The Ukrainian photographer has been shortlisted for the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2017 for her project on her homeland's ageing rural population; BJP originally ran this article in our July issue
Tucked away on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, you will find the last remaining examples of authentic, rural villages, where families have lived in the same simple way for generations. These days, the only ones left are elderly folk, many over 90 years old, who still remember patriotically fighting in the Second World War. And yet their services have been forgotten.
With the renewed conflict between pro-Russia and anti-government groups, their pensions have been cut and wellbeing neglected, leaving them to live out their final days in isolation, miles away from the nearest grocery shop or medical clinic. Their families have moved to the city and rarely visit.
Born in Ukraine but now based in Berlin, Viktoria Sorochinski, a photographer and teacher, documents these disappearing communities in her ongoing project, Lands of No-Return – which was recently shortlisted for the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2017. Her personal connection to the villages comes from her childhood, which she spent enriching her imagination playing in the magical woods surrounding the house of her grandparents, who are now buried there.
When she returned in 2006, she was shocked by what she found. “It’s dying out – even the nature has changed,” she recalls. “There was a beautiful tree alley that led to the village, but the trees were affected by some mushroom and now they’re dead. It’s very sad.”
The project consists of two chapters. In the first, the images represent the more remote villages, some of which have already melted into the landscape, with most of the elderly subjects no longer alive. In the second, scenes of the ex-Soviet kitschy decor, still life table arrangements and wall hangings are more prominently interwoven. “It brings out something about their lifestyle in a much more intimate way, and you can feel how they live and not just see the person.”
Both chapters focus on the house interior. “For me it’s more about the psychological aspect of this whole story,” she says. “The interior somehow translates the internal space. It keeps you more inside the actual people’s life.”
True of all the images is the richness and vibrancy of colour, despite their dismal context. They are shot in a square format, which Sorochinski says has a “completeness” to it and “it points less to the standard documentary style”. The settings are quasi-theatrical, but unlike her previous works – such as Anna & Eve, a long-term observation of the relationship between a mother and daughter, for which she won the Lucie Foundation Discovery of the Year Award in 2012 – Lands of No-Return is observational.
As an emigrant of her home country, she hopes to reconnect with Ukraine through her photography. She also hopes to eventually publish Lands of No-Return once it is complete as a testimonial to the inhabitants – this, she says, is what is important to remember and commemorate, before the land is taken over by holiday villa developers and their memory is preserved only in history books.
“They are old and they live in this misery but they still have their pride and their land and their culture.”