Dean O'Brien's Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine

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

leave a comment »

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 it 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.

IMG_5786

IMG_5791

IMG_5790

IMG_6029

IMG_6025

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.

IMG_5794

 

IMG_5797

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Mariupol – Part 1

with 2 comments

I’d never been to Mariupol before but I understood the strategic importance of it to both sides in this conflict.  At present, Mariupol is under the control of government (Kiev) forces.  It was under control of non-government (pro-Russian) forces briefly in 2014 but was captured back shortly afterwards.

Initially I did ask a Ukrainian friend in Kiev to accompany me to Mariupol be he declined fearing that he would be drafted into the army.  Like many of the youth here, he told me ‘I don’t want to fight in this war’.  So I headed down to Mariupol on my own.

Once there, wandering around Mariupol was strange.  A local told me that all the empty buildings in the area ‘had been overtaken by the military’.  Although a heavy military presence was fairly obvious, there were still signs of anti-Ukrainian feeling within the population.

IMG_5887

In the evening most bars were closed by 10pm and night clubs were virtually non-existent with people telling me that they only open at weekends.  In all honestly, hardly surprising with it being so close to the contact line.

I did manage to meet up with a couple of people here who offered to assist me in what I was looking for.   One of those people was Annie.  She works with various NGO’s in Mariupol including the Red Cross and regularly makes trips over the contact line.  She told me first hand how this war is affecting people on both sides.

She explained how Mariupol has seen a huge influx of refugees, or to use the official term, ‘IDP’s’ (internally displaced people).  These people receive little or nothing at all from the Ukrainian government, having to rely on NGO’s and charities to help them.

Annie then arranged for me to interview two NGO’s who currently help those directly affected by the conflict.

IMG_5807

Another meeting I had was with A Pro-UA lawyer Yehor.  He seemed like a nice intelligent guy, and I liked his stance on anti-corruption, but his empathy towards those suffering from the conflict left a lot to be desired and it really took the edge off the meeting for me.

I managed to post a couple of tweets throughout my meeting with him though.

tweet

There was no getting away form the conflict here as the streets were full of adverts for the UA Army and National Guard.  And whilst in Mariupol, I managed to meet with a former Ukrainian soldier who held pro-Russian views.  I’ll be running a separate blog post on that soon.

IMG_5894

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

July 16, 2017 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Mariupol

Tagged with ,

Next Stop – Mariupol

with one comment

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be heading down to Mariupol in the south east of Ukraine. The area came briefly under control of DPR forces in 2014 before being taken back by Ukrainian forces.  In all honesty, I’m not sure what to expect.  Although it’s outside of the ATO zone, it came under attack a few days ago in the east of the city.  It’s of great strategic  importance to both sides of the conflict due to its key location.

There’s no set agenda.  I’ll take an overnight train, my camera and go and speak to people about the current situation there.  Hopefully I’ll also be able to shoot some video footage, but it’s hard to say until I actually get there.

I’ve added a link to a video below from Victory Day  in Mariupol on May 9th 2014.  Be warned, some of the scenes are fairly graphic but it shows to some extent the brutality of war especially when it directly involves the civilian population.

You’ll see from the comments below the video, just how divided people are with what they witness in the footage.

Written by Dean O'Brien

June 13, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Posted in Ukraine

Tagged with , , , ,

Only The Lonely

leave a comment »

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.

IMG_8858

Written by Dean O'Brien

November 1, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Eastern European Road Trip

with 3 comments

Two weeks ago I returned back to the UK after travelling over to eastern Europe on my motorbike.  It’s something I’d wanted to do for a long time.  A very long time in fact.  I’d put it off last year, and the year before that, but this year I was determined it was going to happen.

I won’t lie.  The going was tough at times.  One day I covered just under 600 miles.  And it was one extreme or the other.  Long, never ending roads in western Europe or poor, almost impassable roads in eastern Europe.

Although Bulgaria and Romania were fantastic countries, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me was always going to be Ukraine.  Gaining access was not so simple though.  Travelling into Ukraine from Romania was a struggle as I was selected for an ‘interview’ by border guards.  The process was very similar to what one might expect from people in authority stuck in what you could describe as ‘soviet’ ways.  I can’t say that it was totally unexpected , but just a long drawn out inconvenience.  Once everything was ‘normalna’ I was allowed to enter.  

It’s hard to describe how it felt when I had my first beer that evening in Ukraine.  Washed down with a bowl of borscht and chorniy xleb (black bread), followed by salad, meat and potatoes.  It was as near to heaven as I could get.

After spending one night in the Carpathian mountains it was then onto Kalush.  There were poor roads (as expected) but fantastic people all along the way.  Whenever I stopped for petrol people were very curious about the bike with many taking ‘selfies’, no doubt for their VK or Facebook page.

The following morning I headed out of Ukraine and into Poland making my way home.  It was a short stopover in Ukraine, but worthwhile none the less.  As I was leaving through the west of Ukraine, the large ATO billboards at the roadside were a constant reminder of the ongoing war in the east of the country.

Hopefully I’ll return next year and spend more time there.

KS7C6852web

Written by Dean O'Brien

June 6, 2015 at 10:24 am

Posted in Ukraine Road Trip

Tagged with ,

Madrid 5 Plus 5 Exhibition Opening Night Video

leave a comment »

As you may be aware, my work has recently been exhibited in Madrid as part of the 5 Plus 5 exhibition and will be coming to Birmingham here in the UK in March. It features four of my images from my ongoing projects in Ukraine.

I couldn’t make the opening night in Madrid but below is a short video.

Written by Dean O'Brien

January 18, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Just a Street in Odessa

leave a comment »

Like many photographers I hate spending hours in front of a computer screen.  Trawling through numerous images till my eyes hurt I’d sooner be out in the real world interacting with people.  But that’s just how it is these days.  Hours shooting equals hours editing.

A few days ago I decided to look through some images from my last trip to Ukraine and came across this one below.  I like it.   I’m not sure why but I do.  For those interested, it was taken on the street in Odessa, Ukraine.

KS7C3954web

 

Written by Dean O'Brien

June 2, 2014 at 8:04 am

Posted in Ukraine

Tagged with , ,