Experience

Evgeny Feldman: “I Understood Different Truths”

Evgeny Feldman about how it feels to work on both sides of the conflict, about the psychological difficulties and the most dangerous moments

A presentation of the photo book Apart by Evgeny Feldman was held on November 23rd in Kiev. The book includes the best of the 15,000 photographs taken by the author in Maidan, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. At the request of Bird In Flight the photo editor of the book, Olga Osipova, recorded Feldman talking about how he managed to raise funds to produce the print edition, the subject of which he considers to be especially important and to what conclusions he discovered while documenting the war.


Evgeny Feldman, 23 years old

Photojournalist, staff photographer of Novaya Gazeta (Russia); he collaborates as well with Mashable (USA). His works have been published by leading Russian and international media agencies and presses; he has been part of several collective exhibitions.


I don’t remember how I came up with the idea of making a book, but six months ago I became obsessed with it. Before that I already had a rather meaningless experience with exhibitions. My participation in them did not bring any income or satisfaction, or a feeling of touching eternity. A book you can hold in your hand, and even many years later people can recall events in the book: events that they experienced emotionally or even physically.

Yet, there were doubts. I am a control freak. It is important for me to follow the process at all stages. And I was not sure that I could control the work of publishers involved in the book production. Besides, my colleagues convinced me that it is impossible to find a publisher in Russia who would agree to print a book about the events in Ukraine.


{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_38.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Simferopol. A festive evening rally on the day of the referendum. March 16, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_33.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Sevastopol. Citizens celebrate the results of referendum on joining the Russian Federation. March 6, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_34.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Perevalnoe. One of the «polite people» blocking the Ukrainian military base. March 5, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_35.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Sevastopol. Relatives bring food to the Ukrainian navy ship «Slavutich,» blocked by Russian vessels. March 6, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_36.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Bakhchisarai. The Crimean militia and the Russian army near one of the Ukrainian military bases. March 5, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_37.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Sevastopol. The navy ship «Slavutich,» blocked by Russian vessels. March 6, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_39.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Perevalnoe. Ukrainian soldiers leave their military unit, occupied by the Russians. March 21, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_40.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Kherson region, the border between Ukraine and Russia. March 8, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_41.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Simferopol. The funeral of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar, found dead with signs of torture on his body on the day of the referendum. March 18, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_42.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Perevalnoe. Russian troops near Ukrainian military unit. March 18, 2014.” }


Crowdfunding

When I launched the campaign on “Planeta“, the most embarrassing thing for me was that I definitely wouldn’t be able to change the title of the book. I’ve never done anything like that, that’s why I wasn’t sure that I was doing things correctly. I was worried about the reaction of my newspaper, yet in the end everything turned out fine. The 400 000 rubles stated on the website is a nominal amount. In fact, the print run alone costs 600 000, and that is just 80 per cent of the total cost (there are also design expenses and the photo editor’s fee).

Planeta takes a certain fee, which decreases the closer you get to the final stage of fundraising. I purposely underestimated it to make sure that I would gather the whole amount and would be able to pay a smaller fee to the mediator. We were able to gather it in about a week – towards the beginning of October. I didn’t expect that everything would work out so well. At the moment we’ve collected almost a half-million rubles – it’s a record for a crowdfunding book project on the RuNet. Three days are left till the end of the campaign, but on Planeta you can’t stop fundraising right after the required amount of money is gathered. I’ll spend the surplus on equipment and trips to those cities from which I get many orders – I am trying to organize presentations there.

For me Planeta is not so much crowdfunding as an online store. It is probably the only place on the internet where the book will be available for delivery to any country.


The Maidan

When the Orange Revolution happened in 2004 I was in the sixth grade. All my classmates were divided into its supporters and opponents. We were terribly politicized and had a lot of arguments. Someone wore orange, someone wore blue. Although I was still a kid, that revolution was somehow important to me. I’ve always had interest in Ukraine. When the second Maidan began, I didn’t have any doubts whether to go there or not.

I was completely unprepared for what happened in Kiev. I had to buy a gas mask and a helmet on the spot. When the first people were killed, it became scary. I got a call from the office and was told that if I wanted to leave that’s fine. But I always wanted to be an eyewitness to important events. Since then I don’t travel to Ukraine without a body armor.


{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_18.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Policemen on Grushevskogo street. January 21, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_19.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “A People’s Viche (assembly) on the Maidan. January 19, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_20.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “An outdoor kitchen at the Trade Unions House. December 29, 2013.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_21.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “«Berkut» attacking protesters outside the Presidential Administration building. December 1, 2013.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_22.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “January 24, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_23.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The student Maidan. November 29, 2013.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_24.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The leader of the UDAR (Punch) political party Vitali Klitschko trying to stop radical protesters from storming the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) building. January 19, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_25.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Protesters in a burned bus on Grushevskogo street. January 21, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_26.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “A «Berkut» officer shooting at protesters on Grushevskogo street. January 22, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_27.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “A wounded protester. January 19, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_28.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “January 22, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_29.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “An attempt to attack the Presidential Administration on Bankova Street. December 1, 2013.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_30.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The second assault on protest encampment on Kiev’s Independence Square. December 11, 2013.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_31.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Protesters sleeping at St. Michael’s Cathedral. December 5, 2013.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_32.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “A People’s Viche (assembly) on the Maidan. February 23, 2014.” }


Working on the book

I consulted the military press photographer Yuri Kozyrev and showed pictures to fellow photographers, and they agreed that there was some decent stuff in there – that was my main question and the biggest reason for doubt. So I started the selection. There was an insane amount of pictures – 15,000 images, 400 gigabytes. Much of the stuff that I had previously overlooked while selecting photographs for publication in the newspaper was worthy. For example, the picture on the cover has never been published before. There were many of such forgotten shots.

