Landing in Kyiv was hell. My ears felt like they had blood pouring out of them, so there I was head in between my knees, tears streaming down my face, with a very kind Ukrainian man sat next to me, giving me tips on how to make it better.
I got ripped off by a taxi man….saw that coming a mile off…but made it to the Hostel safely and went to bed at 5.30pm as I had not slept in 3days and got up fresh as a daisy 15 hours later.
I was lucky enough to have a tour guide today, in the form of a very kind but slightly unlucky Canadian, Billy. He has lost (by this I mean stolen) his passport and cant get back home for another week! Bad for him but good for me, as without him today would have been very different.
We went for a walk in the rain to down town Kyiv, I had a meeting with the owner of Kyiv Post (newspaper in English) and owner J. Micheal was extremely kind. He has given me a contact and is willing to publish some of my work once it is complete. When the meeting was over, we decided to go for a walk around town but Billy remembered that a library close by had a small display of history at the back, so we head over.
I asked/signed to the lady at the desk if I am allowed to photograph the display and she agreed. Later she was asking questions but I did not understand, again Billy to the rescue and soon she understands what it is we are looking for and goes scurrying off. Returning with a small pile of books, all on Holodomor but also all in Ukrainian. She disappears again and comes back with some more books, one in english and there it was, my grandfathers images.
I got his Leica camera out and placed it next to the book, feeling very proud to be in this position and Billy swiftly explained to the librarian that this camera took that photograph, She seemed very impressed.
I was then shown around the town and when 4pm rolled around (time for my second meeting) I notice my phone was not working!!!!! AHHHHH This meeting is important to my work, and I have no choice but to stand this guy Sasha up….Gutted. So I jumped into the nearest gamers cafe and emailed my apologies. Hopefully I will meet with him tomorrow.
Must have walked a few miles and was a beautiful start to what I hope to be a very informative trip.
P.S what they say in travel guides about Ukraine seems to be a load of shit, yes people are a little rude but so am I if you look thick as beetroot. They are just like Londoners accept Ukrainian like to feed you up once they get you into their homes.
I wonder what tomorrow will bring…..
Thought it would help me organise my project by entering The Guardian competition, even if I don’t win I benefit….
A Look at Ukraine 80 Years After Holodomor
Throughout the 1920’s, Alexander Wienerberger, my great grandfather, was a political prisoner of war in Lubyanka Prison, Moscow. He was spared his life due to the fact he was a chemical Engineer specialising in explosives, and therefore deemed useful to the Stalinist work programme.
In total, Alexander spent fifteen years in Russia and Ukraine. Throughout this time he documented his experience through photography. He subsequently wrote the book Hart Auf Hart, 1939, (which roughly translates as ‘Hard Times’) and also had published other photographs of Holodomor, (the man-made famine, Ukraine, 1932-33’.) Alexander’s images are some of the few verified photographs that depict the man-made famine of this period, whereas many images purporting to be from this time, are more likely records of an earlier famine of the 1920’s.
My interest in these events started when I inherited Alexander’s Leica. After considerable research I now intend to travel to Kharkiv, and other parts of Ukraine, with the Leica first used by Alexander for his original documentation. This same camera will be used to photograph my travels in the region, some eighty years after that traumatic period, in order to compare the Ukraine my great grandfather would have witnessed with the Ukraine of today.
The camera is a significant component of this project and my relationship to a personal history. It is a physical link between Alexander’s intended depiction of truth – a mirror to the more pervasive but misleading propaganda that was so rife at that point in time; and the visual vernacular of the Ukraine today. It seems only fitting that the same Leica be used again to reveal, as with my grandfather, an individual’s journey and experience of a country in transition.
A part of this investigation into social and political change in Ukraine could potentially be aimed at orphan institutes and hospitals. The exact figures are not known, but many children residing in childrens homes are classed as mentally incapable and as such, have lost their right to an independent life. They are effectively owned by the state. A BBC documentary for television called Ukraine’s Forgotten Children (2012) revealed that a proportion of these “incapacitated” people, are of sound mind but are denied a voice to speak of their situation. Hospitals are sometimes poorly staffed, and children are left in bed unattended for long periods – a situation that has seen little or no change through successive Governments.
