Soлomiya is both an itinerant group exhibition and an art object in itself, as a magazine. It is also an inspiring act of insight and defiance into the lives of Ukranians right now.
Soлomiya was founded by you and Vsevolod Kazarin in April 2022 “in response to russia’s war against Ukraine”. Can you explain a little about your respective backgrounds and the connections between Kyiv and Berlin in realising this project?
As a documentary photographer, I wanted to deal with the war, but did not have any photographic answer. I’ve worked in crisis situations before, but the logic of war completely overwhelmed me. Vsevolod felt the same way. Before the full-scale invasion started in February, he was intensively involved in fashion photography – suddenly, there were more important things than the fashion scene. We come from different backgrounds, but had the same problem: How can we use our skills to find a meaningful response to the war and a contribution to the defense of our freedom?
Kyiv and Berlin are the hometowns of the whole Soлomiya team. Andrii, Vsevolod and Ivanka live in Kyiv, the graphic designers from the Kollektiv Scrollan, Peter Bünnagel and Anne-Lene Proff, our publisher at SHIFT BOOKS and I are from Berlin.
As the war drags on and inevitable attention fatigue sets in from the worldwide community, what message does Soлomiya hope to communicate?
On the one hand, the magazine is, of course, a reaction to the war, but at the same time a piece of lived everyday life. Soлomiya does not employ the hierarchy of the most suffering in the fight for attention, but tries above all to be a good magazine and to add something to the discourse around the Russian war in Ukraine from the perspective of artists. Precisely because Soлomiya sheds a different light on Ukraine than most news tickers in the daily newspapers, it is interesting especially for those who are tired of the news barrage.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the collaborations which occurred in the creation of issue #2?
A focus of the second issue is on people who experienced the beginning of the war in 2014 in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea firsthand. Many of them came to Kyiv at that time. Vsevolod and I portrayed some of them in our series ‘Unstable Equilibrium’, others contributed their work to the magazine as artists, such as Alevtina Kakhidze, Dmytro Chepurnyi, Emine Ziyatdinova, Max Tsukan or Lesha Berezovskiy.
With the beginning of the full-scale invasion and the siege of Kyiv, they have now experienced a double trauma. In addition, Ivanna Kozachenko, who joined our editorial team with the second issue, explored the limits and possibilities of photography in order to witness the horrors of war, in dialogue with the extraordinary and abstract photographs by Dima Tolkachov. Our art direction from Kollektiv Scrollan has also provided important impulses in terms of content and design that make the magazine look so special. For example, in the series of repaired house roofs by the volunteer group Livyj Bereh. Also, I have dealt with the topic of heroism on the basis of some contemporary Ukrainian artworks.
One really wonderful aspect of the magazine are these one page introductions to people whose have smaller scale causes, other than say NGOs, which we can support. From a Vegan Kitchen in Lviv to the Dnipro Centre for Contemporary Culture and Cat Mom Victoriia – do you feel there is a real possibility of a deepening global connections with Ukraine in a meaningful way during and after this war?
Yes! That’s exactly our mission. It’s the least thing we can do to use our small platform to gain an audience for those who are really in need. We want to make sure that our readers can build a relationship of trust with the donation recipients, as we have met all of them personally.
The photo essay on houses destroyed by the war and the efforts by the Livyj Bereh (Left Bank) organisation to repair them (average cost €1750 per house) are also very impactful. Is reducing the sense of scale of the atrocities to make them relatable an important consideration for Soлomiya?
We don’t want to reduce the scale of atrocities. On the contrary. We want to give a way to connect emotionally to what it is to defend, not just show what is destroyed. To resist, you have to know what to protect. The war photos we see on the news can rarely do that.
Can you explain the reason taken behind the decision to never capitalise russia(n) as a noun or adjective in the magazine. Is it a little act of defiance?
Indeed, it is an act of defiance. In Russian narratives, Ukraine is usually mentioned as a region, if at all, and not as a sovereign country. That soft form of Russian imperialism even impacts the English language. For instance, people often happen to talk about ‘the Ukraine’, and not ‘Ukraine’ – a transliteration from Russian language. In Russian, people often refer to events happening in Ukraine as ‘na Ukraine’ – which literally means ‘on’ Ukraine (instead of ‘in Ukraine’), just like on a hill, or on an island but not in a politically delimited territory. It tells a lot about our knowledge of the impact of Russian imperialism that we notice mistakes like writing ‘russian’ not capitalized, but not when we talk about ‘the Ukraine’.
What is your read on the war at the moment? Are there any future positives which can be drawn from it?
We need to think about imperialism and colonization – and how to counter it. A good read is Dmytro Cepurnyi’s text ‘Unpacking My Library’ in our second issue. The title is borrowed by Walter Benjamin and dissects the ongoing repercussions of Russian imperialism – even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. “The empire collapsed, but literature survived it,” is how Dmytro appropriately quotes Alexander Etkind’s Internal Colonization in the text and further invokes us to fill the gaps of those libraries full of russian literature that were only now – and paradoxically – destroyed by Russian missiles.
Issue no. 2 is available now, €18.
Some organisations mentioned in this article who you can donate to: