Photographers' Blog

Ukraine: One-on-one with the pro-Russian protesters

Donetsk, Ukraine

By Marko Djurica

“You have got to meet the Mexican,” said Wolf.

“Who is the Mexican?” I asked.

“He is our boss, you can ask him about this barricade, come with me.”

Wolf was dressed in a green uniform without any insignia. “Donbass” – the eastern Ukrainian region where pro-Russian separatists seem to be increasingly gaining control – had been written on his green helmet in permanent marker.

His face was covered with a balaclava and he wore black boots and a black flak jacket, into which he had tucked a small baseball bat. He spoke great English and didn’t look more than 30 years old.

A masked pro-Russian protester poses inside a regional government building in Donetsk

As we approached a massive, eleven-story, Soviet building we passed stretches of barbed wire with old tires and various construction materials piled up behind them. I saw a poster that read: “The Mexican’s League” in orange letters. This was his barricade.

On March 3, a couple hundred pro-Russian demonstrators stormed the Donetsk regional government building after clashing with police who were guarding the main entrance. They successfully entered through a side door, and in the end made it to the second floor where the parliament sits. Unrest continued to spiral in Ukraine and the following month separatists declared a “People’s Republic of Donetsk”.

The confrontation began because the local population, made up mainly of Russian-speakers, seek less influence from Kiev over their region. Kiev and the West have accused Russia of being behind the upheaval, Moscow denies it. Now, two months after the initial attacks, demonstrators are inside the regional government buildings and masked men stand at the barricades.

Ukraine Euromaidan

Kiev, Ukraine

By Marko Djurica

Slava Ukraini, Heroyam Slava!

At the beginning I didn’t understand what they were chanting.

The speaker at the podium repeated, “Slava Ukraini” and a mass of people responded in one voice: “Heroyam Slava!”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Glory to Ukraine!  Glory to its heroes!” was the answer I got from a girl wrapped in a blue and yellow flag.

Who are these heroes they are cheering? This time I resolved to find out the answer for myself.

Kiev’s workout paradise

Kiev, Ukraine

By Gleb Garanich

Let me introduce you to the famous open-air “Sweat Gym” composed of around 200 work-out machines assembled from scrap iron to train all muscles. It is laid out on an island in the Dnieper river off Kiev.

I am not a sports fan, only learning about this place by accident. I thought it could make an interesting story and so I went to take pictures of the “Sweat Gym”. I was so struck by the uncanny scene that unfolded in front of me, that for the first half an hour I slowly roamed and looked around as if examining rare exhibits in a museum. Unknown gear, machines, intricate contraptions, old chains, wheels and tires, parts of caterpillar tracks and simple chunks of rusty metal – with humans swarming amid it all.

Even after spending three days there, I still did not have a clear idea of how some of the work-out gear worked and what some others were for. Supported by enthusiasts, this “workout paradise” appeared in the 1970s when the Soviet Union existed and has survived through the hard times that followed its collapse. Indeed, what comes to mind when you look at all this is an old newsreel featuring the Soviet-era industrialization drive – all these giant pieces of equipment and details cast in rough iron and tiny humans, completing the picture as small screws. Here, there are both professional sportsmen and amateurs, youths and pensioners and parents with children.

Kiev’s subway disco

Kiev, Ukraine

By Gleb Garanich

Passing through a pedestrian subway in central Kiev about twenty years ago, I saw elderly people dancing. I stopped for a few moments and then proceeded on my route – I was 25 years old at the time and, frankly speaking, this story was of no interest to me.

By pure accident, I ended up in the same place one evening in early February, and all of a sudden I felt a completely different attitude to what was happening… I was no longer indifferent to the lives and destinies of these people. What makes some 200 people gather in this passway on weekends for twenty years and dance for four hours?

Why gather in this very subway? Well, it is understandable – they have no money to rent a spacious room and dance indoors, and the mayor’s office allows them to gather underground instead of allocating any funds.

