My family photo archive remains in Donetsk, Ukrainian city occupied by Russian terrorists. I might never see it again. It might not exist anymore when I’m writing this text or when you will be reading it. All I can do to preserve it in my memory is to reconstruct at least those photos which I still remember. Reconstruct using any available materials and photos of other people no longer needed by their original owners. Occupy somebody else’s memorabilia exactly the same way my own were occupied.
This woman in the photo from the flea market in Riga looks remarkably like my grandmother in her 30s. She had a similar photo - same pose, same three-quarter view, similar clothes. She must have liked it - she even had an enlarged hand coloured copy made. The aubergine sleeveless dress she’s wearing in this photo lasted long enough for me to remember it.
This picture was particularly important to my grandmother. It was taken shortly after the nazi forced labor camp in Sudetenland where she was held was liberated by the Soviet army. She and her friend and two soviet soldiers made a group portrait in the studio to celebrate the first moments of their freedom.
This picture used to give me creeps when I was a child. Grandma and her colleagues from school are all dressed in black except for one woman in the first row - she’s wearing something bright and chequered. The photo had faded over the years and eyes had become blank spaces without any sign of pupils.
A bunch of old and heavily worn out photos made initially for documents - grandfather, grandmother, her mother, and her grandmother. It is the only surviving (is it?) image of the latter - my great-great-grandmother.
My grandfather’s sister - that makes her my grandaunt I guess. Never was good at all that ‘second cousin once removed’ stuff. Half of the photo was torn off and I never got to know who was in it. Maybe it was her husband whom she had killed with an axe - in self-defence.
Grandaunt again, smiling broadly with her golden tooth visible and attracting all the attention.
Grandma was a teacher and had plenty of class photos in her albums. Sometimes she would tell me stories about one of the pupils or a colleague of hers. Obviously I cannot recall any of those nor would I recognise anybody in those photos save for herself. If I ever see them again, that is.
An early photo of my mother, she’s no more than 2 years old here, wearing a sort of a warm black jumpsuit with small funny ears.
My uncle got an amateur camera as a birthday present when he was a teenager and we have (had) several boxes of his photos - there were dogs, cats, neighbors, trees, selfies and a single picture of our old house (top floor, two windows on the right) in a small town in Luhansk region of Ukraine - also under Russian occupation now.
My grandparents with my mom and her brother on their summer holidays in Sukhumi in 1960s. Sukhumi, once a blossoming Georgian city full of tourists, suffered a lot of damage in the war and had become another Russian-occupied territory:
This photo is my mother’s - taken during her student years in Kharkiv. She’s standing with her friends near Lenin’s monument in the central square. The same monument that was finally demolished last year by Maidan activists.
My mom in a beautiful dress and her friends sitting on a bench, probably near their university in Kharkiv.
Mother’s touristic photos from all over the USSR - she travelled a lot in her youth and had tons of pictures from all the typical tourist attractions:
One of the photos from my uncle's wedding ceremony - with my mom as the bridesmaid.
A commonplace in photo archives - a picture of some friends or acquaintances of my parents or grandparents, given or sent in a letter, reverse signed with something like ‘for everlasting memory’ or ‘please remember’. This particular one says ‘For a long memory from Reni and Stasik’. Unfamiliar names, faded faces, everlasting memory long vanished.
My first photo. I’m 10 months old or so, I’m standing in my baby crib behind a safety net. Everything is blurred and barely visible, just like my memories are.
On this colour photo I’m 2 or 3 years old. I’m wearing a ‘navy’ suit and there is a big fluffy toy dog at my side. It was taken at a studio I suppose as I don’t remember seeing that dog ever again.
It was a series of photos made when I was a year and half or so. I’m standing somewhere in a field - with huge sunflowers and corn twice my height surrounding me. Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes with my mother or one of my cousins. I must have wet my pants shortly before the photos were taken because I’m wearing nothing but a dotted shirt:
This picture was taken in late autumn, the leaves have fallen from the trees, I’m dressed very warm - brown jacket and a ‘budenovka’ hat. I’m hugging an inflatable giraffe among the fir trees near the clinic which I used to visit far too often in my childhood.
And here I’m 6 or maybe even 7. It’s a common summer holiday photo on a beach against a prop palm tree with a toy monkey. It was taken in Crimea some 25 years before its Russian occupation.
Another marine costume, another photo taken after a visit to the clinic. This time I’m standing on a fountain border in front of a huge (at least it seemed huge to me back then) product store where we sometimes used to drop in after visiting a doctor - and if I was lucky I even got a chance to ride a mechanical toy (it was the rocket ship I went crazy about) or to play an arcade video game.
These photos were taken in Chișinău, Moldova roughly at the same time as Russia was occupying Moldova’s eastern part, Transnistria.
Our last family photo before we left Chisinau - mom’s taking the picture, me and grandma sitting in our old living room.
My last school photo - me and my classmates riding bumper cars in an amusement park on our terminal day at school.
One of the last analogue family photos made in Donetsk. Plenty of people, some of them I hardly know, some do not belong to our family anymore, a few are dead, others chose now to collaborate with terrorists and rather were dead.
- Occupation (2015)