“I moved to Kyiv from Vinnytsia to study at the Institute of Culture. My major was Computer Technologies and Paperwork Management, and I was intrigued by that “computer technologies” part, which was pretty much absent in the curriculum — the course turned out to be entirely on paperwork. In two years, I got bored, dropped out, and went to study for an advertising photographer. That happened thanks to my friend, who got into photography earlier and infected me with his enthusiasm. Before that, the only link between me and photography was through my grandpa and his old cameras. He was taking pictures of important events in his village, which was his side hustle. My dad was born in Vinnytsia, and my mom is from Uman.
When I moved to Kyiv in the early 2000s, my acquaintance with the city began from a room I rented near Druzhby Narodiv metro station. I lived in some old granny’s apartment and then moved to a dorm. Kyiv stayed just the same. Almost nothing changed except for the hangout — everyone used to meet at the Maidan, and now it’s Reitarska St. Kyiv used to be more touristy, everyone liked to go for a leisurely walk in the city center. And rappers keep break dancing near Khreshchatyk metro station now, just like they did back then.
Now I live between Syrets and Dorohozhychi metro stations. I like this neighborhood’s green area and its locals — old working class. You won’t see people like this in modern apartment complexes.
I like to observe this kind of life. I like the contrast. Modern apartment complexes are so fancy. Everyone is so stylish, well-mannered, polite, sorting glass, organic waste, and plastic separately. They pick up after their dogs, swinging on neat swings with their munchkins, and have a standard route: home – work – mall – home. I, on the other hand, feel more comfortable in places where most people feel uncomfortable, in “places that have no definition,” as Hronskyi once said. It’s a borderline area when you feel both in the city and outside the city. When you exit “Comfort Town, " there is a different world behind an auto barrier. I like to see other things, another side of life. Modern apartment complex and old Syrets are like a pretty girl and an alcoholic. The girl can be pretty on the outside and empty on the inside. And the alcoholic can stink and look messy, yet when you talk to him, he might turn out to be a profound person.
I guess Kyiv itself didn’t quite figure out what it’s like.
People, who run this city, don’t have a refined visual taste. They only make money. For them, everything is about business. Beauty and coziness won’t bring them profits. It’s better to build a giant hive, so a ton of people would buy a property and live in there.
If someone asks me to create postcards about Kyiv, I won’t take pictures of botanical gardens, cathedrals, or opera theaters. I would go to the Syrets neighborhood to capture the contrast of two worlds. One British photographer once traveled around London’s border districts and took pictures of the locals. I would do the same thing. Real life is not only about the city center. It’s about Zhytniy Market, water areas, and apartment complexes. I would create a postcard with gay-couple kissing in front of Kobzar's monument as a mix of the past and the future, a kind of love story.
Last year I did the “50 UAH” project. I put flyers on the poles inviting people to a photoshoot for 50 hryvnias.
Many people “on the verge” came to me. One step forward, and there will be some progress. They would be able to move on. One step back, and in a few days, they would hit rock bottom. There was one woman whose husband and lover are both alcoholics. She takes care of them both, spending one night with her husband and the next one with her lover. There was also a girl who saved money to buy her mom a multicooker. So, she came to get 50 hryvnias, although she lives in a regular neat apartment. All participants of this project needed money for different reasons, but all of them were authentic and honest.
It's been two years since I opened my portrait studio on Reitarska St. I chose this location due to coincidence and conscious choice. For people, a photoshoot is a festive event since they do this kind of thing once a year at most. It’s not your regular grocery run. It is the kind of event you would take your loved ones, your child, and your dog. You would go to your hairdressers, preen your feathers and take half a day off. After the shoot, you would want to take a walk and drink some coffee, which makes this whole process some sort of ritual. So why on Earth would someone want to go to the Darnytsia Railcar Repair Factory and enter a cold building through an unfriendly guard’s desk? I also enjoy working in the city center rather than DVRZ industrial park.
I love Kyiv’s water area with the many activities it has to offer. I often ride a wakeboard during the warm season and hang out by the water. There is plenty of space for fun and leisure by the Dnipro River. I don’t care for coffee, tea, or fancy restaurants, so I spend most of my weekends outside the city — I would rather take a trip to the forest.
Everyone says that cities like Tokyo and Bangkok are overcrowded. But even Kyiv seems too crowded for me. Or maybe I’m just getting older. Eventually, I would like to move outside the city, make wine, bread, and grow tomatoes.
I dream that one day some clever oligarch who loves Kyiv would come to me and say: “Roma, let's buy all the apartments facing the Andriyivskyy Descent and make the street beautiful.”
Then I would renovate all the ground-floor apartments: I would make all the facades similar, add beautiful lighting and massive windows. And I would give all of those to craftsmen, painters, artists, potters, musicians, designers, and concept stores. So that we could have our own authentic hub for cultural development, where you can buy a pot, commission a portrait and hop into a bakery. And Kulakovska’s and Pashkovskyi’s photo ateliers would be neighboring Sarakhanov’s workshop, for example. There might be something similar at Vozdvyzhenka now. But it’s too commercial for my taste: here’s one luxury boutique, there’s another super-luxury boutique and all the Dmytro Borisov’s restaurants. The Andriyivskyy Descent should have moved from its 90s narrative of foreigners coming to Kyiv to buy some weird pseudo-traditional stuff and eat borscht a long time ago. We should stop trying to copy foreign cultures and create something authentic. Berlin, Istanbul has that, and yet Eastern Europe still tends to live like in the Wild West.”
Roman Pashkovskiy, photographer