ukraine: 28 posts

A Boy With A Fotokor

Vladimir, my father’s older brother, developed a passion for photography in unconventional circumstances. Having survived polio, which he caught during World War II, Vladimir suddenly couldn’t move. The disease had ravaged his muscles, leaving him crippled, and while he couldn’t join other children playing, he observed their games from his chair. Then a neighbor, a military captain, gave him his first camera. It was a Fotokor-1, a folding bed plate film camera from 1934, and taking a cue from its name–Fotokor means “photo journalist”, foto korrespondent in Russian–a thirteen year old boy began to photograph everything around him. Eventually, Vladimir grew strong enough to move around unaided, but photography has remained his lifelong interest, which he passed on to me.

girls

This is the Kyiv of the early 1950s. Vladimir takes pictures in the streets of the city–of girls jumping rope, of boys teasing girls, of girls taunting boys, of boys doing naughty things, of soldiers marching, of women waiting in line, of kids having fun, of life as it carries on in a place still marked by war. The photos of Vladimir himself were taken by his younger brother, Valery, although he directed the composition. A small selection I made for you gives a unique, candid glimpse into the Soviet Union of the postwar period as well as the world of one feisty boy.

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Postcard from Ukraine : Sepia

One of my favorite museums in Kyiv is a collection of Ukrainian folk art founded by the sculptor Ivan Honchar. It contains masterpieces of embroidery, painting, wood carving and iconography gathered from different regions of Ukraine. One of my favorite expositions features photography, mostly shots taken by itinerant photographers who set up an early 20th century version of a pop-up shop complete with painted decorations. Sitters rarely look comfortable in these photographs, standing stiff and tense in their finery, but you can still glean their personalities and little quirks.

ivan honchar museum

Ivan Honchar Museum is located on Ivana Mazepy 29, Kyiv. Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine : Indian Pink

My summer room wouldn’t be out of place in a Rajasthani village, but then again, there are elements of Ukrainian culture that have Indian and Persian inflections.

pink room

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine : Gogol’s Nights

Few writers have described the Ukrainian nights better than Nikolai Gogol. He was born near Poltava, and its sights and smells never lost their hold on him.

“Do you know a Ukrainian night? No, you do not know a night in Ukraine. Fill your eyes with it. The moon shines in the midst of the sky; the immeasurable vault of heaven seems to have expanded to infinity; the earth is bathed in silver light; the air is warm, voluptuous, and redolent of innumerable sweet scents. Divine night! Magical night! Motionless, but inspired with divine breath, the forests stand, casting enormous shadows and wrapped in complete darkness. Calmly and placidly sleep the lakes surrounded by dark green thickets. The virginal groves of the hawthorns and cherry-trees stretch their roots timidly into the cool water; only now and then their leaves rustle unwillingly when that freebooter, the night-wind, steals up to kiss them.

ukrainian nights

The whole landscape is hushed in slumber; but there is a mysterious breath upon the heights. One falls into a weird and unearthly mood, and silvery apparitions rise from the depths. Divine night! Magical night! Suddenly the woods, lakes, and steppes become alive. The nightingales of Ukraine are singing, and it seems as though the moon itself were listening to their song. The village sleeps as though under a magic spell; the cottages shine in the moonlight against the darkness of the woods behind them. The songs grow silent, and all is still. Only here and there is a glimmer of light in some small window. Some families, sitting up late, are finishing their supper at the thresholds of their houses.” Nikolai Gogol, A May Night.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Postcard from Ukraine: My Reading Corner

When a friend asked me about my reading corner, I was momentarily at a loss for an answer. I can easily zone out my surroundings, and I read anywhere–waiting for a bus or on the bus, at the metro station or squeezed among other passengers on a subway car. Various means of transportation are where I get most of my reading done. But of course, the best reading spot is quiet and comfortable, and these days it’s a little nook under a cherry tree in our Poltava garden. During our grey Belgian winters I dream of this overgrown orchard, of reading in the grass or simply stretching on a blanket and absorbing all the details around me–the pattern of veins on cherry leaves, the sweet almond scent of crushed grass, the shade of yellow of buttercup petals. These are the best souvenirs I bring back. So, when the weather cooperates, this is where I can be found with a book and a cup of tea (and less romantically, mosquito repellent).

reading spot

What’s your favorite reading spot? What are you reading these days?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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