Beyond the square

Still from CNN broadcast, 18 February 2014.
Sound recorded in Десятинный монастырь’s church, Kyiv, 27 August 2014.

August 21, I met Vitaliy in a small coffee shop in Khreshatyk, 200 meters away from Independence Square. We sat inside for a chat – I had this very pleasant cold raspberry tea with cream – and to discuss the project, as he wasn’t sure how he could help. We then decided to walk down to the square to make some portraits. He was visibly moved – he told me he had not been there since February. As I listened to him speak I felt a growing sense of respect and almost silent reverence while we walked past dozens of makeshift memorials.

August 22, we visited an old abandoned school construction site just nearby Serj’s home, in the left bank. He used to spend a lot of time there with his friends when growing up. The overcast sky added to the concrete greyness of the landscape that surrounded us. Nonetheless, I think there is a certain contrasting and indefinable friendliness to that neighbourhood. Serj is a university student and he also works at Domino’s Pizza. A couple of months later he told me he was now doing deliveries there, which he preferred to working inside the store.

August 26, we did some portraits at Irina’s workplace in the Podol district, near the riverside. It was a bit busy there as they were doing a catalogue shoot. Later, we were joined by Sasha, who had come to model some designs from one of Irina’s collections for her brand, Dzhus.

August 20, Тараса Шевченка Park. A warm evening, so there were quite a lot of people around. Families, kids playing in the playground, young couples taking a walk, the habitual coffee or kvas carts, ice cream vendors, students hanging out. Mykyta had left from work just earlier – he is a sales manager in a telecommunications company. He told me both his high school and university were nearby so as a student he used to spend a lot of his free time in between classes there.

August 24, I visited Sergeiy Yakutovich’s home studio in the centre of Kyiv. He had some friends over having a meal when I arrived. The small kitchen table was full with plates of cold cuts and cheeses, bread and toasts, wine, cake for the children. They were still expecting some more people to join them. Sergey was curious about my perspective of Ukraine, as a foreigner. He asked me when I had been in Kyiv for the first time. In 2010, I said. A lifetime ago, he replied. His voice had some sorrow. His family has roots in Russia and he told me that he could not understand how suddenly many people there started hating everyone in Ukraine – his own family living there didn’t want to speak with him now. He talked about what had changed in the past few years. The same people, the same buildings, but a lot changed – a change in the hearts of people, a desire for a more honest country.

«It seems to me that these events on Maidan awakened the consciousness of every Ukrainian. Many people, even those who never considered themselves as patriots, felt that they are Ukrainians, that they care about the fate of our Motherland. I believe that our country will change for the better, Ukraine has already stepped into this path, but I understand that it may take a lot of time. The main thing that has happened already – the people’s minds have changed.»

September 30, Anton was expecting me at the Kyiv State University of Culture and Arts, where he teaches. I was worried I would be late and hurried past the long walkway to the university’s entrance where he was waiting for me. He joked that his students sometimes are also a bit late so we would just be giving them the chance to be all there on time. When he opened the door to the studio we had a big surprise – the students from all his classes were gathered there, with flowers and a cake, waiting to congratulate him on his birthday.

October 2, when I arrived at Zotov architectural bureau’s offices, they were just finishing an interview for a magazine article. The journalist was taking some pictures and Viktor and Valentina were very kind to invite me to join the group photo. We spent the better part of the afternoon talking about all sorts of different things, such as their approach to architecture, current times, history and freedom. A word central to their personal and professional philosophy is authenticity. Valentina also told me that their family lives in the Donbass region and it is scary and difficult, painful, to watch all that is happening there now, and difficult to understand.

«My current work is a series dedicated to people through the prism of animals. In these works, I want to show human vices and global issues.»

October 4, I sat down for a conversation with Katerina at the newsroom where she works as a journalist and columnist. She has a background in languages and can speak fluent English and Spanish, as well as Hebrew, German, apart from Russian and Ukrainian. Most people in Kyiv end up speaking Russian as their day-to-day language and so we talked about languages and culture.

November 14, “I just want a peaceful sky” was a beautiful expression that really made me pause and stuck with me. It was a really cold day when I recorded the interview with Yasia. I think it snowed a little that day, it was one of the first days of snow. Just a few flakes falling softly in the air. We sat down in a cafe for some warm drinks and ended up spending a couple of hours talking – about the time when she was doing gymnastics, then practicing boxing for a while, her favourite places, reading Harry Potter books to her younger siblings and getting hooked on the series of novels herself, lots of small big things.