The main focus of my work is to photograph and provide some contemporary insights to life within Ukraine. I would like to investigate this report further, but it potentially places me in a situation that goes beyond reasonable risk, and I will need to decide the best course of action once I am in the country. However, by drawing attention to the country’s landscape, cities, people and culture, I hope to reveal, like my grandfather before me, the truth and reality of peoples lives.
Hart auf Hart ” means, loosely translated ” Hard Times”. The book deals with the 15 years my father spent in Russia as an Engineer. He was a chemical Engineer, specialising in explosives.
The book contains photos of starving people, which my father took in the Ukraine. They were taken with a now famous Leica and were used in an international study, which took place in the 1950ties and dealt with the Ukrainian famine of the thirties. (On the Internet) My mother gave your grandfather my father’s Leica as a wedding present.
My father was recruited into the Austrian Army (of the Austro-Hungarian empire) during the Great War (The First World War,) he was taken prisoner by the Russians and stayed on in Russia after the Austrians lost the war. Russia Became Communist under Lenin and Stalin and all factories became owned by the State. Though my father worked under Stalin, he hated Communism and he made himself very unpopular with the Communist Party. Stalin was a very cruel man. His most infamous prison was the Lubjanka and my father spent some time there. Being an analytical chemist, my father was an outstanding photographer all his life. It is important for you to know that he was busy inventing colour photography in the 1930ties when I was a little girl (born 1931) and was allowed to watch him work in his darkroom. In the late 1930ties he also worked on 3D photography. I was often a guinea pig having to look at his work to see if I could see “real people”.
Among other things, he worked on Instant Coffee in the forties, which my mother had to taste. It was a paste. He told me that the real Instant Coffee should be made into freeze-dried granules but he had neither the facilities nor the money to do this.
Memories from Alexander’s daughter
Note: It seems that Alex and I have a lot in common. His experimental nature, pushing the boundaries of science and photography. I think he done this is a much more elegant manor and I am proud to know this is where this part of my personality comes from.
It seems that the camera my grandfather gave to me only a few month ago is about to mean more to me than a camera ever should.
It is a second model Leica and it used to belong to my great grandfather, Alexander Wienerberger. The photographs he took on this camera were not only published but are said to be the only verified images to come out of Ukraine during the man-made famine of 1932-33, named Holodomor and reported as killing up to 10 million people.
Now this is of great interest to me as I am about to go into my final year of my Fine Art Photography Degree. Normally this is not my area, I lean more towards the experimental and scientific but I cannot let this amazing opportunity pass me by. This means starting my research from scratch, so I will apologise in advance for my initial naivety on the sensitive yet personal subject I am about to embark on.
Something I already know:
1. There was talk on wiki about the copy right to my great grandfathers images, I believe if the author dies before 1955 then the copyright would no longer exist however in true style my great grandfather died 5th Jan 1955, meaning (I think as the law is so hard to decipher) that the copy right is still in place for all of his work.
2. Alexander spent some years as a political prisoner of war and in total spent 19 years in Ukraine, the reason he was not killed was due to his knowledge of explosives but to what extent he helped is unknown at the moment.
3. He published Hart auf Hart in Germany 1939 and had work published in other books around the same period (all work in German unless translated and released later)
This is interesting due to his connection to Germany at this time.
I am in the process of receiving some of his unpublished work that will need translating from German. I am in the process of planning a trip to Austria (where he was born and his images are archived in the main library) Germany (where his books and images are archived in the main library. I will look at getting the camera serviced at by the main Leica office but I imagine this is just a dream that could never happen) and Ukraine (to use his camera once again to document the change over the past 79 years.) This will not be done till the end of the year and has many financial hurdles to overcome.
The final aim is to publish a piece of work that not only highlights Holodomor but expresses who my great grandfather was and how important he was in proving Holodomor actually happened.