Ukraine: The Disappointed Expectations of Simon Crofts
Photographer from Edinburgh. Studied in Oxford. In 1990s worked in Russia as a lawyer.
The project is not something I decided to do — I was just photographing places and people that had been part of my life for two decades. I had all these thoughts and feelings in my head, from the 90’s, that I wanted to get down on paper.
I made the images specifically about Ukraine rather than Russia, partly to streamline the book geographically and make it easier to explain what it was about, but also because I was mostly visiting Ukraine while I was preparing the book. But a lot of the thoughts and emotions in the book are also relevant to my time in Russia and Belarus too for that matter. I decided to make a book that meant a lot to me, rather than one that would be easy for the reader. And this involved seeing Ukraine (and through Ukraine, a mirror on Russia, too) through the literature and music that I had been brought up with. I thought of this as a kind of visual Chekhov — showing simultaneously a kind of complexity and rationality, but at the same time, something based on human emotion.
A section of the book deals with Utopia, and this is because Ukraine is at the same time a failed socialist utopia, and also my own personal utopia — a place with steppes and wildlife and happy memories of the dacha where the frogs are croaking and there are birds everywhere. In Britain we forget what it was like before we lost our hedgerows, and in Ukraine one can go and remember.
The central idea of the book was about fortune — about expectations for the future versus pride in the past. After I did most of the project, the crisis in Crimea and Donbass happened. And despite all the media attention since the war, Ukraine continues to be sidelined. It has always been ignored by the rest of Europe.
The name came from a conversation with my ex-mother-in-law Larissa, who described Ukraine as a land of endless expectations. This idea of unsatisfied longing fit well with my idea of fortune (and of course, “Fortune” is a famous short story by Chekhov).