Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.