PLUS 1: traveling photo exhibition dedicated to the fallen Defenders of Ukraine

Getting ready for the exhibition, Mykhailivska Square, Kyiv, August 29, 2020. Photo: courtesy of Marian Prysiazhniuk 

Civil Society, War in the Donbas

To mark the Day of Remembrance and the sixth anniversary of the Ilovaisk tragedy, PLUS 1 photo art project was launched on Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv on August 29, 2020.  Why PLUS 1? Plus 1 Ukrainian, plus 1 fighter, plus 1 daughter, plus 1 sister, plus 1 answer to Russian propaganda, plus 1 democratic state… Plus 1, plus 1, plus 1. The individual is one small grain, a plus 1 unit in a strong, united and democratic state.

PLUS 1 is a street-based photo exhibit designed to support the families of fallen Ukrainian servicemen and memorialize their narratives, as well as to build a new socio-cultural image of Ukrainians as defenders of such core values as democracy and freedom.

PLUS 1 is also part of a comprehensive multimedia advocacy campaign in which the stories of Ukrainian servicemen, who perished in the Russian-Ukrainian war, are told through photo portraits and original texts written by noted Ukrainians, which can be referenced on the project website.

Photo gallery of PLUS 1 photo project, Mykhailivska Square, Kyiv, August 29, 2020. All photos: courtesy of Marian Prysiazhniuk.

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Identity and self-affirmation

After the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity and six years of war against Russia and their minions, Ukraine is slowly moving forward and forging an identity as a nation.  PLUS 1 raises the issue of self-determination and self-identity through individual Ukrainians, who laid aside their interests, studies, jobs and families in order to defend their ideals and homes, united in their effort to preserve and build a full-fledged independent state. This national identity is still a work in progress. It requires conscious daily exertion. Political bickering and extremism might nibble away at this identity, so we need to keep working at it ever harder. Celebrations such as the commemoration of Ukrainian Defenders, Remembrance Day, etc. should give us the motivation to persevere.

Each identity is crystallized in the image of a family or relative, holding an object or a symbol dear to the fallen Warrior. Plus 1 Ukrainian, plus 1 son, plus 1 father, plus 1 husband fighting on the Eastern Front. Plus 1 sister, plus 1 wife, plus 1 daughter standing on the front lines of the struggle for liberation. Plus 1 defender. Plus 1 warrior. Plus 1 loss. Together, the PLUS 1s unite to make a plus 1 democratic country.

Project implementation

The project is built around 22 individual exhibition stands. In iconic and powerful moments, captured by a photographer’s camera – Youry Bilak, a Frenchman of Ukrainian descent – Ukrainian families tell the stories of their loved ones – Ukrainian servicemen who perished in the war. Each family chose an object that most reminds them of their departed: a father’s jacket, a guitar, a suit of medieval armour, a book. These family artifacts reflect a living continuation of the departed person. Ukrainian artists, intellectuals, and journalists were invited to create original texts about each soldier. After interviewing the families, Yuriy Andrukhovych, Oleksandr Irvanets, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Larysa Denysenko, Oleksandr Mykhed and 17 other prominent Ukrainians wrote moving stories about their subject, which were subsequently published on the PLUS 1 website.

The stands are purposely asymmetrical… because war never brings symmetry to life, only chaos, destruction and grief. Each stand displays a large photo of the soldier’s family members, a short caption and a QR-code linking the viewer to the website and the full version of the photo project.

Traveling abroad

The creators of PLUS 1 also intend to export their exhibition abroad and travel to as many countries as possible. Their aim is to present a true image of modern Ukrainians, who rose to defend not only their country, but also democratic values and ideals.

Although citizen support for democracy is still massive in Europe, dissatisfaction is widespread, giving rise to a surge of populist challengers from the left and the right. This is why the Ukrainian example is so important and should be seen and understood by other countries. Ukraine is an example of nation-building where the yoke of communism still permeates so many levels of society, but where the Revolution of Dignity and the Russia-Ukrainian war have firmly set the country on the path towards European integration. Each fallen hero was a man, a citizen, a European, who accepted responsibility for himself and his family, his home, his region, and his country.

