Jusqu’à Donetsk

Kiev, Ukraine – April 2014. Ira, a young pro-Ukrainian activist close to the controversial right political party Pravyy Sektor
Jusqu’à Donetsk, photo essay by Thomas Girondel

It was a self-funded project. It consists of street shots and portraits of people I met. The latter entrusted me with their daily concerns regarding events in Ukraine, their opinions about the future of Eastern European countries, freedom of speech, and the fear of a major international conflict.
I wanted to better understand the conflict and the differing opinions by doing fieldwork, and to be History’s witness by getting involved. Moreover, my experience in Ukraine was rewarding despite the risks taken. It was crucial to me to meet citizens who didn’t have the same opinions in order to get a neutral view regarding the issue. Hence, after having met several young citizens, who had or had not been present during the tragic nights of clashes, I decided to go to the heart of the conflict in the Donbass region and particularly in Donetsk.
Despite the daily threats, I could get the chance to mingle with and interview rebels as well as pro-Russian citizens. I didn’t forget to document citizens’ daily life in a struggling Ukrainian region and to understand the country’s unease.

Kiev, Ukraine – April 2014. A man communes with himself on a sidewalk littered with roses where one of the first protester was killed in the tragic nights of clashes at the Maidan Square
Kiev, Ukraine – April 2014. Nationalist party Svoboda’s provocation march in Krechtchatyk Street
Kiev, Ukraine – April 2014. An Orthodox rosary hanging on a barbed wire on the heights of the Independence Square
Kiev, Ukraine – April 2014. Two women sitting in a run-down bus stop on Krechtchatyk Street in front of the Kiev city council of trade unions building
Kiev, Ukraine – April 2014. A pro-Ukrainian protester staring at the crowd through a tent in a makeshift camp
Kiev, Ukraine – June 2014. The worried look of two young Ukrainian children in the middle of a crowd during the first speech of new Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko
Gorlovka, Donetsk suburb, Ukraine – May 2014. Stray dogs in the pro-Russian city of Gorlovka.
Gorlova, Ukraine – May 2014. A young pro-Russian rebel staring at a special police force “berkut” who keeps alert nearby the entrance of the city.
Dobropollia, Donbass Region, Ukraine – May 2014. Members of Dniepr’s battalion between life and death on his hospital bed
Alexandrovka, Donbass Region – May 2014. Deserted view from a checkpoint controlled by a pro-Ukrainian self-defence militia during the Presidential Elections
Donetsk, Ukraine, May 2014. A Chechen and his soulmate posing in front of an occupied fire station

Q&A with Thomas Girondel

Photography is…
I’m confiding myself through photography which I consider a lifesaver amidst that cruel world. It’s like being history’s witness.

Photography and writing…
I prefer being behind the lense than writing but captions and sentences are more than appreciable. Once you get the context, the photo is obviously more significant.

Who left the biggest impression on you?
Anders Petersen is definitely an amazing photographer. It’s devotion to analog photography and documenting people at the margins he met throughout the years is speechless.

Tell us a little about yourself
I’m 30, I’m a former natural disasters officer and I quit my job for being a documentary photographer. After documenting the conflict in Ukraine, it became crystal-clear I should henceforth focus on the living conditions of citizens in war zones as well as the freedom of speech in struggling countries than staying behind a desk… I’m already planning to hit the road again. But before, I’m working on an exhibition which will be held in Nantes, France in June 2015.

GirondelThomas Girondel (website), 1985. French documentary photographer who’s just returned from Ukraine, where he spent several weeks documenting life in the midst of the current conflict. The social dimension of his work there as a chronicler bears witness to the precarious condition of a torn people in Kiev and Donetsk. It is matched by an artistic attention for detail and layout throughout analog cameras.