‘Perhaps their lives have continued as normal ‘ … Danylevskoho Street, Donetsk, May 2014
‘I saw them from a bus, two girls in Ukraine having a picnic. It was bad before the war. Nobody would have thought back then how bad things would get. ‘In 2014, I took it in Donetsk, Ukraine, just as the war with Russia started. It was the first time war came to the city right after the first battle for Donetsk airport.
Once I saw this car and people having a picnic next to it, I was on the bus back to my apartment. I got off, and we had a couple of drinks. It was an opportunity to meet, they were all excited to meet a stranger-they had never before met an English person.
I captured and they posed, only young people have fun. This picture was a snapshot, they didn’t really pay attention to me when I took it, but later it stood out when I looked at my photos.
I like the fact that you can’t see the face of the girls, I don’t know them, so I would have felt uncomfortable sharing a drinking image of them, which could represent them negatively.
Before the war turned terrible, the picture is just two mates, but it has become poignant. No one at that time knew what the war was going to turn into – no one would have believed how bad it was going to get and how long it would last. Perhaps the lives of these girls went on as usual and they were not affected too badly.
But it makes me think of many other friends and families I met and knew there who went their separate ways when people had to leave the country and their political differences became so serious. In that way, it reminds me of what’s happening here in the UK with Brexit. Families discussing politics–the war around the dinner table.
On both sides, I have grandparents from Eastern Europe and have always felt a connection with this part of the world. In 2013, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, my grandmother was reaching the end of her life and I began to think more about Ukraine and make regular trips there.
I was in the country when the “pro-European / anti-Russian” protests broke out and the subsequent unrest began to turn violent. Some of this action I filmed, but I was more interested in quieter stories.
Conflict is often shown with the most dramatic imagery, condensed into a story that is part of a cycle of news. But as you experience it, it’s much more widespread over long periods when nothing happens – and life goes on.
People have become so used to seeing photographs of Ukraine’s conflict that these are the kinds of photos that people are now associating with the country. Yet I find the pictures to which people respond are those who do not necessarily look like war the pictures with which they can engage. I hope it will make them think.


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