Certainly my impressions of Kiev, from the air, were stereo-typical of what first time tourists would expect from an ex-soviet era country. I spoke into my voice recorder about chimneys and smoke, rows of communal apartments, barren land and drab colours... but it was dusk so I couldn’t ascertain a truthful likeness until morning. Also I was landing at Borispol which is outside the city so my initial assumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. It is easy to get caught up romanticising a place you have never been to with the euphoria that travel brings but Kiev could not have been more different from what I was expecting. I had read about other peoples journeys into the Ukraine from Europe and that the roads instantly worsen as you cross the border but I was struck by how good the highway was and also how many good cars there were. Apart from the cryillic writing at petrol stations I could have taken off from Amsterdam, circled around for 2+ hours and landed at the Schipol airport again! I eagerly anticipated the journey from the dachka into the city and enjoyed firstly seeing the roadside advertisements for rock groups which were big in the UK 20 years ago and whom I still like. Suits, wine, cars and jewellery all entertained my vision. I had to ask who the large houses with long security fences belonged to, in awe of the obvious riches abounding in this place. The tree’s of the forest we drove through reminded me of Canada’s expanse. The city was lower in height that I expected, despite many new buildings being erected. I later learned that the city initially had a law which stipulated that no building could be higher than the church bell towers as there had to be respect for God. After 5 days here I am still searching for my first sign of litter and am thinking of dropping my own just so I can believe that this isn’t the cleanest city I have ever been to! I would say that 90% of the women are the prettiest and well dressed I have seen ever and that doesn’t mean the other 10% are unattractive either. That compares favourably to Argentine women who I give a respectful 60% but Britain gets only an honest 20%. Maybe it is because my ego has been stroked by the invitation to visit that I wish to reciprocate the respect I am feeling from being here as us photographers would never get treated better when we are at home. I feel that Britain no longer appreciates artists thus I am instantly attracted to Kiev where it seems I can serve a purpose. In a nutshell, it is obvious that money is ‘key’ to living in the city. I have never seen so many Mercedes and Porsches, in the same day in London or being driven with such confidence. People are quieter here and hold an air of humbleness. I am struck by how intelligent the Ukrainian young are with their mastery of English, Russian and some French too and their zest for acquiring knowledge. Books are still appreciated as the 1st world expels knowledge by playing video games. What strikes me most is how welcoming and courteous the people are, the intensity of talent from artists to musicians to writers and the prevailing energy to succeed. Perhaps this is how a country caught within a regime and now free shows itself to actually be and it is only because people know how hard the life is that they appreciate what they have and what is possible. A large downside to this is that nearly all people will not be photographed and that is the hardest part as I am a ‘social documentary’ photographer. Kiev architecture makes me excited, despite its relative youthfulness and I appreciate that much was destroyed in the second world war. However ‘down’ I can get I think that seeing the golden Orthodox church domes would always lift my spirits and I consciously smile whenever I see them - it is a heartening and reassuring sight with a feeling of Christmas everyday although there is a touch of irony when you see the chauffer driven limousines of senior priests everywhere . I appreciate being able to speak openly with monks at ‘larva’ and that they are at hand to seek advice and blessings from. I could feel the surety of their knowledge down in their caves and could easily have spent several days studying more of their art and their forefathers who lie at rest there. Prices are high, a sign of the economic times, and I would struggle to afford to live here. Here you can buy 5 packets of cigarettes for 1 coffee, the reverse in Britain and I don’t smoke! Ed Gold - 13 November 2011 www.edgold.co.uk Many thanks to my sponsors: Pentax, Snugpak, Nikwax, Wind x-treme, Transcription Hub and 9 Bar.
29 November 2011 Further to making a book with Gomer of my Patagonia images I received a kind letter of endorsement from them, at left, for my proposed Ukrainian project to document the Welsh connection to Hughesovka which is now called Donetsk. I hoped they would make a book of these subsequent photos which can be viewed on my website - see ‘Donetsk’. Having now returned Gomer have looked at the images and wrote to say:
Hi Ed, Welcome back. I’ve checked out your photos, they’re great, so evocative. What an experience. I think, to be honest, that the subject matter, although fascinating and your images are amazing, I don’t think it has a strong enough Welsh link to the present day for Gomer to consider publishing a book; as you said yourself, there’s not much to do with Wales there by now. Patagonia is still alive in our consciousness and also in their consciousness which is what makes the place so unique. Although I am personally interested in the project, I don’t think we’d be able to consider the subject within the kind of books we publish here. I hope this is okay. Best wishes,
It was worth a try and an enjoyable experience to go to the Ukraine despite there not being enough material to make a book with. Certainly everyone I spoke with in Donetsk was excited by the prospect of making a book so I hope that Evolution Media are able to use my photos for their own publication. I hope to work with them again. Many thanks to Gomer, Evolution Media-Kiev and the kind people of Donetsk.
In total I spent 3 weeks in the Ukraine. My first week was in Kiev and the photos from this time are shown on the proceeding pages.
A 1 week view of Kiev