A photo exhibition, giving a rare opportunity to look deep into the eyes of Ukrainians living just a few kilometres from the frontline in eastern Ukraine, will open its doors in Paris on the 29th of November.
My first trip to Donbas was a very uneasy dialog, not only with people I have met there, but foremost with myself. Why did it happen to them and how to tell everything to the ones, living in Western Europe? Then I realised that people's stories will talk for themselves and for Ukraine.
The project Donbas Groove brings the audience to the epicentre of the conflict, labeled as a “hybrid war”, which has taken almost 10 thousands lives, including 2 thousand civilians, over the last two and half years.
Leaving aside the political and military complexities of this war, the exhibition aims to show another dimension: to tell of how the most ordinary people, by doing the most extraordinary things, try to end the Ukraine conflict.
The author of the project – journalist and photographer Natalia Liubchenkova- made her first visit to the Ukrainian government-controlled areas in Donbas almost two years ago. Her camera captures not only heavily shelled buildings, hospitals and centres for internally displaced people, but also reveals the inner world of people who had lived through the worst, yet found the strength to move on and search for new horizons.
Natalia admits that her first trip to Donbas caused a very uneasy dialogue, not only with people she met there, but first and foremost with her self: “I was seeing shell holes in the buildings’ walls and trying to understand what these people, fellow Ukrainians, have had to face here. Why did it happen, and how to explain it to those living in Western Europe? Then I realised that people’s stories will talk for themselves and for Ukraine”.
Restoring and creating instead of destroying
Speaking to euronews, Liubchenkova says her project is all about people who risk their lives helping others and make their dreams come true, despite the horrors of war.
Among them is a man called Ivan, who used to be a coal miner before fleeing the war-torn Makiyivka with his family. He couldn’t imagine opening his own farming business – something he dreamed of for years. But that’s exactly what he’s done, creating new jobs and even planning the next step – opening an organic-food shop.
Oleksandr – a head doctor of the hospital in a town of Mykolayivka- still remembers how in 2014 he and another surgeon operated on dozens of wounded people in the basement rooms, lit only by candles. Nowadays he successfully raises funds to rebuild the hospital.
Yana- who is now internally displaced after leaving Donetsk- fell in love with her new home in the village of Krasna Luka, next door to the nature reserve. She plans to open a green tourism attraction there.
Vitaliy from Slovyansk restores his pottery, heavily damaged by shelling. This town, now controlled by Ukrainian government forces, was one of the first to see armed conflict with Russia-sponsored separatists in April 2014.
In Maryinka, near Donetsk, a stronghold of pro-Russian forces, a charity bakery produces fresh bread, often distributing loaves for free to those most in need.
Despite the official “ceasefire”, agreed by all sides in Minsk, Maryinka is still being shelled regularly. Almost half of the population has already left the town. 6-year-old Nastya is among those who chose to stay.
Due to the constant stress of war, the child started to lose her hair.
She’s recovering now though, thanks to the help from health care professionals and volunteers alike.
“While preparing this exhibition, I was trying to deliver the stories of Ukrainians to the hearts of people in Western Europe. Only by drawing parallels between someones’ lives and our own do we realise that all the people are similar, if not identical, when it comes to their dignity, freedom, their right to be happy”.
Donbas Groove will be on display in the Ukrainian Culture and Information Centre in Paris from November, 29th till December, 9th.
The exhibition will also show some of the tales from war-torn Donbas through a video-presentation.
Watch a preview here: