As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues, Catherine Chapman and I decided to look closer at struggles of LGBTQ community in Ukraine. On of the results is this story about LGBTQ soldiers, changing the Ukrainian society with their service.
"The Ukrainian military is not known to be particularly welcoming to LGBTQ people, but it needed bodies in early 2014 to confront Russian forces that had entered Ukrainian territory on their way to annexing Crimea.
That Ukraine was woefully unprepared for battle was obvious in several ways: outdated equipment; approximately 130,000 poorly trained troops (compared with 845,000 experienced Russian soldiers); an organizational structure widely accused of corruption; and the brutal hazing of new recruits and volunteers.
Many of those military newcomers have been gay and transgender soldiers who ignored prejudice and harassment to defend their country against invasion."
Ukrainian soldiers train with the Canadian Armed Forces at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Beginning of the training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Zhenya smokes during an interview in Kiev, Ukraine on Oct. 29, 2017.
Andriy Chumakov, left, and his long-term boyfriend, Artem Shevchenko look onto Maidan Square, in central Kiev, Ukraine on Aug. 8, 2017.
A Ukrainian soldier gets ready to train with Canadian Forces at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Soldiers stand in a final formation at the end of training at the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre (IPSC) in Starychi, Ukraine on Oct. 26, 2017.
Ukrainian LGBTQ Shelter (2017)
As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine continues, Catherine Chapman and I decided to look closer at struggles of LGBTQ community in Ukraine. The result is this story about a Shelter, a new home in Kyiv for LGBTQ people who have no other place to go.
"In a four-bedroom apartment found among a row of typical Eastern bloc-styled buildings in one of Kiev’s sleeping districts, a group of strangers from around Ukraine is making a fresh start in a place they now consider home.
They call their newly acquired residence “The Shelter,” a safe space where they are free to be themselves — a mix of ages, backgrounds and genders congregating under one roof, because their sexual orientation left them with nowhere else to go.
Nik Litvinov, 22, moved into the Shelter in the beginning of 2017 for a couple of months, then again in May for another couple of months.
From mid-2016 until August 2017 the Shelter has become a new home for sixty-five people. Most of those living there during a visit in Augst 2017 were from the eastern areas of the country where fighting is still taking place.
Slavik Smirnov, 28, has lived in the Shelter since June 2017.
The LGBTQ Shelter in Kyiv is the first place where its residents get a feeling of belonging to a comminity. Some find a new home there, where they are accepted for who they are.
Slavik considers The Shelter a perfect place to start ones life over.
Some residents find their first real friends at the Shelter. They open up about their sexuality, relationships and struggles in the way they couldn't before. In the most cases their sexuality became the reason they have to leave their families.
Avis (on the right) is having a long-distance relationship, and talks with her girlfriend several times every day. She is looking forward to leaving for Novosibirsk (Russia) to finally move in with her partner and start a new life there. "I have never had any friends really; I was an outsider at school and at home. But I did not know it could get any worse until my mom found out I was gay. She has not been homophobic at all before, she even said one day that gay people should be able to adopt kids, because they are the ones who really want them. Then she found out about me, and everything changed. She kicked me out of my home, that is how I ended up here."
Igor works as a physician and always mentions his partner as a "wife", when talking to his colleagues. "They would never understand and I could lose my job. They would never say it's because I'm gay, but will find some other reason."
Most of the residents find it to be the first place they feel free and open about their sexuality.
Nik Litvinov, 22, moved into the Shelter in the beginning of 2017 for a couple of months, then again in May for another couple of months. He is optimistic about the future of the LGBTQ community in Ukraine. "It will take time, for sure. But the shift is happening already," says Nik, who is excited to move in with his boyfriend in Moscow (Russia) soon.
Slavik feels much more secure and safe since he came out as gay. Now he lives openly and is not afraid of violence or discrimination against him. "I feel more powerful now, since I'm not afraid of exposure anymore."
