Since the 90s, there has been a boom in the USA and Europe — a renaissance in the popularity of vintage clothes, furniture, vinyl records (which had every chance of disappearing like CDs), and — vernacular photographs. Enthusiasts worldwide seek out amateur film photography at flea markets to preserve everyday evidence of a bygone era. This trend reached Ukraine. Pavlo Bishko, the photo editor (and at the same time collector of archival photos) of Zaborona, gathered five favorite publications that publish Ukrainian vernacular photography and talked with their founders — about the Ukrainian 90s, unexpectedly found the film in a newly bought camera and the disappearance of industrial Donbas.
Mykyta Bondarev created the publication “Ukraine 25” in 2016, timing it for the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. Bondarev wanted to show the uniqueness of the Ukrainian 90s, a period monopolized mainly by Russian political culture and art. In Ukraine, there were other 90s, sometimes unknown to the younger generation, primarily associated with the Russian ones. Music TV channel “Territory A,” Alan Chumak, the first comedy shows in Ukrainian, monuments to national heroes, own cultural space, and unions of underground artists.
Many publications of “Ukraine 25” are devoted to Kuchmism — the post-Soviet period, which was remembered for political turbulence during the presidency of Leonid Kuchma. It is a threshold period when Ukraine has not yet wholly dismantled the specter of communism but has not outlined the future horizon either. Perhaps one of the most vivid photos of that time, which successfully illustrates the country’s alcoholism in the past, is a photo by Viktor Marushchenko from 1994, where Kuchma and his family are watching his performance on Easter holidays on TV. It seems to hint that Kuchma, like the past, will return for another term.
Mykyta finds photos of these events through online platforms with free access and on the websites of news agencies. Despite the positive feedback about publishing archival images, readers sometimes express dissatisfaction. They believe that by “showing a photo of the beautiful Carpathians and at the same time a photo of the depressed Donbas,” the author thus divides the country in half. However, Ukraine was often portrayed in the media as artificially divided by politicians, and the photo pieces of evidence of the division have remained to this day. Bondarev only archives and catalogs the photo reality of the past.
Mykyta says nostalgia appeals to him as an aesthetic feeling — partly because he doesn’t like the times in which he lives. Therefore, one of the goals of “Ukraine 25” is to bring to light the superficial and close and, at the same time, almost forgotten — the first steps of the new Ukrainian culture. And if it is physically impossible to return to the 90s, the photo becomes a kind of portal and time machine to a more harmonious time, according to Bondarev.
Among the favorite shots of the public, Mykyta names the photo of Martin Par from Crimea in 1995. They are extremely colorful and bright. The terrifying pictures are Donbas in the lens of Oleksandr Chekmenyev: a kind of “Balabanivshchyna” in the worst sense of understanding. But ours is also true.
Five years ago, Arseniy Gerasimenko became interested in analog photography — that’s when he got his hands on a Soviet “Amateur” camera, in which the shot but an undeveloped film from the 1960s remained. After developing photos showing amateur portraits of young people in Ukraine, Arseny and his followers managed to determine the period and location of the shooting.
Since then, Arseniy has been collecting negatives and slides, which he buys at flea markets and auctions. About 90% of the Past.continues materials are Ukrainian amateur photography. These are mostly lost, unknown, often undeveloped films, which gives his archival search an element of a lottery or a board game with dice rolling. Arseny develops, scans, and publishes them — often to find the author and give names to the strangers depicted in the photo. Actually, finding people is the hardest part of Past.continues work.
Arseniy considers the archive of colonel Pyotr Garmash to be the most successful Past.continues find. It reached Gerasimenko with the Soviet film “Svema” purchased on the internet — with it, the seller presented a box with tightly wrapped negatives — more than a thousand photographs of the chronicle of the village of Kalenyky, Cherkasy region, from the 1950s and 60s.
Gerasimenko began the search for the author and the location of the shooting: he published several scanned photos on the Facebook page of the village of Helmyaz, Cherkasy region, from where the package with the negatives came by mail. The next day, a comment appeared under the post that the photo shows the cultural center of the village of Kalenyky (today, it no longer exists). Later, netizens began to recognize their friends and relatives in the photo from the wedding in Kalenyky, and a few weeks later, Gerasimenko received a message that the photo’s author was colonel Petro Garmash. He is about 90 years old and lives in Kyiv. A few months later, Gerasimenko met with Garmash and presented him with 200 printed photos from Kalenyky.
To date, Arseniy has managed to identify 10 authors of the photo archives of his private collection. Among them is Kharkiv photographer Ihor Ivlev. One of the iconic photographs among 13 kilograms of Ivlev’s films is the republican contest of hairdressers of the USSR in the 1970s in the Odesa circus. Ivan Shtyryov, a 90-year-old hairdresser who still works in Odesa, was identified in one of the photos of hairdressers at the arena. Arseniy visited the man and took a portrait of him in the circus arena 50 years after the archival photo shooting.
Ukrainianstriy was founded in 2021 by Yulia Pyvovarenko from Lviv. The blog is filled with archival photos of traditional clothing from all regions of Ukraine: black-and-white and color photos of 19th–20th century peasants in the folk costumes of Hutsul Oblast, Lviv Oblast, Kyiv Oblast, Chernihiv Oblast, Crimea, as well as the Ukrainian diaspora in the USA.
Yuliya was inspired to create this catalog-archive by a trip to Hutsulshchyna several years ago. Then she went to the winter Carpathians to get to know the culture and lifestyle of the Ivano-Frankivsk region better. She lived with the locals for a week, who involved her in cooking traditional Hutsul dishes, combing sheep’s wool, and weaving bedclothes. Yuliya was impressed by how the residents of the Hutsul Region have preserved their traditions and culture of everyday life and religious holidays. On her next trip to the Hutsul region, Pyvovarenko already started collecting her photo archive — local people sometimes allowed her to make copies of original photos. Currently, the collection includes about 500 images from the villages of Hutsul Oblast.