A pitch-side soaking

By Yves Herman

Picture five photographers and one technician traveling together between the cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk in Ukraine, at an average of 38 degrees C (100 degrees Fahrenheit) with air humidity of more than 50%. Eastern Ukraine is definitely not a fresh or cool place to stay during this EURO 2012 soccer championships. Nevertheless, it is our job to be there and it is a pure pleasure to be sitting alongside the pitch and taking photos of Europe’s best soccer teams. On that journey a cooling rain would have been most appreciated.

Alessandro from Italy, Felix from Spain, Michael from Switzerland, Vasily from Belarus, our technician Rod from Washington DC and myself, based in Belgium, hit the road early on June 15 on our way to Donetsk. An eagerly anticipated match between Ukraine and France was to take place that day at the famous Donbass Arena in front of more than 40,000 fans.

After a more than five hour tough drive, we arrived at the venue at around 1500 and temperatures had crept up even further. We could feel how wet the atmosphere was, even if the sky was a deep blue and cloud free.

It’s been a hard day’s night… and I’ve been working like a ‘tog

By Darren Staples

You off again?” people say. “Ukraine? The Euros? You’ve got the best job in the world haven’t you?”

So here I am, the man with ‘the best job in the world’, about to have a needle stuck in my backside by one half of the Mario brothers.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

As a day, it started like many others; up at 5am to catch my fourth of eleven flights during this tournament, bleary-eyed and grey I helped fellow photographers Eddie Keogh, Alexander Demianchuk and technician Magnus Storm load the taxi to the roof with our equipment.

Finding Funtik

By Will Webster

Who could have foreseen what the late Paul the Octopus started when he began picking the winning teams at the 2010 World Cup? Presumably he could have, he was clairvoyant. But he may have struggled to predict the psychic circus that has appeared in the last week before the opening of the EURO2012 championship:  Fred the ferret, an elephant called Chitta and Kiev’s very own Funtik the pig.

Animals predicting the outcomes of sporting events are all part of various big competitions now, Sonny Wool the sheep had a good run during the rugby world cup in 2011, so it’s easy to take it all with a pinch of salt (we’ll talk about local eating habits later.) However, using animals to predict the future goes back to biblical times, doves landing on the arc gave Noah a hint of better times.
Sitting in Moscow, my first view of Funtik was Gleb’s picture of a rabid and vaguely scary looking beast. Fred the Ferret from Kharkiv has a much more furry and cheeky appeal, so why did Kiev go for a pig? 

I talked to Reuters photographer in Kiev Anatolii Stepanov who has spent the last couple of days getting to know Funtik.

The femen phenomenon

By Gleb Garanich

I have been shooting Femen protests for five years and the girls have become a real Ukrainian brand now, like Chernobyl, the Klitschko brothers, footballer Andriy Shevchenko and Chicken Kiev. Colleagues in the office were always jealous when we left to cover the protests and many of my acquaintances from abroad were willing to go and watch them. Before taking pictures of the girls’ regular lives outside the protests, I asked myself: what do I know about them? I only knew their names. The public has two ideas of them, “funny girls” or “damn prostitutes, I wonder who’s paying them”. I personally do not care if their actions are moral or immoral, wrong or right. They do not kill or steal or promise to make voters’ lives better. Shooting their protests is much more interesting than, say, covering a briefing by the prime minister. These girls at least appear honest. Who pays for that is a question for the Financial Times, not me.


REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

I chose the three most prominent Femen activists, Oleksandra Shevchenko, Inna Shevchenko and Oksana Shachko, and decided to spend a few hours with each one on a regular day. Two problems I faced were a queue of foreign reporters waiting to meet them and the flu, which brought the girls down. But once they recovered, I paid them a visit.

I spent the morning with Inna Shevchenko.

Inna, 21, was born in the city of Kherson and studies journalism in Kiev. She had worked for the press office of the Kiev mayor’s office, but was sacked for taking part in Femen protests. Inna likes to hike in the mountains and read Chekhov. She rents a room in a downtown Kiev apartment.