In spring 2014 the Russian military, assisted by local collaborationists occupied part of Eastern Ukraine, including the largest city of the region – Donetsk. The occupied territory immediately became a dangerous place for any pro-Ukrainian individual.
I was last in Donetsk, my hometown, in January 2014. I could never have expected then that this visit would be my last one.
My family photo archive is still there in my flat. I may never see it again. It may no longer exist as I write this text or when you will be reading it. Attempts to retrieve it may entail unnecessary risks for those who would assist me. All I can do to preserve my family's visual history is to reconstruct at least those photos that I still remember. To reconstruct them using any available materials and photos of other people no longer needed by their previous owners. To occupy somebody else's memorabilia exactly the same way my own were occupied.
A part of the project "Reconstruction of Memory" (curated by me & Lia Dostlieva, with the support of "IZOLYATSIA. Platform for Cultural Initiatives")
2016/02-03 — 'Reconstruction of Memory' @ Izolyatsia, Kyiv, Ukraine
2016/05 — 'Reconstruction of Memory' @ Jeżyckie Centrum Kultury, Poznan, Poland
2016/07 — 'Reconstruction of Memory' @ Ukraiński Dom, Warsaw, Poland
2016/07-08 — 'Teraz w Polsce' @ Labirynt Gallery, Lublin, Poland
2017/09-11 — 'Reconstruction of Memory' @ DOX, Prague, Czech Republic
This woman in the photo from the flea market in Riga looks remarkably like my grandmother in her 30s. She had a similar photo – same pose, same three-quarter view, similar clothes. She must have liked it – she even had a hand-coloured enlargement made. The aubergine sleeveless dress she's wearing in this photo lasted long enough for me to remember it.
This picture was particularly important to my grandmother. It was taken shortly after the Soviet army liberated the Nazi forced labour camp in the Sudetenland where she was held. She and her friend and two Soviet soldiers had a group portrait taken in a studio to celebrate the first moments of their freedom.
This picture used to give me creeps when I was a child. Grandma and her colleagues from school are all dressed in black except for one woman in the first row - she's wearing something bright and chequered. The photo had faded over the years and eyes had become blank spaces without any sign of pupils.
A bunch of old and heavily worn photos initially taken for documents – my grandfather, my grandmother, her mother, and her grandmother. It is the only surviving (is it?) image of the latter – my great-great-grandmother.
My grandfather's sister - that makes her my grandaunt I guess. Never was good at all that 'second cousin once removed' stuff. Half of the photo was torn off and I never found out who was in it. Maybe it was her husband, whom she had killed with an axe – in self-defence.
My grandaunt again, smiling broadly with her golden tooth visible and attracting all the attention.
Grandma was a teacher and had plenty of class photos in her albums. Sometimes she would tell me stories about pupils or colleagues of hers. Obviously, I can't recall any of those nor would I recognise anybody in those photos save for her. If I ever see them again, that is.
An early photo of my mother, she's no more than two years old here, wearing a sort of a warm black jumpsuit with small funny ears.
My uncle got an amateur camera as a birthday present when he was a teenager and we have (had) several boxes of his photos - there were dogs, cats, neighbours, trees, selfies and a single picture of our old house (top floor, two windows on the right) in a small town in Luhansk region of Ukraine - also under Russian occupation now.
My grandparents with my mom and her brother on their summer holidays in Sukhumi in the 1960s. Sukhumi, once a blossoming Georgian city full of tourists, suffered a lot of damage in the war and had become another Russian-occupied territory.
This photo is my mother's - taken during her student years in Kharkiv. She's standing with her friends near Lenin's monument in the central square. The same monument that was finally demolished in 2014 by Maidan activists.
My mom in a beautiful dress and her friends sitting on a bench, probably near their university in Kharkiv.
Mother's tourist photos from all over the USSR - she travelled a lot in her youth and had tons of pictures from all the typical tourist attractions.
One of the photos from my uncle's wedding ceremony - with my mom as the bridesmaid.
A commonplace item in photo archives - a picture of some friends or acquaintances of my parents or grandparents, given or sent in a letter, reverse signed with something like 'for everlasting memory' or 'please remember'. This particular one says 'For a long memory from Reni and Stasik'. Unfamiliar names, faded faces, everlasting memory long vanished.
My first photo. I'm 10 months old or so, I'm standing in my baby crib behind a safety net. Everything is blurred and barely visible, just like my memories are.
This was a series of photos made when I was a year and a half or so. I'm standing somewhere in a field - with huge sunflowers and corn twice my height surrounding me. Sometimes I'm alone, sometimes with my mother or one of my cousins. I must have wet my pants shortly before the photos were taken because I'm wearing nothing but a dotted shirt.
On this colour photo I'm two or three years old. I'm wearing a “Navy” suit and there is a big fluffy toy dog at my side. It was taken at a studio I suppose, as I don't remember seeing that dog ever again.
And here I'm six or maybe even seven. It's a common summer holiday photo on a beach against a prop palm tree with a toy monkey. It was taken in Crimea some twenty-five years before its Russian occupation.
This picture was taken in late autumn, the leaves have fallen from the trees, I'm dressed very warmly – a brown jacket and a “budyonovka” hat. I'm hugging an inflatable giraffe among the fir trees near the clinic that I used to visit far too often in my childhood.
Another sailor’s costume, another photo taken after a visit to the clinic. This time, I'm standing on a fountain border in front of a huge (at least, it seemed huge to me back then) store where we sometimes used to drop in after visiting the doctor – and if I was lucky I even got a chance to ride a mechanical toy (it was the rocket ship I went crazy about) or to play an arcade video game.
These photos were taken in Chișinău, Moldova roughly at the same time as Russia was occupying Moldova's eastern part, Transnistria.
Our last family photo before we left Chișinău – Mom took this picture of Grandma and me sitting in our old living room.
My last school photo –my classmates and I are riding bumper cars in an amusement park on the last day of school.
One of the last family photos shot on film in Donetsk. Plenty of people, some of them I hardly know, some do not belong to our family anymore, a few are dead, others have chosen now to collaborate with terrorists and rather were dead.