Diaries of Resilience: Stories from Ukraine 2013-2023

Just a decade ago, Ukraine was not widely known or talked about globally. During the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine captured global media attention but gradually faded from the headlines. After Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, interest surged as the threat became clear, with the realization that the frontline was too close to EU countries.

In Ukraine, the Revolution of Dignity served as a pivotal moment, shaping the course of history and influencing the direction of future developments. For four months, day after day, Ukrainians fought for their right to the democratic development of their independent homeland. It was a hard, exhausting struggle in which 107 of peaceful demonstrators were killed and hundreds injured. At the same time, people bonded during this time, crafting a distinct vision for the country's future independent of Russia. A few weeks after the triumph of civil society in the streets of Kyiv, at the beginning of March 2014, Russian troops entered Crimea, marking the beginning of a war that has now entered its tenth year.

The Ukrainian art community actively engages with and reflects upon the ongoing changes in the country, mirroring the socio-political context and documenting historical events. The aim of Volume 3 is to visualize the decade from 2013 to 2023 primarily through the visions of young people born in the late 1980s and in independent Ukraine—through their involvement in the socio-political transformations in the country, their experiences, fears, and everyday lives.

Since the occupation of Crimea on March 18, 2014, and the beginning of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, it was clear that the front line would encroach further and further inland and into the southern regions of the country. The sense of threat and inevitability lingered, persisting even as we attempted to push it aside amidst the maelstrom of everyday life. Territory is no more perceived as just an open terrain, but rather as being dangerous or safe space with a strong sense of home and belonging, whether in a natural environment or amidst the concrete landscape of the city.

The years from Russia's illegal annexation to its full-scale invasion in 2022 marked a period of uncertainty and local as well as global challenges. However, it was also a time of vibrant activity and emergence of civil society. It was a time when rave culture and creative industries flourished in Ukraine. Young people who had not experienced the totalitarian Soviet Union laid new foundations for Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian photographers increasingly turned to exploring the local context. Photographic infrastructure developed rapidly. The international festival of contemporary photography, Odesa Photo Days, was founded, and PHOTO KYIV fair and the Museum of the Kharkiv School of Photography were established. Private educational programs and schools emerged, accompanied by the rise of specialized photographic media and a growing demand for photo books.

On February 24, 2022, the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. With the first explosions in major cities, it became clear that this war was on a completely different scope and no one in Ukraine could feel safe. In the blink of an eye, life was divided into a before and an after. The photographers who were in Ukraine at the time became war correspondents and documentarians—without experience of working in hot spots, without training, and not of their own accord. They helped document the radical changes in the country. For some, it was probably the only chance and attempt to preserve their sanity; for others, it was an opportunity to share news and record and archive history. Vernacular photography gained a special value: now everyone was a witness to breathtaking events. A snapshot taken with a smartphone could become a piece of evidence, a memory, a reflection. A smartphone now meant protection. Through social media, we learned about dangerous attacks, missile strikes and their consequences; hiding behind our phones, we filmed destroyed buildings or explosions. The screens created a metaphorical wall and a subconscious desire to hide; a utopian belief that everything unfolded virtually, certainly not in our actual lives. The selfie also took on another meaning: a snapshot of oneself as an attempt to capture oneself in a tangible place, in a time of fear or comfort, meant not as a memorial but rather as a memento of this strange time.

The history of Ukraine is the history of the struggle for the future, which continues from generation to generation. In this struggle, photography and art emerged as crucial tools for documenting and archiving change, as well as a symbol and instrument of resistance against war and colonial politics.

- Kateryna Radchenko

Diaries of Resilience: Stories from Ukraine 2013-2023

Volume 3 of The Information Front coincides with the exhibition “Generations of Resilience” at Hangar, Photo Art Center (Brussels, Belgium) from January 26 to March 23, 2024. Co-curated by the Hangar team and Kateryna Radchenko, it features the work of 22 artists exploring the richness and diversity of photographic creation in Ukraine from a transgenerational and historical perspective.

The exhibition and publication of Volume 3 were made financially possible by the support of:

Aalto University, Department of Art and Media through the KONE Foundation; Hangar Photo Art Center

If organisations are interested in hosting this exhibition, please contact The Information Front