ukraine photo album | photo album, ballpoint pen, images from my grandfather’s archive, images from the U.S. news sources, glue, matte medium, 4 x 6 index cards | 9″ x 8 1/2″ x 1 3/4″ | 21 pages | May 2014
This is a study on representation and the issue of who is given agency in Western, particularly United States, media. The images travel through Ukraine’s past relations with Russia, along with their present relationship, to trouble the ways in which most of the people who actually live in Ukraine, peasant famers and villagers, have been oppressed, exploited, and never given enough agency. The people of Ukraine have been in a persistent struggle with Russia’s domination and influence for hundreds of years, but whose freedom are urban communities actually fighting for?
I was inspired by a text I encountered that was written by my Ukrainian grandfather, Vasyl Luchkiw, who escaped his depleted farmland, miles outside of the western Ukrainian city Ivano-Frankivsk, at the height of World War II and Stalin’s regime. He wrote the essay for Ukraine’s tenth anniversary of independence in 2001, and it accurately foreshadows recent events between Ukraine and Russia. However, only now that Ukraine is in “crisis,” the people of the nation getting some type of agency, when there has been political tension between Ukraine and Russia for nearly 100 years.
“Other” cultures, particularly in the U.S., require explanation to those who do not understand—usually because these histories are not “common knowledge” taught in elementary or high school, and if taught, the information is skewed to particular agendas. My commentary throughout the piece takes the viewer through events of war, oppression, and social unrest in Ukraine up until the present. Throughout, images of past events, taken from my grandfather’s vast archive of Ukrainian materials, are juxtaposed with images of the “Ukraine Crisis” of 2013-2014. Those who are given this agency in the news are the people who have the ability to voice themselves, however those who demand a voice are not necessarily the people whose basic rights deserve urgency, and are thus rendered invisible. By implementing my grandfather’s vast personal archive to meld past images into the present, with photographs from U.S. media, these images are meant to visually educate about the perpetual hostility between Ukraine and Russia, Russia’s dominance over the former, the Ukrainian people’s persistent quest for “freedom,” the problematic of voices represented in this quest, and the ways in which this is not publicized by the Western world—as if Russia’s encroachment on Ukraine is something new and unusual—while the persecution and mistreatment of peasant farmers transcends all histories.
In context of the events that occurred, and are still occurring, in Ukraine from 2013-2014—deemed a “crisis”—it is important to understand the history of the Ukrainian people and their relationship with Russia. Western media has the tendency to portray climactic situations in “other” nations or cultures almost as if these events have suddenly emerged with no provocation or background, and the leaders of Western nations have the tendency to only greatly acknowledge these countries when they are in such crises. The people protesting for freedoms in cities are the ones with influence, but are they striving for their own freedoms, or freedoms for all classes?
Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine | Simon Petliura (L) leads struggle for independence after Bolshevik Revolution in 1917
Whose struggle is it? Democracy for whom? What does it mean to be independent? | Farmers sit around listening to newspaper articles being read
Autumn, several years in a row– armed men came to the village and took the harvest. An average day in 1933: 40,000 people wait in line for bread | The dying were peasants, whose labor brought the only bread there was to the city
The Ukrainian peasant was bound to resist a policy (collectivized agriculture) designed to take away land and freedom | Stalin announced, at this time, that kulaks will be “liquidated as a class”
Stalin’s Great Terror, 1937-1938, purged hundreds of thousands due to class and nation | The kulaks are stigmatized, repressed, and never become “prosperous peasants.” Survivors sent to concentration camps
A farmer weeps in the fields | Meanwhile, Kiev burns. For whose “freedom”?
Women have to clear the damage from Kiev’s 1943 destruction | The villagers go to school as Bolsheviks march in, following a brief state of independence in 1918
WWII, Ukrainians welcomed Hitler, as they believed he could liberate them from Stalin’s regime | He quickly took advantage of this and proceeded with more oppression, execution, and imprisonment
To be clear– Stalinism is not communism or socialism. Nikita Khrushchev, his successor, tried to reverse this, but mostly failed | Khrushchev was actually responsible for many purges before, during, and after WWII, including Vinnytsia
The Ukrainian diaspore often intervenes (or tries to) into various political affairs | Stalin’s regime left political prisoners, usually kulaks, in prison camps as “enemies of the state,” and their families by association
Cossack Hetman Bohdon Khmelnytsky stands in Independence Square | The cossacks were democratic, and somewhat militaristic, they acknowledged no authority. They played a role in building an autonomous Ukrainian state.
Typical images of idealized cossacks do not represent accurately the working villagers and peasantry | However, the cossack is a vital representation of freedom in Ukrainian culture
Who does democracy actually consider?
The “breadbasket of Europe” fertile lands of invisible farmers | Demonstration of city people for a democratic election system in Ukraine
The city dwellers protest | Yulia Tymoshenko, former prime minister, imprisoned for abuse of power | This smiling woman holds onto her cabbage crops, but does she really?
New York City demonstrations for Ukrainian freedom. Freedom is a vague term | Ottawa demonstrations in solidarity with political prisoners
The Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 directly affected collective farms within the area | Not only that, but workers in the area had to attempt to clear the scene
More city people demonstrate for independence outside of L’viv KGB headquarters, Summer 1990 | Police break up demonstration outside of Parliament, 1990. Is it for the sovereignty of all? Some seem to be disposable
Summer 1991, protest demanding freedom for Ukraine–just before its gain of independence in August | Students hunger strike, dissatisfied with lack of democracy and Soviet Union’s influence, October 1990
Orange Revolution, 2005. Viktor Yushchenko elected as president and Ukrainian people’s “victory” over corrupt leadership | This was a middle class movement. Regardless of exclusion of working class: Did this revolution succeed?
Ва краще життя. Ukrainians have struggled for their entire existence. These events are cyclical, continuous problems arise. | Independence Square, Kiev. Protester Barricades, Kiev. Will this independence ever be “reality”? Who is really free?
photo album view
photo album view
photo album view