One of the important photos for Yulia can be found on the Internet – it is a picture from the 1950s of a Hutsul wedding in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. It depicts a bride in traditional wedding attire and a headdress, the bowl of which is made of thin brass plates. The bride poses with her friends in hats decorated with feathers and flowers. This photo often appears on the Internet with the caption “1950, from the collection of Oleksandr Tykhenko.” During a trip to the Ivano-Frankivsk region, Pyvovarenko accidentally found one of her friends posing for a photo in the village of Serednyi Bereziv. The man in the village store, where Yulia went to ask about the owners of archival photos in the village, sent her to the Tomich-Symich family. An 80-year-old friend from an archive photo showed the original photo and its exact date on the back — 1955.
In the example of another photo from the 1960s, a portrait of Orisa Tomych from the village of Serednii Bereziv, Yuliya, together with traditional dressmaker Vitalia Oliynyk and photographer Zlatoslava Kryshtafovych, recreated the found archival photo: they repeated the visual image of a smiling woman dressed in a traditional headscarf.
Yuliya says that she has only visited the Ivano-Frankivsk region but wants to learn more about the military system of other Ukrainian parts.
Oleksandr Kuchynskyi, an artist from Severodonetsk, made the first post of “Industrial Heaven” in 2015. The very purpose and goal of the public were formed later when he realized that the Donbas, where he studied, had a complicated, little-studied, and interesting history. The main task of “Rayu” is to equalize the rights of the interesting and the uninteresting, the mainline and the peripheral, to draw attention to the present and past of Donbas — an unpopular toponym, loaded with negative political connotations after 2014.
Oleksandr finds a significant part of the visual material for “Industrial Heaven” on the internet. Among them are modern photos of tericonos, abandoned industrial facilities, photos of the region from past decades, and the everyday culture of Donbas: posters, illustrations, postcards, ceramics, etc. However, a certain part of the content is his findings. During trips to the region, Kuchynskyi visited the city libraries of Severodonetsk and Kreminnaya: that’s how he found a book about coal mining in Kreminnaya or came across a photo of women working in the mines. The authors of the unique archival photos collected in the book were residents and mine workers.
Found archival photos from the past of Donbas helped Oleksandr understand why the region’s signs sometimes cease to exist. Abandoned industrial facilities, astonishing in scale, are quickly disappearing in it. Thus, in Lysychansk, on the site of large enterprises dismantled over the past four years, only fields of crushed reinforced concrete remain. Actually, Kuczynski wants to document places quickly disappearing from people’s memories.
According to the author, “Industrial Heaven” is an allusion to the myth of the “socialist paradise” of the Soviet Donbas. Oleksandr characterizes it as a “portrait of a disunited region.” This metaphor is the division of the region along the front line or the conflict of the old industrial economy with post-Soviet capitalism. Oleksandr is also engaged in his artistic practice, which he forms around the contradictions associated with the region’s industrial heritage.
With the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the “Industrial Heaven” content has changed. However, everything is still focused on the Donbas, which is disappearing — already for other reasons. Oleksandr publishes photos of the destruction and consequences of shelling. He now sees no point in publishing archival photos of Donbas — materials not related to the war.
The birthplace of carpathiancult was “Grandfather’s Hut”: in 2017, graphic designer Khrystyna Bunii came to this meeting in the mountains of the Ivano-Frankivsk region. During her stay in the village of Yavoriv, she became interested in bed-making — a local craft of making bedclothes (a product made of coarse wool intended for a bed). Khrystyna visited the residents’ houses and looked at old pictures of the lodgers to learn more about their history. In the family photos shown to her by the residents, in addition to the bedfellows, she was also interested in architecture, traditional clothing, household scenes, weddings, and funerals. That’s how she started collecting archival photos of Hutsulshchyna and Pokuttia.
The meaning of carpathiancult is reduced not only to the translation “Carpathian cult.” The word “cult” is also an abbreviation of “culture,” which for Khrystyna means not only traditional clothing, architecture, art, and music of the Carpathian ethnic region but also the mountain landscape. It significantly impacts the formation of its inhabitants’ culture, identity, and outlook.
In carpathiancult publications, there are different types of photo sources: scans from travels, online archives (Polish National Digital Archive (NAC), American archive of the Milwaukee Public Library (Milwaukee Public Library), museum archives (Ivan Honchar Museum, Kolomyia Museum of Hutsulshchyna and Pokuttia) and regional photo albums from second-hand shops.
Khrystyna’s archive consists of about 4,000 photos scanned during her travels — if she is lucky, the archive of the rural families she visits can have 50 to 200 images. Thus, during one of the trips to the village of Volova, Verkhovyna district, Khrystyna met Maria Tatarchuk. Maria shared family photos from Siberia in the 1950s. In the three pictures taken against the wall of a wooden house, where a handkerchief was as decoration, her family is posing in embroidered clothes. The regions of Verkhovynshchyna and Kosivshchyna are known for their active partisan movement. Therefore, in the post-war years, the Soviet regime evicted many residents from Volova to Siberia. Only the grandmother remained in her native village, to which Maria and her family could return only after 20 years of exile.
For Khrystyna, every family from a mountain village that has preserved a photo of their ancestors contributes to the addition of the region’s history. Photography is economical: while a text or oral speech takes time to tell the history of antiquity, and the imagination recreates everything, a photograph already shows what life was like, without covering anything up or resorting to inaccuracies. carpathiancult tries to do just that — to preserve the accuracy of the narrative and testimony.