In the photographic series and book, Alone with Animals, I explore Ukraine from a multi-layered perspective: as a long-term American visitor fascinated by the undercurrent and tension of a post-Soviet country, as part of the Ukrainian diaspora visiting the homeland – which should seem so familiar – for the first time, and as a female traveling alone, stretching my roots and stability.
The result of my collected observations are poignant fragments of dislocated moments. Navigating cultural pockets of clashing examples of past, present, old and new, I in turn grappled with my own issues of belonging, desire, and comfort, so that I luckily lost the power to pinpoint what is normal.
It was nice to feel invisible, like I had stumbled upon a play that had been rehearsed for decades that I simply got to watch. I became witness to its repetition, significant changes, and its cast. So I drank beer outside with all the men because no one could stop me and tell me that it wasn’t going to be fun to live out my fantasy in their reality until it was too late. But the mask of indifference was fashionable so I wore it, too. I was always being led along by someone to view the scene that had been viewed countless times before me. This often left me alone with animals.
Confrontation with worship became commonplace, as if with exray vision I could detect the desire for wealth and freedom behind every closed door. At times I avoided the outdoors where my brain conjured demons. I read about a student who fried eggs over a WWII Eternal Flame monument honoring fallen soldiers and commemorating the Soviet victory of Nazi Germany. Her performative gesture led to being arrested by a group of men wearing balaclavas. My flames instead were lit in conformist fashion in spaces commemorating the crumbling of the Soviet victory of Ukrainians’ psyches.
A supposed archeologist told me that my profile looked like that of an ancient statue from Western Ukraine. That specific connection to the land removed any notion of being exotic. Around me, though, not only was the Dniper River magical as I had learned through folklore and myth, but it was as if from every crevice in the ancient streets and soils sprouted enigmatic experience and ferocious delicacy.