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The Sea Inside

Varna, Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. My brother lives here with his wife Feklie. Her grandmother died during the flood, the water took her away. She lived a bit further down. As the rain started Feklie was in the living-room, playing with her child on the sofa. Suddenly she heard a loud noise and wanted to close the door. When she sees what’s happening outside she wants to escape but she is alone with the kid, and there is no one who can help her. I don’t understand why did these people throw this water on us? Do they want to kill us? Who is going to pay for the carpets, the furniture, everything? They are supposed to give us 300 lv as a compensation. This money won’t be enough even for the paint.

The Sea Inside, Nikola Mihov

On 19th of June 2014, the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Varna was hit by heavy rain. Just after the downpour, the suburb of Asparuhovo, named after the founder of the Bulgarian state Khan Asparuh, was swamped by a three-meter high tidal wave that suddenly fell from nearest woodland, sweeping away houses, trees and cars, killing 13 people, including four children. The worst-hit area was the Roma neighborhood, where most of the victims lived.

According to the authorities, the disaster was caused by unmaintained drains and an illegal waste site, which allowed vast amounts of water to collect and sweep awa illegally built houses. However, residents believe the huge wave was not caused by the torrential rain, but from a breakage of the nearby military base’s reservoir. Other rumors range from divine retribution, through UFO interference, to a HAARP attack.

Right after the flood I spent three days in Asparuhovo, documenting the interiors of some of the most affected houses in the Roma neighborhood and the stories of their inhabitants.

Varna, Bulgaria, June 23, 2014.I had just moved in, I wasn’t even able to enjoy my new place. This was the children’s room, I had put wallpaper on, had bought a sofa, a wardrobe, everything as it should be. The satellite dish had found its own spot here, it used to be outside on the wall before. I feel so sorry about my sweet home. Now, we have nowhere to stay. Right now we are staying with my aunt, the state didn’t provide us with a place to stay. If we didn’t have relatives we would be on the street. But people help a lot – our Roma, Bulgarians, even foreigners come to dig the mud, working hard… everybody helps.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. This is my uncle’s apartment. They had just finished it and went abroad. They have lived here for not more than a week. They paid two thousand Euros only for the kitchen. I told them what had happened and now we are waiting for them to come back. Their children were here, two boys 18 and 20 years old. The wave took them and carried them down the street. Now they are both hospitalized.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. This used to be the guestroom. When the flood happened my mother was at a memorial service. When she comes back, it looks as if war had been waged here. The water was ten meters high. I was in my car when I saw the wave coming. I managed to escape, but the car got carried away. I have never seen such rain, my grandmother neither. This cannot come from the rain, it is something schemed, it is schemed. God shall burn them, He sees who is doing this and will hit them straight in the head. Innocent people are dead.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. As it started to rain heavily, the sewer got clogged and my daughter went out to unclog it. In a matter of seconds the water went up to six meters. My husband was holding on to the fence but the water took him away. I started screaming… He doesn’t know what he is going through, hits his head against a stone but remains conscious. The water carries him away all the way to the sea. I was saying to myself, that was it, he’s dead, but then an inner voice told me that he will come back! He managed to get hold of a wire fence, some people saw him and pulled him out. Now he is in a wheel chair, all covered in wounds but saved his skin.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. I was at home with my husband, preparing dinner. It was like a dream. I look outside and I see our car going down on its own, followed by our neighbors’ car and my son’s van. One of the cars is completely lost. They weren’t able to find it anywhere, only dug out the car plates out of the mud. As the water started breaking out everywhere I said to myself, this is the end, we are dying. This is not God’s work, it must be someone’s mistake. They blame the Roma for the illegal cutting, but cannot see themselves, bringing out the timber with trucks.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. I live in Poland but when I heard what happened I got on the first flight and came straight here. My mother lives in this house. When it started raining she went immediately to my sister’s place up the street. They climbed on the roof. I saw everything on Skype. My neighbors broadcastd live with their smartphone. There was a 4-meter wave. It cannot be caused by rain. Now they blaming Roma, saying our houses are illegal, we cleared the forest, cannot think of a better excuse. Yesterday they came to ask me if my house was legal. I told them, go and check in the municipality, the documents got carried away by the water.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. First it started raining, then suddenly the water went up to the windows. I brought the kids on the garage, and then the water poured in from all sides. I started swimming but my mother is a bit chubby and cannot swim. I took a big wooden beam and with its help managed to push her up. The neighbors stayed inside with the water up to their heads, we didn’t have time to bring them out. This cannot be cause by rain, it is impossible. Somewhere uphill there is supposed to be a military dam. The water must have come from there.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. This is my sister’s room. She lives abroad. I was in the other room together with my daughter and my grandson. At some point I went out just to close the gate and what do I see – the water is coming. I shout, come out, but in the meantime two of the walls fell down. In a few seconds the water was water everywhere as if you are in the middle of the sea. I was swimming, holding my grandson. We climbed up the roof and saved ourselves. This house is good for nothing now. Take a look how high the water was. Now we are staying with relatives and no one knows what is going to happen.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. I was abroad. I came back to renovate the house, had plans to marry, wanted us to have a nice room, to live like normal people. I feel most sorry about the ground coat. Do you know how much money I spent on masons? I was about to bring in my luggage. Where should I bring it now? I am not going to live here, it makes no sense, we ‘clean up, leave it like this and go back abroad.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014.I was repairing the roof with my son but it started raining. We sat down to have dinner with my grandsons… Suddenly a wave came in through the window. We went crazy, totally crazy. It hit from both sides. We were trying hard to open the door but we couldn’t. I broke the window and jumped out but the children were still in the room and the water was up to the ceiling. My son was passing me the children and I was bringing them to the second floor. If I hadn’t been holding on to the rail the water would have carried me away. As the flow calmed we put a ladder across the street and climbed on the roof of the other house. Horrible, horrible, i don’t even want to remeber it.

Varnam Bulgaria, June 22, 2014. When the deluge started I was at home with my wife. There was no way to get out. The water came in from all sides, doors, windows, everything went up. We were standing on the sofa, waiting, the water was neck nigh. About an hour later it started retreating and we started to drain, bucket after bucket, for six hours. We threw everything away – furniture, TV sets, stoves, fridges. I am happy I survived, I still cannot recollect myself.

Q&A with Nikola Mihov

Photography is…
…a passion, and a crossroad between my different fields of interest, from history and social issues, to architecture and graphic design.

Photography and writing…
I believe writing should bring a second dimension to the to an already visually strong work. It’s often an essential part of my practice. For my book Forget Your Past, that traces the fate of the communist-era monuments in Bulgaria I spent only few weeks on photography and more than two years in writing. I was digging throw archives, interviewing sculptors and architects in order to recreate the history of those silent symbols of the (un)forgotten past.

Who left the biggest impression on you?
The photo books in general, and my professor Antoan Bojinov, a social photographer who helped me to shape my approach to photography during my studies.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself
​​A: I was born in 1982 in socialist Bulgaria, so my childhood memories are marked by colorful propaganda images. At the age of 20 i moved to Paris where i become interested in Photography. I’m a passionate traveler,but I often find my subjects just next door. For my series Victoria place i portrayed the stuff of a five star Parisian hotel, where i used to work as a receptionist. I’m running an online gallery for contemporary Bulgarian photography (www.bulgarianphotographynow.com/en/) and a virtual museum of the socialist-era graphic design.

nikola_mihovNikola Mihov (www.nikolamihov.com) was born in Sofia in 1982. He received the Photojournalism Award of the Union of Bulgarian journalists (2012) and was nominated for the award of Salon de la Photo in Paris (2012)   → more
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