Photo project

Identical Experiences: Searching for Identity Between Ukraine and Italy

Sofiya Chotyrbok moved to Italy as a child, but her grandmother’s house in the Lviv Region with all its household treasures is an essential part of her story and life. She returns here to understand who she really is.
Sofiya Chotyrbok

A Ukrainian visual artist, living and working in Milan, she studied photography at CFP Bauer. Her art was exhibited at international festivals and museums in Italy, France, and the USA.

— The Home Before Dark project started with my visiting Ukraine in February 2020. The year before, I got the last paperwork I needed to apply for Italian citizenship, but I couldn’t fill it out for about seven months because I was in the midst of a profound identity crisis.

I knew that if I submitted my application, I would have to renounce the citizenship I was born into because Ukrainian law prohibits dual citizenship. Aged 28 at the time, I felt I had to decide who I was — an Italian or a Ukrainian. To understand it, I spent a month in Ukraine by myself.

Aged 28 at the time, I felt I had to decide if I was Italian or Ukrainian.

I was born in the USSR. The first documentary proof of my existence was the Soviet birth certificate. I became a Ukrainian citizen just four months later and moved to Italy when I was nine. In the early 1990s, Soviet aesthetics were predominant in Ukraine. My first visual memory is connected to the walls of my Ukrainian home and playing games there.

Many years later, my family and I came from Italy to visit Zolochiv, Lviv Region, where my grandma’s house is. My grandparents led a modest, selfless life. Every piece of furniture in their house was considered a treasure to be treated with care and never discarded. That place felt frozen in time. Every year, I spent much time in that very house during the month I visited Ukraine. Every day, I unearthed something new from the drawers and closets: photos, books, clothes, and other things, sometimes with their packages intact and price tags in place. All that was a part of my story, too, as if the place itself chose me.

My grandparents led a modest, selfless life. Every piece of furniture in their house was considered a treasure.

When I came here in 2020, I had a few ideas and projects still taking shape. When I arrived in Ukraine, however, I quite naturally started working on them. I let myself immerse into the house and the things within it, which were connected to my origin story.

Back in Italy, I turned to Google Street View and my photo and video archives to reconstruct my family’s story. They helped me feel closer and keep studying the subject of identity. It was then that I realized one more thing — that photography is only possible for me in Ukraine. I rarely shoot when I’m not there. My photo archive has always been a great help when it came to reflecting on my past and creatively expressing myself. Also, including my passports in Home Before Dark was fundamentally important because the story started with a passport.

The project encompasses various aspects of personal identity: the sense of belonging to a country, current historical and social life events, the phenomena of migration and integration, and the notion of nostalgia. It all builds off the foundation of my personal experience, which, however, correlates with historical events. Potentially, this project could go on forever.

Such an abstract and elusive thing as identity is one of the topics that you can endlessly reflect on. Still, I decided to end the project once I made certain who I was. Eventually, I realized that no document could keep me confined, dictate what I am, and reduce the vividness and complexity of my life to a few formal entries.

My native country and I are of the same age, and I’ve always felt we lived through the same difficulties and stages of life. It’s as if we are twins striving to assert their identity.

My native country and I are of the same age, and I’ve always felt we lived through the same difficulties and stages of life.

I am Ukrainian, and no document can take that away from me, but I’m also Italian. These two identities have become something all too natural and inextricable for me.

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