A photographer reflects on her ancestral home in Izium, Ukraine

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I was born in Moscow and grew up there until I moved to the United States in 1994 at the age of 13. Before moving to the United States, I went to Izyum every summer to spend time with my relatives. In 2010, 18 years after my last visit to Ukraine, I came back to visit my grandmother. After my grandfather died, she returned to Izyum.

At that time, I was about to go back to school to study photography. I decided to take a picture of my visit. So I started my first full-scale photography project that continues to this day.

Visiting both Moscow and Izyum four times separately between 2010 and 2020, overcoming strong nostalgia, I searched for current evidence of my childhood memories with my five senses. Moscow became increasingly unrecognizable to me on every subsequent trip, but at Izyum it seemed that time had stopped. In the early days of the project, I felt nostalgic. Then, on subsequent visits, I began to feel more in the present with my family. I have begun to understand the difficulties of aging, the passage of time, and the difficulty of harmonizing life on different continents. On each of the last two visits, I believed this would be the last time I met my grandmother. Still she surprised me at 90 and 91 years old. Just before the pandemic stopped her overseas trips and her family gatherings, I celebrated my 90th birthday with her in early March 2020. Her funeral in the second year of the pandemic.

After spending my adult life in America, I have a better understanding of American politics than Ukraine or Russia. What I know is that every time I visited Izyum in the past, the scars of history in the area were revealed.

During World War II, Izyum was occupied twice by the Axis forces. My grandmother and her sister hid from a neighbor’s basement bomb as a young girl. During a profession, an Axis officer was billeted at our home. The World War II monument talks about the battles that took place in the area and the losses (both sides) of about one million people. An hour and a half drive from Izyum on the outskirts of Kharkov is Drovitskyya, where more than 15,000 Jews were executed during the war. However, the suffering in this area was before World War II. On a recent trip, I visited the nearby town of Kupyansk. I commemorate the famine, known as Holodomor, which killed millions of Ukrainians between 1932 and 1933 and was later recognized by Ukraine as a genocide committed by the Joseph Stalin administration. I came across a monument.

During the recent conflict in eastern Ukraine against Russia-backed separatists, Izyum remained firmly under the control of the Ukrainian government — initially about 30 miles, now about 200 miles, from an active conflict zone. .. Nevertheless, Izium remains untouched. The town hospital accepted many injured during the height of the conflict in 2014. After that, those who escaped the battle continued to settle in the town. Today, my family and the entire town live in fear of intensifying conflict.

During my visit I asked my Ukrainian family if we were Ukrainian or Russian. Their answer embarrassed me. They said they didn’t know. They mainly speak Russian at home, but like most populations in the region, you can easily switch between Russian and Ukrainian. The combination of Ukrainian and Russian spoken in the region even has its own name, Surzhyk. To me, this combination of languages ​​sounds like the voice of a loved one, the comfort of the house, the name of the delicious food my grandaunt made, and her neighbor who knows when I will arrive. For me.

My relatives say that whether you are Ukrainian or Russian, or the language you speak, has nothing to do with Izyum or the general public in the area. Residents who have experienced either direct experiences of past and present wars or memories of generations agree that imperfect peace is superior to war. As I read the news of intensifying conflicts on the phone every morning in Los Angeles, I hope that more suffering can be prevented and peace and healing can win over those who have already seen too much suffering.

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