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Maxim Dondyuk: Culture of the Confrontation

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

“I am now an absolute opponent of any propaganda or romanticisation of war or revolution, both in the media and in art. There is nothing worse than war – both sides always lose," says the Ukranian photographer

Hundreds of people crowd in the city of Ukraine, wearing helmets and holding flags, while a fire breaks out. A person wearing white gloves wipes the blood off the face of a young man. Police line up with their bulletproof shields: one stands on the bonnet of a van preparing to fire his rifle.

Maxim Dondyuk is a documentary photographer. His 2013-2014 project, Culture of the Confrontation, showcases perspective-shifting images of Euromaidan – three months of protests that erupted against the government in Ukraine, characterised as an event of major political symbolism for the European Union.

At the very beginning, this project was a real challenge for me,” says Dondyuk. “I was surrounded by hundreds of photographers, and I knew I needed to find a unique way to document the revolution.”

Inspired by battle paintings, the 35-year-old decided to disassociate himself from the historical themes within photojournalism, and focused instead on visual language, images, associations, and parallels. The resulting series captures abstract themes such as light and shadow, black and white, good and evil – though, interestingly, it’s not possible to tell which side is which.

I ask if it was a conscious decision to photograph both sides equally. He tells me that, for him, it is always important to hear and see both sides. “I was totally on the protestors’ side, of course, but it was also necessary to understand what was going on from the other side of the barricades,” he says. “I didn’t try to show a good side and a bad side; I tried to show the confrontation of two different world views.”

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

Capturing opposing parties, however, was not an easy task. Dondyuk witnessed riot police beating the press and confiscating their cameras, so he avoided telling people he was a journalist, unless it was a matter of access or safety. The Ukrainian native recalls that he was hit several times with rubber bullets during the revolution – once in the head and once in the leg with a grenade – which resulted in a fragmentation wound.

Despite his injuries, he went back with his camera the following day, with protestors helping him climb the barricades. I had no idea how to stop documenting this event – I couldn’t,” he says. “The camera is my weapon and my mouthpiece.”

Despite this, since 2014 the photographer has tried to move away from being described as a photojournalist, to gain more freedom and to be able to concentrate on exhibitions and photobooks. “I am now an absolute opponent of any propaganda or romanticisation of war or revolution, both in the media and in art,” he says. “There is nothing worse than war – both sides always lose. I saw her face and felt her suffering.”

Culture of the Confrontation will soon be published as a photobook. The exhibition of this work has been on show internationally, winning numerous awards, including International Photographer of the Year at the Lucie Awards. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dondyuk/photobook-culture-of-confrontation?ref=project_link

Maxim Dondyuk is currently working on Between Life & Death, an ongoing project which explores war in Eastern Ukraine. His previous works include Crimea Sich (2010-2013), TB Epidemic in Ukraine (2010-2012) and Uman Rosh Hashana (2008-2017). 

Maidan at the beginning, before clashes and confrontation. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

Clashes between riot police and protesters during an attempt to block the Parliament of Ukraine (Verhovna Rada) on 18 February 2014. On that day, police pushed protesters back to Maidan and 10 people died. Protesters began to build barricades and burn car tyres; the police burned down the Trade Union Federation of Ukraine. This confrontation lasted two days. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

During an assault on the Maidan protesters by police, all the tents were burned. Kiev, 18 February 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

During an assault on the Maidan protesters by police, all the tents were burned. Kiev, 18 February 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

Riot police storm Maidan after clashes on Shelkovichna street. Kiev, 18 February 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

After the clashes between police and protesters on Shelkovichna street. Kiev, 18 February 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

A man stands near a barricade on Hryshevskoho street early in the morning. Kiev, 27 January 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

A protester in a raincoat near the barricades, as police use water cannons in winter during the lull. Hrushevskoho street, 25 January 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

Protesters occupy the defence during the next confrontation between police and protesters. Hrushevskoho street, 25 January 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

A protester runs from the square after he threw a Molotov cocktail at the riot police cordon in the centre of Kiev on 22 January 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

Riot police roll barrels and carry tyres, which they took away from protesters during the attack in the centre of Kiev on 22 January 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

On 19 January, Maidan people shouted to the three opposition party leaders, “We want one leader!” but Tyahnybok, Klichko and Yatseniuk didn’t listen. As a mark of protest to dictatorial laws, most of the Maidan people, including radical organisations, picked up Automaydan’s Sergei Koba’s initiative and went to block the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. But the police blocked the way by detachment cars and buses. After several hours of persuasion to let protesters pass through, a violent confrontation began on Grushevsky street. It lasted several days. Radical protesters burned all militia buses and construction blocks. In response, the police used rubber and plastic bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. Protesters pelted police with block stones and Grushevsky cocktails (a more fashionable Ukrainian name for what used to be known as Molotov cocktails). After several deaths among protestors, both sides held a truce and then sat down at the negotiating table. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

Protesters try to flip a police bus during clashes on Hrushevskoho street in central Kiev, 19 January 2014. From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk

From Culture of the Confrontation © Maxim Dondyuk