Beyond the Square
Beyond the Square is a collaborative documentary project with Mariana Panchuk, Marta Vaz, Natalie Samovich, Oksana, Evgeniya Pavlenko and her students, Vitaliy Gorduz, Mykyta Gapchuk, Serj Korenev, Sergeiy Yakutovich, Elena Fadeeva, Pinhas Fishel, Irina Dzhus and Sasha Sukhetska, Nataliya Andreeva, Viktoria Shibistaya, Roman, Larissa, Oleksiy Imas and Inna Imas and Maximillian and Eric, Anton Ovchinnikov and his students, Anton Safovov, Viktor Zotov, Valentina Masalitina, Katerina Lisunova, Alena Vezza and Yaroslava Chumachenko.
Still from CNN broadcast, 18 February 2014.
Sound recorded in Десятинный монастырь’s church, Kyiv, 27 August 2014.
August 21, 2014, I met with Vitaliy for the first time in a small coffee shop not far from Independence Square in Kyiv. On one hand I was on very familiar grounds. On the other I had not been in the city during the revolution. As I remember it, I was still feeling a certain sense of detachment from recent events. It felt like they were almost an abstract concept. I would describe it as an idea of being somewhere in between my own previous experience of a place that had changed and was still changing in different ways, and the attempt to find my point of view and understanding of events I had seen mediated from afar.
Vitaliy had been invited by a previous participant to come and have a chat with me about the project I was doing. We had talked briefly on the phone and scheduled to meet a few days later. I knew the place where he suggested to meet. Like many restaurants, coffee shops, old soviet style “produkty” stores, and flower kiosks all over Kyiv, it was open 24h. I used to go there following the occasional late night of work. I arrived a bit early, so I was enjoying a delicious cold raspberry filled infusion with rich cream which I remember quite distinctly until today.
He was not sure how he could help with the project and I realised he was curious but wary about it. He wanted more information about what I intended to do. I gave him my context and goals as best as I could, but I remember what finally engaged him was when I described my experience the previous day with another participant, Mykyta, a recent university graduate. Mykyta had been very enthusiastic in describing his admiration for Taras Schevchenko, a nineteen-century poet whose writings have become very symbolic to a sense of Ukrainian identity. Vitaliy found it quite odd and unusual that a young student would have such a strong appreciation for that style of literature (and so did I) and it made him laugh a little.
We had not planned to do any actual work that day, but I had taken my camera bag with me, so we decided to walk over to Independence Square and maybe take some pictures there. It was a warm afternoon and I remember it to be cloudier than it appears in the pictures. The surroundings felt quite grey and heavy. Much of the pavements were still heavily charred, some city workers were doing reconstructions, and local people and tourists were walking around the memorials which were scattered all over the square and surrounding streets. Vitaliy was visibly moved and he told me he had not been there since February. As we went by, he would sometimes stop, go silent for a few moments, point in some direction, and share some recollection. From my part, as I listened to him speak, I felt a growing sense of respect while we walked past dozens of makeshift memorials.
«I’m Vitaliy Gorduz, 40, born in western Ukraine. I’ve lived in Kyiv for almost 20 years, with some breaks in the United States and Moscow, currently running the biggest Ukrainian internet media company. I like living here. Kyiv is something in the middle, it allows you some European experience with an Asian taste. I like the atmosphere, it’s a melting pot for the country and it’s nice to be here. This is the heart of the country. It started in autumn, with the students and some people protesting against the decision not to sign the EU association agreement. Among those first people who started it, there were some of my close friends so I occasionally joined them. Then, after the first night when the police beat the students down, quite a few people showed up, up to a million people. I got involved with some of my friends, helping with financing, logistics, spending some time building barricades, helping people there. I didn’t really take any active role in throwing stones or Molotov cocktails but I spent almost all winter over there. There were quite a few people like me, I would say, and quite a few even more active, and then there were a couple of thousand who were, like, really guys on a barricade, really revolutionary. My role was more into the background and logistics, raising financing from diaspora abroad, etc. We took a stand, we fought, we are still fighting, and we’ll see how it goes. After the winter we were very realistic, we lost quite a few friends and people overall, and we paid the price. And now we are realizing that nothing comes easy, nothing comes free, and I hope the nation in general will cherish this more carefully. We didn’t cherish the results of 2004. I got involved because I was in the media business and I saw the system crushing the whole of democracy, media, crushing any sorts of self-identity. Censorship, the system was getting very, very ugly, so for me it was either to immigrate or stay here with an unknown result. All of the sudden, it turned out that a lot of people had the same problem, and we just met on Maidan, and decided: ok, it’s quite a few of us, so maybe we can change something. So, basically it was my decision about what I want to do, which country I want to live in. That experience changed me, I guess, there’s less fear in me. I’m not so optimistic anymore and I do realize now that nothing is going to happen by itself, you’ve got to work it out. Trying to build a civil society, a decent one. These are nice words but we’re trying to really change the system, and there are a lot of people involved, it’s nice. I got a lot of new friends. I lost a lot of friends, because of their different vision of the events, in special I lost quite a few Russian friends. But I met a lot of very nice people. Somewhere deep inside, we are a very democratic nation. Any idea of one person deciding for us is unacceptable to us on a genetic bases.»
