Picturing World Cultures: Maxim Dondyuk - Ukraine

05/02/2024Link0

The dictionary defines culture as “the way of life for an entire society.” But sometimes larger forces create rifts within the whole, inevitably leading to a confrontation between factions. A prime example of this cultural struggle is playing out today within the cities and villages of Ukraine, the focus of today’s episode.

Above photograph © Maxim Dondyuk

In this sixth installment of our monthly series, Picturing World Cultures, we speak with Ukrainian photographer and visual artist Maxim Dondyuk, and his wife and artistic manager, Irina.

From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. Peaceful opposition between protesters and riot police on Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti). Hard power wasn’t applied by either party. Kyiv, 2013.
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. Peaceful opposition between protesters and riot police on Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti). Hard power wasn’t applied by either party. Kyiv, 2013.
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. After clashes between police and protesters on Shelkovychna street. Kyiv, 2014.
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. After clashes between police and protesters on Shelkovychna street. Kyiv, 2014.
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. Kyiv’s Independence Square on fire, with protesters’ tents burned by riot police, Kyiv, 2014.
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. Kyiv’s Independence Square on fire, with protesters’ tents burned by riot police, Kyiv, 2014.
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. A moment of rest amid riot police on Kyiv’s Independence Square. Kyiv, 2014
From the project CULTURE OF CONFRONTATION, 2013-2014. A moment of rest amid riot police on Kyiv’s Independence Square. Kyiv, 2014
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. The neighborhood near the pedestrian bridge. In this place, many Russian army rockets were released, killing civilians and blowing up cars. Chernihiv city, Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. The neighborhood near the pedestrian bridge. In this place, many Russian army rockets were released, killing civilians and blowing up cars. Chernihiv city, Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Remains of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration which was destroyed by air bomb. Kharkiv, Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Remains of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration which was destroyed by air bomb. Kharkiv, Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Evacuation of civilians from Irpin town, through a bridge destroyed by the Armed Forces of Ukraine to prevent the enemy from reaching Kyiv.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Evacuation of civilians from Irpin town, through a bridge destroyed by the Armed Forces of Ukraine to prevent the enemy from reaching Kyiv.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. A stretcher in a frontline field hospital near Popasna, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. A stretcher in a frontline field hospital near Popasna, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Cemetery in the forests near Izyum, Kharkiv region, Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Cemetery in the forests near Izyum, Kharkiv region, Ukraine.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Snihurivka City, Mykolaiv region. A critical transportation hub with highways and railroad lines, connecting Snihurivka with Kherson, it was occupied by Russia from March to November 2022.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. Snihurivka City, Mykolaiv region. A critical transportation hub with highways and railroad lines, connecting Snihurivka with Kherson, it was occupied by Russia from March to November 2022.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. The Church of the Life-Giving Trinity, village of Mala Komyshuvakha, Kharkiv region. Occupied by Russian troops, since the beginning of the invasion, it was later converted into a Russian military hospital.
From the series BATTLEGROUND, 2022-2024. The Church of the Life-Giving Trinity, village of Mala Komyshuvakha, Kharkiv region. Occupied by Russian troops, since the beginning of the invasion, it was later converted into a Russian military hospital.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the series BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, photographed in Eastern Ukraine along the border with self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, Winter 2017.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Archival pictures scanned from found undeveloped film.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Archival pictures scanned from found undeveloped film.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Film sequence scanned from found undeveloped film.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Film sequence scanned from found undeveloped film.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Archival pictures scanned from found undeveloped film.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Archival pictures scanned from found undeveloped film.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Abandoned building from a village in the Chernobyl restricted area, 2018.
From the Untitled Project from Chernobyl. 2016–ongoing. Abandoned building from a village in the Chernobyl restricted area, 2018.
Maxim Dondyuk at work in Chernobyl restricted area, summer 2021
Maxim Dondyuk at work in Chernobyl restricted area, summer 2021
Maxim Dondyuk photographs the site of a bombing, Irpin City, 2022, photo © Mikhail Palinchak
Maxim Dondyuk photographs the site of a bombing, Irpin City, 2022, photo © Mikhail Palinchak
Maxim Dondyuk and his FUJIFILM camera setup for panoramas, 2023
Maxim Dondyuk and his FUJIFILM camera setup for panoramas, 2023
Maxim and Irina Dondyuk, Arles, France, 2022.
Maxim and Irina Dondyuk, Arles, France, 2022.

Our conversation stretches beyond the current conflict, to encompass other aspects of Ukrainian society. From Maxim’s early series on a country doctor’s final visits with patients (which drew inspiration from the work of W. Eugene Smith) to his in-depth coverage of Ukraine’s TB epidemic, we witness the evolution of his working methods and his dedication to long term documentary projects.

Step behind the scenes of a military camp for children run by Cossacks, and gain insight into the cultural split between pro-Russian and pro-European factions, which Maxim photographed for his book Culture of Confrontation.

As he writes in this book, “One culture tried to cling to old times, old ways of living. They were nostalgic for a past that meant a lot to them, to their parents, and grandparents. Yet there was another culture that felt completely differently. They looked ahead to forging something new, a different country.”

