The Poltava region is one of the most mysterious and unexplored places in Ukraine. Its culture, mythology, architecture and religious/mystical beliefs originate in a peculiar blend between Eastern European and Asian (Mongolian, Turkish, Caucasus etc.) influences, between Paganism, Orthodox Christianity, and even Islam. Famous writers and poets, such as Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, and Ivan Bunin (among others) have written about Poltava, and many of them have either lived there or had personal connections to this place. There is even a rumor that Michail Bulgakov based the character of Margarita from The Master & Margarita (his world-famous book), on one of the witches from Poltava.

My maternal grandmother, who often comes to me in my dreams since she passed, was born in Poltava. When I first visited this place three years ago, it felt strangely familiar: it felt almost like home and all the people that I was meeting there felt like old friends or maybe even family! This was a very unexpected feeling for me, considering that I have been an immigrant nearly all my life. Perhaps these people reminded me of myself in some strange way: they were all dreamers, lost in their own universes and yet all connected by this mysterious land.

Here, myths and history overlap and complete each other, wild nature and rural lifestyle organically blend into contemporary city life and monumental architecture. Total decay and deconstruction are interwoven with clean and well-maintained streets and buildings. This place seems to merge the feelings of apocalypse and utopia in a way that seems absolutely natural. Local people kept warning me that if I stayed there a little too long, I would never be able to leave, as this place has a kind of invisible “gate” that shuts its doors after a certain period of time and a visitor who only came to take a short peek remains there forever.

— Viktoria Sorochinski

Editor’s note: Viktoria Sorochinski was a finalist in the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2020. We invite you to discover all 39 remarkable photographers who are featured in this year’s Exposure Awards. Viktoria also conducts super-inspiring workshops for photographers — check here for details of her upcoming workshops. Highly recommended!