«I’m Evgeniya, and I want to make my country better and more beautiful. That is why since my childhood I already knew who I was going to be, even if over time my dreams changed a little. When I was a 6 year old girl I started visiting art school and from that moment I understood that was my path and I would dedicate my life to art. After obtaining my diploma, I entered the Faculty of Painting. I specialized in art teaching. During my studies, I was thinking that I would be a great painter like Modigliani or van Gogh but when I graduated my desire to draw disappeared. Only now do I understand that the reason was a wrong methodology of teaching. I was 19 when I packed my suitcase and left to Kiev. When I was living in Kharkov I sometimes worked as a model and in Kiev I got a modelling offer to Asia. I said yes, as it would be my first time abroad. It was a great experience for me. I spent some of my free time in different schools which specialized in the fine arts. It was a shock to me that education was done in a completely different way. I loved those methods of training. I became more independent and, because now I travel a lot, my understanding of art has been developing as I gain skills and knowledge from different geographical and philosophical points of view. When I returned to Kiev, I started to develop new programmes to train students in art studios. I showed my new concept to my big friend, and now partner, Yuriy Petrov, owner of Open Art Studio. This became the school’s new course in fine arts, aimed at the creative development of children. I’ve been teaching there for more than two years now and I have many students eager to learn. We also organize exhibitions, photo shoots, workshop evenings for charity, and much more. I have plans to open my own fine arts studio and expand to other disciplines like sculpture, study of architecture, study of anatomy, digital art and more. I want education in Ukraine to be at a high level. The system needs to be reloaded everywhere: kindergartens, schools, universities and academies. So, without a doubt, it is necessary to raise the salaries of civil servants and workers in the areas of education and training. In the face of what is now happening in the country, artists stepped up and began to organize activities and creative interventions. It is hard to talk about the situation in Ukraine. As a creative person I feel it all very emotionally. I love my country. The only thing I want to say right now is that in our country live lovely people. We can see how a new generation is growing who deserves peace and prosperity. I would like to see more jobs in different areas of business as it will help us avoid unemployment. Ukrainians are hardworking people and if they get such opportunities, Ukraine will flourish soon.»
«My current work is a series dedicated to people through the prism of animals. In these works, I want to show human vices and global issues.»
August 22, we visited an old abandoned school construction site just nearby Serj’s home, in the left bank. He used to spend a lot of time there with his friends when growing up. The overcast sky added to the concrete greyness of the landscape that surrounded us. Nonetheless, I think there is a certain contrasting and indefinable friendliness to that neighbourhood. Serj is a university student and he also works at Domino’s Pizza. A couple of months later he told me he was now doing deliveries there, which he preferred to working inside the store.
«I study information security in University of Communications and I work in Domino’s, making pizzas. I have one year left before I finish my course. After I finish I think it will be best for me to study English in Canada or USA and afterwards immigrate to that country because here I don’t have many opportunities. My friends can’t find a job, and they have been searching for years, so they are working in shopping malls, in pizzerias like me, but no one is working in their profession. Kyiv is the biggest and most beautiful – and richest – city in Ukraine, but we also have problems. We have traffic jams, when I am going to my university it takes me an hour and a half by public transports to get there every morning. Also, life is expensive in Kyiv. A flat rent is more than the average salary and if you want to eat well you have to work hard, even two jobs. I live with my parents. I can’t afford to rent my own flat. Even if I take all my month’s salary I can’t afford to rent an apartment to live. We have like residences where students live so they are ten times cheaper but they have limited living conditions, like one toilet for ten rooms, a kitchen for a block and two or three persons living in one room or maybe more. It is not very comfortable to live in such places because there’s a lot of noise and you don’t have your space at all. For me, it’s more comfortable to live with my parents but it’s not very cool living with them because I’m 20 already and I want to live alone. I have good working conditions but the salary is low. I earn little more than one dollar per hour. It depends on how many hours I work but I earn about 200 dollars a month, maybe a little more. Apartments start at around 300 and I can’t afford it. I want to emigrate. I was on an exchange program last year in Buffalo city in the state of New York. I liked it very much, the American style of life. Probably, if I have the possibility to emigrate, I will do it. I see some possibilities in Kyiv but it’s not easy, as you can imagine, to live in Ukraine and to afford a comfortable life. I think Maidan was good for Ukraine because people stood together to face corruption. A lot of the problems in Ukraine are caused by corruption, thieves, so if the system can change things will be better than they are now. I don’t think it will happen in a year or two, maybe in several years, but it will be a new country, with a new people and new ways of thinking.»