2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
2013 photo series documenting the last working day of a country doctor in the small Ukrainian village of Slobidka, Zhytomyr region.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Building exterior, Kherson TB hospital, August 2011.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Building exterior, Kherson TB hospital, August 2011.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Tsurupinsk children’s TB hospital, Kherson region, September 2011. A young girl cries in front of doctor giving TB injections.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Tsurupinsk children’s TB hospital, Kherson region, September 2011. A young girl cries in front of doctor giving TB injections.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Prisoners with droppers in the treatment room of the prison’s TB department, Starozburevska penal colony #7, Kherson region, July 2011.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Prisoners with droppers in the treatment room of the prison’s TB department, Starozburevska penal colony #7, Kherson region, July 2011.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Gennady, born 1962, worked in the mine. In 2007 pulmonary tuberculosis was discovered. In December 2010 he was diagnosed with MDR TB + HIV at Donetsk TB hospital, Donbas. This photo was made two hours before his death.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Gennady, born 1962, worked in the mine. In 2007 pulmonary tuberculosis was discovered. In December 2010 he was diagnosed with MDR TB + HIV at Donetsk TB hospital, Donbas. This photo was made two hours before his death.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. A mother cries during her son’s funeral. Four pallbearers could not be found, so Maxim had to help. The line between his role as photographer and a participant in the funeral had disappeared long ago.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. A mother cries during her son’s funeral. Four pallbearers could not be found, so Maxim had to help. The line between his role as photographer and a participant in the funeral had disappeared long ago.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Maxim’s hospital room in Novozburivka TB hospital, Kherson region, August 2011.
From the project TB EPIDEMIC IN UKRAINE, 2010-2012. Maxim’s hospital room in Novozburivka TB hospital, Kherson region, August 2011.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Boys play the guitar during their free time.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Boys play the guitar during their free time.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. This patriotic military training camp is attended by children aged 7 to 16 years old.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. This patriotic military training camp is attended by children aged 7 to 16 years old.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Two young girls, Belka and Albina, pose for a picture while serving as a sniper pair.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Two young girls, Belka and Albina, pose for a picture while serving as a sniper pair.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Young Cossacks shoot at targets under an officer’s control. Each camper receives training with real weapons and live ammunition.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Young Cossacks shoot at targets under an officer’s control. Each camper receives training with real weapons and live ammunition.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Cossacks are very closely connected with religion from the very old times. A significant role of the camp is to instill Orthodox Christian values in the kids.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Cossacks are very closely connected with religion from the very old times. A significant role of the camp is to instill Orthodox Christian values in the kids.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Group portrait. When Maxim asked children and officers about their nationalities, their answer was Cossack. They don’t have another nationality, and nothing will split them.
From the photo project CRIMEA SICH, 2010-2013. Group portrait. When Maxim asked children and officers about their nationalities, their answer was Cossack. They don’t have another nationality, and nothing will split them.

Join us for this frank discussion about how such conflicting forces take visual form in Maxim’s powerfully arresting images.

If you haven’t already listened, check out all of the episodes of our Picturing World Cultures podcast series.

Guests: Maxim & Irina Dondyuk

Episode Timeline:

  • 2:43: Some defining characteristics of the Ukrainian people and culture.
  • 4:32: Maxim’s 2013 documentation of the final work days of a country doctor treating patients in a small Ukrainian village.
  • 7:39: A long-term project to document Ukraine’s tuberculosis epidemic by spending two years embedded in TB hospitals.
  • 16:56: The Crimea Sich project documenting a military summer camp in the Crimea where young children receive education in guns and ammunition by experienced Cossacks.
  • 23:01: The cultural split between pro-Russian and pro-European factions and Maxim’s documentation of the Maidan revolution and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • 32:18: Maxim’s photo gear: a Nikon D810, a 35mm lens, a laptop, plus his new FUJIFILM GFX 100S medium format camera.
  • 36:26: Episode Break
  • 37:24: Irina Dondyuk’s role in disseminating and promoting Maxim’s images, and how they communicate when he’s in the field.
  • 43:30: How social media factors into Maxim’s creative output, his personal aversion to social media, and Irina’s responsibility in managing his social networks.
  • 47:13: Maxim’s visual approach to break away from the specifics of place in his photographs and capture the more abstract universal conflict between light and shadow, good and evil.
  • 52:18: Maxim’s Untitled Chernobyl project, his efforts to collect photographic objects from abandoned homes, and his personal connection to the Chernobyl tragedy.
  • 1:03:10: The series Between Life and Death, in which Maxim photographs the ruins of war under a blanket of snow, and his connection to Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, who has Ukrainian roots.
  • 1:11:14: Maxim Dondyuk answers our PWC Visual Questionnaire.

Guest Bio:

Maxim Dondyuk is a Ukrainian photographer and visual artist. After starting out as a photojournalist for Ukrainian media, Maxim has focused on creating his own documentary projects since 2010, often combining photos, video, text, and archival materials. Maxim’s work explores issues relating to history, memory, conflict, and its consequences. In 2019, the release of his book Culture of Confrontation, became a turning point in his artistic work.

In 2022, Maxim was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for the project Ukraine 2014 – 2022. Additional recognition includes a Lucie Award as International Photographer of the Year, selection as a finalist for the Prix Pictet Photography Prize, and inclusion in Magnum Photos '30 under 30' competition for emerging documentary photographers.

Stay Connected:

Maxim Dondyuk Website: https://maximdondyuk.com/
Maxim Dondyuk Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/maximdondyuk/
Maxim Dondyuk Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/maximdondyuk
Maxim Dondyuk Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/maximdondyuk
Maxim Dondyuk Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxim_Dondyuk
Maxim Dondyuk‘s W. Eugene Smith Grant: https://www.smithfund.org/2022-maxim-dondyuk


Senior Creative Producer and Host: Jill Waterman
Technical Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Bjorn Petersen
Editorial Director: Shawn C Steiner
Theme Music: Gabriel Richards

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