Girls, Donetsk, Ukraine, May 2014

Some background info: Contrary to what a lot of people think these girls were not my friends. I’d met them for the first time half an hour earlier. This image was taken on the 30th May 2014. I’d just come from the administrative building which was occupied by the Donetsk People’s Republic and serving as their headquarters. The previous day, Vostok Battalion arrived and began removing the barricades and taking control of the building. I’m not really sure what they did but there seemed to be a shift in power, and the next day I was allowed in for around an hour until the DNR people got suspicious and told me to leave.

After this I took the bus back to the neighborhood where I was staying, and from the bus window noticed a car parked up in some trees by the roadside. I got out and walked over, and I could see there were people inside. I took a few photos before the owner got out and asked me what I was doing. I don’t really speak any Russian (and none of them spoke English), but I managed to say that I was a photographer from England. Excited by this chance meeting with a foreigner, he then introduced me to his two female friends, whose names I’ve forgotten. At this point I was officially their guest, and he took an 8 liter water bottle full of “the best Sevastopol cognac” out of the boot of his car and proceeded to pour drinks. He was trying to show off in front of the girls, and clearly wanted to get me drunk. Little did he know I’d never once backed away from a drinking session in Ukraine, and had become quite good at it, so before long he was quite worse for wear.

I knew there was a shot to be had here, but I knew I’d have to stick around long enough for everyone to get used to me or get bored of me and start being natural instead of acting up to the camera and trying to pose like supermodels etc. To cut a long story short, we all got drunk, and I took this image of the two girls falling over on top of each other. They tried telling me how they were Russian and Donetsk is Russia and that they think the country should be divided. Another friend then appeared, who claimed to be the son of some high-ranking Chechen military personal or politician or something. He refused to be photographed. We drank some more, I said goodbye and stumbled home. It’s not my favorite photo, but it’s a genuine moment during an extraordinary time in Donetsk as the armed conflict was escalating rapidly and unknown masked men in the streets with Kalashnikovs were just part of every day life.

And this is the way that so much of my Ukraine work was made. Chance meetings, strangers, completely lost in translation, alone, drunk, communicating with a handful of words, sign language or notes on pieces of paper.    


April 6, 1973: “Russian Lada with model sporting sable bikini,” explains this image’s unpublished caption, printed on the back, reading like a Nabokovian pun. “The 17th International Automobile Show opened yesterday at the New York Coliseum with a heavy foreign accent,” announced The Times, going on to report that imports dominated that year’s show. There was also a display of specialty cars called “Parade of Power,” which included “a 32-foot-long rocket-powered motorcycle whose inventor says will allow him to jump a mile in the air.” Photo: Neal Boenzi/The New York Times