August 26, we did some portraits at Irina’s workplace in the Podol district, near the riverside. It was a bit busy there as they were doing a catalogue shoot. Later, we were joined by Sasha, who had come to model some designs from one of Irina’s collections for her brand, Dzhus.
«I’ve lived in Kiev all my life, and I loved my childhood. Along with marginal social conditions all over the country, the 90s were an era of desperate vanguard. I dreamt of being a designer as long as I can remember myself, so I went to an art school. I grew up in a creative environment, which gave me the artistic worldview that has influenced all my further development. My work is all about creating new structures filled with distinctive spirit. I get inspired with things at the edge of perception. In search of new ideas, I explore strongholds of spirituality as well as industrial zones and abandoned places. I analyse what an object consists of and turn the principals of its construction into the cut of my designs. I adore technical surfaces, especially concrete – I never get tired of contemplating it. But what makes me truly amazed is the Orthodox Christian sacred art. To me, icons are everything. Not in the religious meaning, though. I worship the graphic canons, the conventionalism of compositions and proportions, the mesmerising silhouettes and glances. Another important thing for me is being sure people need what I do. I’ve always aimed at making clothes, not costumes. In my mind, what makes the difference is the practical use of the pieces. Having once realised I had more bloggers as my fans than real customers, I decided to start producing designs that would be more commercial, yet still conceptual and innovative. It wasn’t easy to launch the brand, in terms of funding. I earn money working as a fashion stylist for magazines, ad campaigns and Ukrainian celebrities. However, having worked in the industry for 7 years, I can hardly cover the production expenses. In my country, the international fashion system doesn’t work: neither foreign buyers will attend the local fashion weeks, nor Ukrainian stores will make pre-orders from designers. Press reviews won’t help improve sales, and bloggers have no authority at all. Ukrainian people get interested with my work but not many can afford buying it, and those who can will rather choose world famous labels – many still have a stereotype that whatever made abroad is a priori better. My designs are now best sold online, mostly to Europe, the US and the Middle East. I plan to develop the international communications and hope to be stocked in cult concept stores one day. Ukraine itself is an international trend now. People are intrigued to see what is made here. From my part, I do my best to prove that Ukrainian design is competitive. Kiev is a very diverse city. You’ll meet beggars near luxurious boutiques and see surprisingly many expensive cars where school teachers earn about $200 a month. There are shabby blocks next to awe-inspiring historical places. Kiev is a concentration of culture heritage and creative potential that cannot be overestimated. Along with that, it’s haunted with a spirit of frustration and rebellion, stressful but stimulating.»
August 20, Тараса Шевченка Park. A warm evening, so there were quite a lot of people around. Families, kids playing in the playground, young couples taking a walk, the habitual coffee or kvas carts, ice cream vendors, students hanging out. Mykyta had left from work just earlier – he is a sales manager in a telecommunications company. He told me both his high school and university were nearby so as a student he used to spend a lot of his free time in between classes there.
August 24, I visited Sergeiy Yakutovich’s home studio in the centre of Kyiv. He had some friends over having a meal when I arrived. The small kitchen table was full with plates of cold cuts and cheeses, bread and toasts, wine, cake for the children. They were still expecting some more people to join them. Sergey was curious about my perspective of Ukraine, as a foreigner. He asked me when I had been in Kyiv for the first time. In 2010, I said. A lifetime ago, he replied. His voice had some sorrow. His family has roots in Russia and he told me that he could not understand how suddenly many people there started hating everyone in Ukraine – his own family living there didn’t want to speak with him now. He talked about what had changed in the past few years. The same people, the same buildings, but a lot changed – a change in the hearts of people, a desire for a more honest country.
