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'Most stayed': Ukrainian artist in Kyiv

Sabine Kieselbach
March 2, 2022

Air raid sirens are constantly sounding, people are holed up in bunkers. Yevgenia Belorusets, an artist based in both Kyiv and Berlin, speaks to DW from inside the Ukrainian capital.

Yevgeniya Belorusets smiles into the camera.
Ukrainian photographer Yevgeniya Belorusets shares her experience from inside KyivImage: M- Stauffenberg/imago images

Yevgenia Belorusets, born in 1980, is a photographer, artist and writer. She lives alternately in Kyiv and Berlin. Her work deals with the intersection of art, media and society. She has been in Kyiv since December 2021 and spoke to DW from her apartment in the Ukrainian capital on March 1, 2022.

DW: Can you describe your everyday life? How are you experiencing the war?

Yevgenia Belorusets: Several times a day, sirens can be heard warning us of missiles. It is not clear whether the danger is really coming or going. But you have to seek shelter. You have to go into the cellars, into the bunkers, deep underground. I'm reckless sometimes and I wait and hope it just passes. 

The streets are deserted. There is a queue in front of the pharmacy, people wait five or six hours to get their vital medicines. Not long ago we were still in the reality of a pandemic — it still continues, but it's not the topic anymore.

Now it's all about the injured, wounded, soldiers and others. Few pharmacies are open. Only the people who need medicine for wounded soldiers can enter without having to queue.

People are afraid, they go out as little as possible. Yesterday I accompanied my friend to the train station. I don't live far, it usually takes about 25 minutes to walk. But yesterday was really dangerous — and I went back alone.

How do people in Ukraine get information right now? Can you share ideas with other people?

I am in many Telegram groups and channels. I read 10-20 different news sources, mostly independent, government or verified journalistic sources — reliable sources. You can exchange ideas in the comments. But we are careful. I am in constant contact with relatives, friends and acquaintances through various social networks and by telephone. The communication is very intense. I also try to take photos with my smartphone and with my old film camera.

Why are you in Kyiv now? Why are you staying there?

I came to Kyiv in December to work on a novel dealing with human rights. I'm also working on another book that's more about social research, which requires me to do a lot of research in Ukraine. 

I had already planned to return to Berlin in the beginning of March, but when the war started, I suddenly didn't want to leave. My parents are here. My father is a bit weak right now — he is a translator of German poetry. I would only be ready to leave the country with my parents and with my friends. But thank God most of my friends are no longer here.

Have many of those around you — family, friends — left Ukraine?

Some have left Ukraine, but most have stayed.

What helps you cope now? Are you able to work?

I keep a diary for "Der Spiegel." That helps me. Writing in German, a foreign language for me, is a challenge. That gives meaning to my existence in this situation. I write. I am thinking. I take pictures.

What are you photographing?

Little things, my streets. I am looking for images to represent my thoughts.

In a 2018 interview, you expressed your fear that there would be a war against Ukraine. Why? What were the signs? Were you alone with this fear?

That is hard to say. Russia launched violent attacks in eastern Ukraine and the whole region was in danger. There were only a few international journalists reporting on site, and little was said about it on the Ukrainian side — people apparently didn't have the strength to do so. 

It was never about protecting the identity of people close to Russia and their way of life. It is precisely those people who are being attacked, as we can also see in Kharkiv , which has now been attacked. 

This is a Russian-speaking city with a unique history and modernist architecture, and now it's just under rocket fire. There is no military infrastructure; civilians live there and they are now being attacked with rockets. It all started back in 2014 in Donbas.

Russia intensifies attacks on Ukraine

Didn't the people of Ukraine want to admit that?

With its disinformation campaign, Russia managed to get some Ukrainians to believe that eastern Ukraine was really pro-Russian — that Russia was invited to go to war there. But one never invites a war.

The Ukrainians who believed this also believed that the east of Ukraine was voluntarily occupied by the Russians. But people have been dying in this war for years, every day.

Putin justifies his attack on Ukraine with the accusation that those in power in Ukraine are fascists — propaganda that is also circulating in the West. 

You have always been a critic of the political situation in Ukraine, how do you experience that?

Ukraine has never been a fascist country, nor has it ever been  inhumane. Nationalist parties have never really been popular here — their share in parliament is less than 3%. 

My view of the country has always been, and always will be, critical. At this moment, however, it is very difficult to remain critical. I'm shocked and I'm in love with my country because I see that people really protect each other and stand together, that people are trying to counter this unspeakable, inhuman violence with something human. If any food is missing, you give it to each other. 

My neighbor is a doctor who stayed in Kyiv to work in the bomb shelter, although he can hardly stand the shelling. He puts himself in danger to help.

How many times a day is there an air raid alarm?

Several times, three or four times until this afternoon. And going into the bunker every time and waiting for the air raid alarm to stop is very difficult.

Have friends from Russia contacted you?

Many have come forward and said they are sorry. They're tense, they think it's terrible, they say: "Shame on Russia!"

How are things going for you now?

I want to keep writing, keep telling stories. And do what I can do, here and now. I can't really plan anything in this situation.

What can the rest of the world do now, what would you wish for?

Everyone must now take a position — even in the art world. Any support, any help is important right now. People are being murdered, just like that, on the streets, and you have to do everything to stop it. 

I want sanctions that will destroy the Russian economy. I want military support for Ukraine at all levels. We have to be able to protect ourselves. I hope that truth prevails in the end.


This interview was translated from German.