Today I woke at 3.30am and was picked up outside the hostel a little after 4am by Sasha and his family. We then drove for over 5 hours to the town in which he grew up.
We arrived at his mothers house around 9.30. She treated us to a wonderful breakfast before we set off again to see the famous train station and interview his grandmother, who is a survivor of Holodomor. I wish I could explain just how wonderful this family is, every last one of them was kind, generous, open and friendly to me. Even with the language barrier, they fussed over me and made me feel so welcome.
Later in the day I met a man and his four children who are suffering today. (Sasha’s family also help him, they are not rich people but they have the biggest hearts of anyone I know.) I was told his story, it was a hard one to hear as I felt guilt for being given a better situation in my life but it is a story that needed to be told. I have promised him gifts for his children, (clothes and sweets,) nothing fancy but I was touched by his courage and hardworking nature and I believe he deserves some relief even if it is only small. I also took some photos of his children, which will be printed out and given to him, as he has no photos of his family.
We then returned to Sasha’s mums, after a few more detours on the way back and I was again greatly fed. It was delightful to eat home cooked food and be looked after so well.
But the faces of the four children have been swimming around my head all day. I just want to sit with them and give them the longest hug. I wanted to explain to them that life will not always be like this and that they will always be loved. And I wanted to tell their father how amazing he was for not giving up, it must be so easy to turn to drink or death when life is so rough everyday but he doesn’t. The love he has for his children is bigger than that and I stand in ore at the internal beauty of this family.
I am humbled by this country and its people.
Today I met with Sasha. We met at Arsenal’na station and walked through Glory Square, which holds memorial statues for Holodomor plus the deaths from the great patriotic war and then we moved on to the Holodomor Memorial Museum itself. Here we spoke to the ladies who run the exhibit and I got more contacts. One a lady who has done scientific work into Holodomor and the curator (maybe) and she asked if I will send my book, when it is complete, so they can possibly exhibit it with the other works. This is very exciting because my work will lay along side my great grandfather’s.
Next, we moved on to Lavra Pecher’ka, seeing the mummified religious figures, the oldest church in Ukraine and gathered a lot of historical information about the area.
And then we went to Sasha’s house to meet his wife and children. On the way we went through the markets (real Ukrainian food = no chemicals) and when we arrived I was invited to eat some wonderful local food. I am so greatful for their hospitality and kindness the whole family showed me.
I wonder if tomorrow can top today???
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.
I went to London yesterday to experience a new body of work called Gaddafi Archives at the London Photography Festival. The show was hard hitting, with a video piece showing a trial and hanging, but I am not here to review the show.
I also got to speak to an expert on cameras, Michael Pritchard, who works for The Royal Photographic Society. Not only did I discover that the Leica could potentially be an earlier piece than I thought but I also got to discuss relevant people who I could trust to fix any minor problems with the aesthetics, the worth of it (which is irrelevant as the history is worth more than money) and we discussed the project idea itself.
Mr Pritchard seemed very interested in my project and felt that publishers would also be interested in the story.
This is a big deal for me, its hard to get started in this area, I have been emailing magazines (history not vogue or OK magazine) but you get little to no response unless you have a private email to the actual person you need to speak to.
So thanks to the London Photography Festival and Mr Pritchard, I am one step closer to making this an unforgettable project.
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.