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As the authors and founders of PLUS 1 state:

“A deep awareness of this image will help us to better navigate the present and the future, to be inspired and move towards the creation of a democratic country, a society of free and worthy people.”

The fallen heroes

The heroes of the exhibition were teachers, journalists, builders, programmers, sailors, students, military personnel. Many of them were like most of us, but they took up arms and went to war. They came from all over Ukraine – Mariupol, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv, Kolomyya… and from all walks of life – opera singer Wassyl Slipak, Ukrainian worker Volodia Pytak, who lived in the United States for ten years, student of Japanese Svyat Horbenko, and sailor Andriy Nazarenko. Defending the values ​​of democracy and freedom, they became defenders of not only Ukraine, but of European values and civilization.

Vadym Antonov was an active participant of the Revolution of Dignity, and when war broke out, went to the front as a volunteer fighter. When his unit liberated Lysychansk, “Litachok” (Airplane) hoisted a blue and yellow flag in the central square. It was a gift from his comrades-in-arms for his 38th birthday.

Vadym Antonov was killed near Ilovaisk, Donetsk Oblast on August 10, 2014.

Vadym Antonov. My father gave me this guinea pig. It reminds me of him. Photo: Youry Bilak

Mykola Kozlov was a former KGB major in the soviet Border Guard Service. And yet, when war broke out, he was one of the first men to volunteer for service in a Ukrainian army that didn’t exist. The recruitment office refused, but Mykola went and enlisted in the Donbas Battalion. He adopted the call sign “Matviy”, the name of his grandfather who fell in the Second World War.

Mykola Kozlov was killed in the battle of Karlivka, Donetsk Oblast on May 23, 2014.

Mykola Kozlov. Our entire married life was spent against the background of his military service. And it ended there as well. Photo: Youry Bilak

Captain Mykola Zhuk was killed near Debaltseve-Novohryhorivka on January 25, 2015.

“She believes that his story should be told. Talking about him is like bringing him back to life. Talking about him is giving him the opportunity of being here with us. As long as we keep telling their stories, they remain alive,” says writer Yuriy Andrukhovych.

“She” is Olena, the wife of Mykola Zhuk, Captain in the 128th Separate Mountain Infantry Brigade.

Olena, Mykola Zhuk’s wife and Nastia, his daughter

Mykola Zhuk. Mom’s waiting. I’m waiting. Our dog Dania is waiting. The sounds and warmth of the hearth and home are also waiting. Photo: Youry Bilak

Volodymyr Kyian, call sign “Typhoon” served in the 80th Separate Air Assault Brigade. He was killed near on September 3, 2015 near Shchastia, Luhansk Oblast.

From childhood, Volodymyr dreamt of becoming a soldier. “I look at Olia and think about what she’s been through. She lost a loved one. She lost the father of her newborn. What should I ask her? Did Volodia see his little one? Yes, he did. He was on leave when Olia delivered their child. He took tiny Danylko in his arms, hugged him tightly to his chest …” writes poet Oleksandr Irvanets.

Volodymyr Kyian. Volodia loved wearing “Jolly Roger” on his backpack and baseball cap. Photo: Youry Bilak

The PLUS 1 team

Marian Prysiazhniuk

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Founder and project manager. Former mentor at NGO Ukrainian Leadership Academy, cultural activist, volunteer

Youry Bilak

French photographer of Ukrainian origin

Maryna Lukianova

Executive director, NGO Euroatlantic Course, CEO of the project Odnodumtsi

Taisia Bratasiuk

Coordinator of the Katowice Euromaidan movement (Poland)

Oleksandra Zadilska

Communications Manager of the crowdfunding campaign

Yuliia Hryhoruk

Graduate of the Ukrainian Leadership Academy, student at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and  activist with NGO National Alliance

Vira Mashnina

Project finance manager

A crowdfunding campaign is underway to translate the essays of our heroes into English. You can join the campaign by making a voluntary donation on the website under the “Donations” section.

PLUS 1 is also looking for volunteer translators to translate the Ukrainian texts into English.

Thank you!

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