«I’m Nataliya Andreeva, 44. I’m the director of a school for children with the spectrum of autism, and I’m also a mother of a son with autism, he’s 20. My education was in special therapies and when we had his diagnosis I realized I had to do everything by myself, because at the time we didn’t have special education establishments in our country, and neither well trained specialists who knew how to work with children with autism. First we created an organization that helps state organizations in their work, we help them. But the state educational system is very static, not ready to change, and we have to do changes because more and more knowledge appears but the state system does not react. We have been working for more 12 years already, and for the last 9 years as a school and teaching centre as well. We also teach specialists for the state education system, we have conferences, training, special methodological books that we print with our own money. Now we have more than fifty children per year, and more than 360 in our years as a school. Many children are with us from the very beginning. Parents choose how to work with us, for young children we propose both therapy and teaching, and for those who are older and can go to general schools, we propose some therapy as a supplement. We do kindergarten also in here. We know how to do more, how to help more, but we don’t have such possibility, first of all financially. We don’t get any state help, just from charity organizations and nongovernmental funds. The city government gives us some help, but it is less in a year than what we spend in a month. Private organizations help us, and just any individual can come and help by donating something, some organizations give us things like furniture. University students come here for practical work during their studies, both from the Pedagogical University and the Pedagogical faculty of the National University. They can see how the teachers work, how therapists work, and learn. Our specialists usually study at special foreign courses, basically they have pedagogical education and then additional courses. We use this knowledge to teach others, and educate the media. A law was established for tutors to be present in schools, but there are no prepared specialists, and simply having a tutor is not a salvation. They should change many things in the system. And there is a prejudice. People are afraid of what they don’t understand. Society is not so well informed, and not so ready. It is improving, especially in Kyiv, but very slowly. Ten years ago they told me that my child could not be taught and our educational system could not help. They can’t say that now. You have the right for your children to be educated. We are consulted by law makers and we fight for every full stop and comma in every new law. We need to get a better system for our children.»
«It seems to me that these events on Maidan awakened the consciousness of every Ukrainian. Many people, even those who never considered themselves as patriots, felt that they are Ukrainians, that they care about the fate of our Motherland. I believe that our country will change for the better, Ukraine has already stepped into this path, but I understand that it may take a lot of time. The main thing that has happened already – the people’s minds have changed.»
August 26, I met with Vika in the evening in a café where she sometimes liked to unwind and relax a little after work. The music there was quite good. I had been walking around all day so it was also a good change of pace for me. I was very pleased to hear some Bossa Nova sung in Portuguese and we talked about music for a while, and then about work. She was growing very dissatisfied in her job at the time. She was also studying in university part-time. She was planning to graduate the following year and she expected that would lead to better career prospects.
12. Olekseiy and Inna
«I’m Inna Imas, 30. I work as freelance copywriter. I love my job and I’m also a happy mother of two lovely kids, two boys. My life is about my family and my work so I’m always trying to find the right balance between the two. I have several clients from different areas of business and I write texts for them – for websites, press-releases, annotations, materials for press conferences, articles, among several other materials. It’s a very interesting job because you have to know a lot of your client’s business and to have a deep understanding of what they are doing. And you have to love their products. If you don’t love their products you can´t make others love it, you can’t write texts that will make someone feel something for their product. I also take part in social projects. I write for websites about adoptions and for several areas of volunteer work. I can’t really have the entire picture but I think much of people’s thoughts here now are about the war. About the life of those people who are taking part in it. Businesses are also thinking about their customers who love their country, and are also now doing a lot of social activities to help people, to help families, to help those guys who are right now fighting for our future, for the future of our kids, for the future of our nation, as a free nation which has the right to choose its own path. Myself, and my family, we feel a lot of pain, because it’s not right – it’s not right that things are like this in our world. We are constantly thinking about how to help not only the army but also the volunteers that are helping people. And I believe, I want to believe that everything will be ok, sooner or later. It’s better sooner than later. I believe that my kids, and the kids of our country, children, they will have the right future.»
«I am Oleksiy Imas, 31. I’m a freelance investment banker. I like to travel, I like to spend time with my family, my kids – I have two sons. There hasn’t been such a difficult economical period in Ukraine since the early 90s, since the demise of the Soviet Union. It’s a very deep economic crisis first of all, it’s a war-like situation. The country went through some very deep crisis both political, economically and financially, and given the aggression from our neighbouring country, this crisis isn’t really going to end anytime soon. Ukraine definitely as a very proud future, the problem is that some people want to see things in the short term, next year, two years after that, or even in a couple of months, and that’s not something that’s going to happen. In the long term, if everything is done properly, then we are looking at a very strong potential, a very bright future out there. But a lot of hard work needs to be done to actually achieve that. People have to understand that Ukraine has been in a very strange situation for the past twenty and so years after the end of the Soviet Union. It has gone through a lot of pressure from Russia, a lot of internal pressure from many levels of people who wanted the Soviet Union back, a lot of corruption. And it’s still going through major corruption. We are talking about billions of dollars that if they had been moved towards the development of the country then we would have had a very strong European player, right here and right know. Instead, we got a country that’s on the brink of economic default and that’s struggling to actually get back on its feet. The system is really wrong from deep inside. The bureaucracy is wrong, the people trying to run the country and trying to take political positions are inherently wrong in their approach to how to deal with the country. No one is thinking about the complicated issues, instead most of them are still thinking only about their own private wellbeing. So, up until all that generation is out of the picture and the younger generations which actually need and want the country to succeed move in, in order to do reforms, things will be very difficult. To change those generations and to do something will take a long period of time. We are talking about work for five to seven years.»
