Donbass Focus: Postwar Sloviansk in Alexander Chekmenev’s Photographs
Photographer Alexander Chekmenev, who was in Sloviansk in 2014, immediately after the Ukrainian government regained control over the city, went back there a year and a half after.
Mykolayivka is 15 km away from Sloviansk. I went there to give the photos and videos to people I met in 2014. I found out that Varvara, whom I captured with St. Varvara (or Barbara)’s icon, died a year after we met. And the block of flats where her apartment was on the fourth floor, and where the saint’s image survived the shelling in some kind of a miracle, have yet not been rebuilt.
The family with whom I stayed in 2014 stopped watching Russian TV, but aren’t expecting anything good from the Ukrainian either. I could feel they were tired. They tell me about their New Year’s celebration in 2016: the same group of people, everybody is alive, the table is as usual, but they just couldn’t have fun and barely lasted till midnight to greet the year in. The last happy New Year’s celebration they had was to meet 2014. This is how they remembered it.
A shelled cemetery is on the way out of Sloviansk. Mikhail’s house stands the closest to it, and I happened to walk in a year and a half ago, immediately after the city was recaptured by Ukrainian authorities. At the time, I could only enter the house through a window. This was the only entrance that survived the battles, and it was peppered with shells from SMG cartridges. I took Misha’s portrait, and he took me to the cemetery that he was trying to tidy up.
This time I visited him again. The house was partially rebuilt, and Mikhail greeted me from the door, like it should be. He didn’t recognize me and didn’t understand why I knew his name. The next to come out of the door after Mikhail was his drinking buddy, who was on the warpath…
I went to the cemetery on my own, and found some shelled gravestones that I didn’t see when I last came.