys, like gamblers standing around the roulette wheel still think they are in with a chance.  Inevitably, many return to their homelands with stories of what ‘could have been’.

O’Briens still has that magnetic pull though for many though.  Western comforts such as the ‘all essential’ Sky Sports, good service and english menus means that those already missing home can reap some comfort.

Leaving the pub can have its down side.  The Police can often be found lurking outside waiting for those who are, shall we say ‘three sheets to the wind’.  Im afraid that the rumour of  ‘rich westerners’  still rings true here and the demand to see your documents soon turns into a glorified shake down.  Yes indeed, street robbery takes on a very different persona here.




Written by Dean O'Brien

May 22, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Odessa Dreams

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It’s been  while since I’ve mentioned a book on here.  My book collection is vast with many titles based around Ukraine, Russia and the Former Soviet Union.

My latest read was a kindle purchase called ‘Odessa Dreams: The Dark Heart of Ukraine’s Online Marriage Industry‘ by Shaun Walker.  This was a subject which I began to document when I started visiting Ukraine many years ago with my ‘Destination Unknown’ project.  The tall leggy beauties parading around the streets of Ukraine have attracted men far and wide in the search for love and marriage.  And as you can imagine, with around 3.5 million women more than men, the country still remains at the centre of the marriage industry today.

In Shaun’s book he writes about his experience travelling on an organised excursion arranged for Westerners to find the girl of their dreams.  However, as is often the case with many things in Ukraine, nothing is quite what it seems and Shaun does a good job of revealing this in his book.

Although there may be a few exceptions to the rule, Shaun hits the nail on the head when he states ‘It is my humble opinion that lonely men come to this country to quell their own loneliness and use younger women who are in financial misfortune to their own benefits.   And young women use these men’s generosity to improve their own lives’.





Written by Dean O'Brien

May 15, 2014 at 9:08 am

Are Ukrainians Turning Their Back On Ukraine?

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Up until last year I had to constantly explain to people where Ukraine actually was on the map, as nobody quite knew.  Now they all know.  Every day the news is filled with stories from the crisis in Ukraine.  From shootings to vote rigging it’s all there for the world to see.

What many people in the West struggle with is why it appears that so many Ukrainians don’t actually want to be part of Ukraine.  It appears that they are turning their back on their country opting to be part of Russia or seeking some form of independence.

Most people have to struggle and have watched their parents, and grandparents struggle before them.  Living hand to mouth is the norm for the majority there.  It’s a tedious circle of poverty which many have become tired of.  So yes I understand the need for protest and change.  Euro Maidan set the ball rolling, and with a bit more foresight could have stabilised the country for all.

The new government in Kiev could have, and more to the point ‘should have’ done more to assure those in the East and South that their cultural needs would be taken into account.  Because they are all Ukrainian, regardless of their geographical position within the country or the language they prefer to speak.  I personally feel that much of this uprising in the South and East could have been avoided with a bit of basic communication.

The people of Ukraine need to decide their own future but in order to do this they must fully understand what they are actually voting for.  And as the social media propaganda wars spiral out of control, it’s hard for many to know what that actually is.

As a photographer, I’ve spent a lot of time on the ground speaking with people face to face.  Any future government in Ukraine needs to do the same.



Written by Dean O'Brien

May 12, 2014 at 10:16 am

Posted in Ukraine

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Ukraine – The Writing’s on the Wall

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With all what’s been happening in Ukraine the past few months I thought it only right that I write a post expressing my thoughts on the situation there.  Ukraine is a complicated country with a troubled history, of that there is no question.  And what most of us have been exposed to lately via television or social media has shocked even the most hardened of people.

As a documentary photographer, I’ve always took pride in my work and documenting this in a fair manner.  Looking at the crisis in Ukraine I fully understand the arguments both for and against merging with Europe and also understand those who lean more towards Russia.

What I do find hard to stomach is how the new government in Kiev seems to have just sat back and let this escalation of violence in the country happen.  Initially I thought at first this was some kind of strategy to combat what was happening, but no.  It reminded me of a statement made by english philosopher Edmund Burke who said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’  I’m not sure about those running the new government being ‘good men’ but they certainly are doing nothing.

Only yesterday was the world greeted with more devastation, this time from Odessa where 46 people have died in clashes.  And yet again as we have seen many times before, the police just stand by and do nothing.

In this difficult time of uncertainty one thing is for sure, old Soviet habits die hard.  The graffiti below could’t sum up the current situation any better in my opinion.


Written by Dean O'Brien

May 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

The Dnipro Towers – ‘A concrete skid mark on the skyline of Kyiv’

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Last night, I along with many others watched a documentary ‘Don’t Look Down’ on Channel 4 that followed James Kingston, an urban free climber who scales 100m cranes, 200m radio towers, tall buildings and bridges… without using any safety equipment at all.

In the documentary James travels to Kyiv, Ukraine to meet fellow urban free climber Mustang Wanted where they scale the Moscow Bridge and many other familiar landmarks.  As you might expect, I instantly recognised many of the buildings featured in the programme.

One set of buildings in particular caught my eye.  The Dnipro Towers.  A set of skyscraper buildings which have been ‘under construction’ since around the time when Noah thought about building his ark.  They were due to be completed in 2006 but have remained in this state since building ceased many years ago.

Now?  Well now they form now what can best be described as a concrete skid mark on the skyline of Kyiv.

The image below was taken three years ago using a Hasselblad medium format camera, something (much like the builders tools), has not been used for a while.


Written by Dean O'Brien

January 20, 2014 at 3:44 pm