September 30, Anton was expecting me at the Kyiv State University of Culture and Arts, where he teaches. I was worried I would be late and hurried past the long walkway to the university’s entrance where he was waiting for me. He joked that his students sometimes are also a bit late so we would just be giving them the chance to be all there on time. When he opened the door to the studio we had a big surprise – the students from all his classes were gathered there, with flowers and a cake, waiting to congratulate him on his birthday.
«I’m a dancer, teacher, and choreographer, and I also have my own small dance company where we do performances, give classes – different kinds of dance activities. My first company was made up with students from the university. They wanted to make performances, not just dancing in classes. First we started dancing in night clubs, then we started to do big performances. Now all of them have private studios or small companies of their own, and I work with other young students. In Ukraine there isn’t a market for contemporary dance, it’s just the thing we like to do, that we want to do. Sometimes we travel to Europe to festivals, or even sometimes we dance in small theatres, and then we earn some money. But here we pay a very big rent and not too many people come to see performances, it’s good if a hundred people come. The tickets are very cheap and usually what we get from tickets is just enough to pay the rent. That’s why we try to make contacts with European colleagues, with festivals, with companies, with dancers, because here we still don’t have what to do professionally. Now there are many private studios in Kyiv, and some of them are really, really big, like dance centres. And sometimes they have very good students, even at a university student’s level, but it’s only commercial dance – commercial videos, dancing for singers, dance shows, or sometimes contracts for cruise ships or night clubs. Many dancers now go to china. There, every month they need more and more. Maybe that’s why the market in our country doesn’t develop, because dancers go abroad. With the current economic situation, people start trying to save. Less students go to studios and the same with performances and theatres. If last year two hundred people was ok, yesterday we had a performance in Kherson city and there were about 120 people in a theatre with 600 places. But for me, as many difficulties as I have then the more I try to do something. So, ok, I call the dancers and we come together and we do new performances or we try to show some new ideas in our dance, or we make same laboratories or residences. We try to use this time to develop ourselves, for making something new. I’m the director of a contemporary dance festival, Zelyonka fest, which is now the only such festival in Ukraine – a big international festival. Last year, we invited companies from Europe and our aim is to develop the contemporary dance community in Ukraine. So I want to make this festival bigger and bigger, to invite more companies, teachers, critics. Every time, we invite dancers from all regions of Ukraine, trying to do projects together. So it’s like uniting through the dance. This is the work that I think is very important for me now and I want, through that festival, to give our dancers possibility to develop into the European community of contemporary dance.»
14. Viktor and Valentina
October 2, when I arrived at Zotov architectural bureau’s offices, they were just finishing an interview for a magazine article. The journalist was taking some pictures and Viktor and Valentina were very kind to invite me to join the group photo. We spent the better part of the afternoon talking about all sorts of different things, such as their approach to architecture, current times, history and freedom. A word central to their personal and professional philosophy is authenticity. Valentina also told me that their family lives in the Donbass region and it is scary and difficult, painful, to watch all that is happening there now, and difficult to understand.
October 4, I sat down for a conversation with Katerina at the newsroom where she works as a journalist and columnist. She has a background in languages and can speak fluent English and Spanish, as well as Hebrew, German, apart from Russian and Ukrainian. Most people in Kyiv end up speaking Russian as their day-to-day language and so we talked about languages and culture.
November 14, “I just want a peaceful sky” was a beautiful expression that really made me pause and stuck with me. It was a really cold day when I recorded the interview with Yasia. I think it snowed a little that day, it was one of the first days of snow. Just a few flakes falling softly in the air. We sat down in a cafe for some warm drinks and ended up spending a couple of hours talking – about the time when she was doing gymnastics, then practicing boxing for a while, her favourite places, reading Harry Potter books to her younger siblings and getting hooked on the series of novels herself, lots of small big things.