Ongoing: Life of LGBTQ Community in Ukraine. 2017-
Gender and sexual identity, androgyny and belonging to a community have been my artistic topics for the past five years. My new project about stories of LGBTQ community and individuals in Ukraine, country I was born and raised in, is the next step in that journey. Living in Germany for the past 12 years and coming out as queer here, which would be much more difficult if not impossible in my native country, gave me unique perspective on challenges of LGBTQ people living there.
Because of the political events in the past three years and the ongoing war in the East of the country, problems and challenges of LGBTQ community became less important or urgent in the eyes of Ukrainian society.
This brought me to the idea of the project, an artistic documentary about life of LGBTQ individuals in Ukraine, the challenges they face and overcome every day. As a capital of the country, Kyiv is more west oriented and therefore in some ways more open and progressive in terms of LGBTQ diversity. Yet life is still complicated in smaller and more conservative cities. That is why I am interested in showing the lives of LGBTQ persons in cities like Mykolaiv, where I was born, Odessa, Kherson and Chernovtsy, among others.
This photography series is part of a bigger project that includes a short video documentary.
Ongoing: Absurd Frames. 2016-
Androgyny and abstract thoughts about absurdity of the term “femininity” are the central ideas of this ongoing project. Coupling bodies with mundane objects or putting them in abstract settings, I explore how it feels and what it means to be a woman, the complexity of emotions connected to absurd and unrealistic expectations of the womanhood.
Androgyny scares, baffles and fascinates at the same time. Androgynous people live between the polarities of a binary society: visually they fit neither the female nor male stereotype. Their dual natures coexist in each world like cross-faded images contained in one frame. Separating them into two classic genders makes this polarity visible and present while mirroring back the viewer's norms and stereotypes.
Expectations play games with our perception. Familiar pieces, like a net of little details, put a filter on it and we see what we want to see.
Which couple is a real one? Which one looks more at ease with each other? Which one looks staged? Maybe both?
Is this project about bisexuality or queerness? Or is it about our own expectations we force on the others?
About Birds. 2013
About Birds shows several snapshots, organised in a new composition, creating something new from known and ordinary forms.
About India. 2011
"About India" originated in January 2011 during a two-month journey to India, and was presented for the first time in June 2012 as part of a group exhibition on the topic of being alien.
Originally I hail from Ukraine. Before I turned twelve, my family and I had to move a lot due to my parents' work. Upon turning 22, I left on my own for Germany to pursue university studies, and can therefore relate really well to what being alien means.
But the experience I had travelling by myself in India cannot be compared to anything. It's not just the people and their traditions that are different; the entire environment is being perceived differently, and the environment itself perceives you in a different way. You cannot simply drift with the current like in Central Europe and blend in with the crowd, you are seen as exotic and receive attention accordingly. It's new, it's alien, and you must learn to deal with it.
I took my time and let the country influence me - as I have always done in any society where I was new and alien. You must be ready to take off the Western world goggles and approach this country and its people attentively, with an open mind. This way, you can get to know the people, their families and lifestyle. You can drink chai with the sellers in a market place, visit new places by adventuresome train rides, listen to foreign music and learn to love it, you can forgive the screaming apes for waking you up in the morning. In short, you open up for all things new and fascinating, and one day, when you let it, when you don't shut yourself from it, you feel that you have finally arrived, that you're home... you are no longer alien.
About India. 2011
About Home. 2010
After living six years abroad, I became an outsider in my own home. Documenting my visit in 2010 was an act of visual exploration of my emotions and feelings of forgotten childhood memories.
In my art as in my wedding photography, I focus on aesthetics and genuineness.
I work with natural light and vanish in the crowd to be able to capture the atmosphere and feeling of an event.
You will not be forced to pose or to “play up” to the camera. On the contrary, you can relax and enjoy your day, while I beautifully capture it for you.
Please get in touch to check availability and to get an accurate price for your event.
European Photography 101: "FemGaze: Women on Women" // European Photography 101, September 2017, p. 73