I began searching for a team. I was talking to the designer Ivan Stepanenko about something unrelated, but suddenly I found out that he no longer works at the magazine, and is engaged in book layout design. At the same time I contacted the photo editor. So we sat down to work. I made the prints; on weekends we were crawling on the floor of my house trying to arrange them chronologically.

When I left for the elections of people’s deputies in Mariupol and the separatist elections in Donetsk (October 26 and November 2, 2014 – Editor’s note) everything was almost ready. I went there without knowing that something else must be photographed, although I felt that something was missing. But in the end those events filled the void in the story and made it possible to set the right accents.

It was clear that if I wrote the texts myself, they would be emotional. At the same time what was needed were some informative columns about how things happened. I wanted them to be written by one of my journalist friends. In the end I asked Ilya Barabanov, who spent a lot of time in Ukraine, to do it.


{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_01.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 11, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_02.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Donetsk. Separatist fighters from the Battalion Vostok. May 29, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_03.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 27, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_04.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 26, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_05.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 dropping thermal traps in the sky over Donetsk. May 26, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_06.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 11, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_07.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 11, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_08.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 22, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_09.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. May 24, 2014.” }


Difficult shooting

On Ukrainian Independence Day, August 24, I was in Donetsk, surrounded by Ukrainian troops. I was documenting the parade of prisoners. It was the most psychologically difficult shooting. The separatists made everything to bring back the historical memory of the march of captive German soldiers in Moscow in 1944: in Donetsk a street cleaning machine also followed behind Ukrainians. These historical associations were superimposed on the aggressive reaction of a small crowd; they threw flour and bottles on the prisoners, and the guards, women among them, even defended the prisoners from the angry folks. It was a rare moment when I felt strong emotions while shooting – the camera usually works for me as a filter, leaving in my mind only the rational.

I heard the bullets hitting a concrete wall at a distance of three meters from me. This feeling of being on the verge of a precipice… at this moment there are no emotions. Fear comes when you are already in the hotel.

A few days later I went from Donetsk to Kiev in a morning bus. Ukrainian troops at a checkpoint took me off the bus and said that I should wait for the SBU. It was a stupid scene – I was standing with a suitcase in the middle of a highway, wearing body armor, very close to the soldiers, and there were cars driving in the distance. We started talking. The soldiers complained about how they were tired of the war, how they were constantly under fire, how everything was unclear. And then I asked if it is possible to take pictures of the checkpoint. They said, “We cannot allow you to shoot anything but Masha.” I was delighted, what a luck! A woman at a checkpoint – that’s a story! Let’s shoot Masha! They lead me to the very checkpoint. I saw the scorched earth, the safety net, some slippers lying around, and in the midst of all this there was… a goose. “This is Masha – they explained – she came to us from a neighboring village. Now she lives with us at the checkpoint.” It was a good shot.


{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_44.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The goose Masha at a checkpoint between Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk. August 28, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_10.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. July 9, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_43.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The parade of prisoners in Donetsk. August 24, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_11.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. August 24, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_12.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. August 26, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_13.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. September 16, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_14.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. September 16, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_15.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “Donetsk. Separatist fighters from the Battalion Vostok. May 29, 2014.” },
{ “img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/feldman_16.jpg”, “alt”: “Illustration from the book «Apart» by Evgeny Feldman”, “text”: “The conflict in Eastern Ukraine. August 26, 2014.” }

The most dangerous thing that I saw was the Battle of Donetsk Airport in May 2014. I heard the bullets hitting a concrete wall at a distance of three meters from me. This feeling of being on the verge of a precipice… at this moment there are no emotions. Fear comes when you are already in the hotel. And here you are sitting in a room and realizing that you need to go there again; although it is an illusion that in the hotel nothing can happen to you. For example, the hotel where the author of the foreword to my book lived now is one of the places where they keep prisoners.


Searching for the truth

Everyone wants to know the truth, at least up to some extent. But I understand that this is difficult. While you are there you know what’s going on, but only partly, not the whole truth. You know what people think – those people who you spoke to. And it is important to understand what the limits of the objective data that you possess are. I can get only a fraction of information and I need to be sure that this information is correct.

I am one of the few journalists who saw both sides of the conflict. And I think I was able to convey the truth of different people. I understood different truths, I saw them and I felt them. At the same time I realized that war is not the way to find the Truth among different truths.

Photographs and captions by Evgeny Feldman. Translation by Ruth Borshevsky

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