“Lands of No Return” is a long-term project that portrays the last remnants of authentic Ukrainian villages and their elderly inhabitants.
I was born in Ukraine; my grandparents lived in one of the small villages near Kiev. I remember visiting their home as a child—those memories are filled with light and happiness. When I visited the village again for the first time many years after I emigrated, I was astonished at how lifeless and miserable it looked. There were almost exclusively elderly people in the village. They are living out their last days: neglected by the government and often abandoned by their families. Along with their traditions and their homes, they are slowly disappearing…
Over the last 10 years, I traveled to Ukraine several times and photographed the villages around its capital. For me, this series is a kind of tribute to the past. This project is the most personal of all my works because it is directly related to my grandfather and great-grandmother, who were born (and are buried) in one of these villages.
Even though this project started as a personal journey, the more I worked on it, the more I realized that capturing and commemorating these people and places has a greater value. They are the last remaining evidence of the once-magical and vibrant culture that will soon be known only in history books.
Editors’ Note: This project was singled out in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2017 by juror Simon Bainbridge, Editorial Director of the British Journal of Photography. Read what he had to say and then discover the other brilliant photographers discovered through this competition—
“First of all, these are extraordinary portraits. I have no doubt that a large part of their fascination is the photographer’s relationship with her subjects, which are both intimate and estranged. She writes about her happy childhood visits to grandparents in rural Ukraine, and on her return many years later, having lived in four different countries since adolescence, how she was astonished by ‘how lifeless and miserable it looked,’ shocked by how the almost entirely elderly residents had to fend for themselves.
To me, as someone who lives and grew up in England, there’s also a fascination with the interiors—a sense of time stood still, like a museum for Soviet-era kitsch. A way of life seemingly untouched by IKEA or fast food or Facebook or any of the unappreciated comforts (and distractions) of modern life. But there’s also a horror and discomfort about their abandonment, a sense of the uncanny about the end-of-life purgatory that awaits, here illustrated by these real and living people eking out their remaining years in the land that time forgot.
These photographs are straightforward, but not merely descriptive. They capture something of her subjects’ inner lives; the sense of claustrophobia, but also the residual pride in home and appearance. The photographer writes about commemorating a people and a culture that is dying. But what is astonishing to me is not so much the quiet time capsule that it captures as the fact that it co-existed—nearby yet unseen—with a world that is well into the 21st century, yet seeming to struggle with the unprecedented pace of change.
Sorochinski is also a member of the LensCulture Network, a recent initiative we launched with the idea of offering talented, accomplished photographers a place to showcase their work on a global stage while also giving them a place to share, learn and engage with one another. The LensCulture Network began with a small number of hand-picked members, and we are very excited to watch it grow and evolve.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like one of these previous features: Michal Chelbin’s portraits from a military boarding school in Ukraine; Boikos in Ukraine, a dream-like series on life in a small Ukrainian village; and TB in Ukraine, a project on the devastating recent tuberculosis crisis in the country.