Premises

Thomas Girondel
Thomas GirondelBorn in Le Havre, France, 37 years ago, Thomas Girondel is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer. His work is distributed by the INSTITUTE agency. Thomas has been traveling since his teens. He studied geography in England, and later worked toward his master’s degree in coastal development and natural risks, first in Nantes, then in Australia.

Born in Le Havre, France, 37 years ago, Thomas Girondel is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer. His work is distributed by the INSTITUTE agency. Thomas has been traveling since his teens. He studied geography in England, and later worked toward his master’s degree in coastal development and natural risks, first in Nantes, then in Australia.

At the same time, Thomas discovered photography. He bought his first film camera in 2008 and learned the fundamentals of black and white photography, drawing inspiration from photographers like Anders Petersen, Daidō Moriyama, and Jane Evelyn Atwood. He tried his hand at erotic photography, as well as travel photography during his wanderings. He later discovered the photojournalism of Paolo Pellegrin, James Nachtwey, Ron Haviv, Éric Bouvet, Gilles Caron, and Antoine d’Agata, who have all left their mark on him.

In 2013, while on a temporary assignment with the Ministry of Ecology, Thomas closely observed the incidents that were taking place on the Maidan in Ukraine. He then decided not to renew his contract in 2014 and embark on a trip through Eastern Europe with Kyiv as his final stop. He spent several weeks in Kyiv with his film camera documenting the ordinary lives of Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian young people after the Maidan incidents.

He then decided to go to the separatist stronghold of Donesk to interrogate pro-Russians. There he met European photojournalists and discovered the world of news reporting. On May 25, 2014, after the Ukrainian elections, government forces launched an anti-terrorist operation in Donetsk. Even though he was now in a conflict zone, Thomas pursued his personal project despite the risks involved. Upon his return to France, he became a freelance photojournalist. In 2015, his work on the Ukraine, “Reaching Donetsk”, was exhibited at the international gallery Espace Cosmopolis in Nantes.

Thomas then explored colour digital photography. Over a three-year period, he covered various protest movements in France and Germany. He also produced his first stories dealing with social issues in Kosovo, Poland, Latvia, and the Ukraine. These were to be the subjects of his initial publications.

In 2016, he returned to his roots as a geographer and produced a story for the city of Nantes documenting Seattle’s efforts to combat climate change. His work was exhibited the same year at Climate Chance, the world summit of the non-state climate community.

After completing an internship at the photo desk of the daily Le Monde, he steered away from current affairs to focus on developing his own personal documentaries. In 2018, he began a long-term project dealing with the French island of Yeu. Over a three-year period, he documented the lives of young people and their perception of freedom in a constrained environment. Since then, Thomas has had a particular attraction for island life.

Since 2014, he has returned many times to the Ukraine where he has a strong attachment. He is pursuing his long-term project in which he uses diptychs to show the extent to which Kyiv has evolved since the Maidan incidents.

Thomas has been published in France and internationally, notably by Stern Magazin, The Telegraph Magazine, The Financial Times, the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, the international editions of GEO, GoodWeekend magazine (Australia), DOMUS, De Standaard Magazine, Zeit Leo, Fluter, Woxx, Focus, VICE Media, Rhythms Monthly, the publisher Actes Sud, L’Obs, La Vie, and NEON.

Photos, text and captions:
©Thomas Girondel
www.thomasgirondel.com

 

Translated from the French by Alan Johnson

Two women coming out of the Maidan Nezalejnosti metro station in front of the demonstrators’ former headquarters that was set ablaze by the Berkut security forces during the Euromaidan uprising. Kyiv, Ukraine – May 2, 2014
Taking the stairs leading to the Maidan Nezalejnosti metro station. The former trade union building serving as the demonstrators’ headquarters was set ablaze by the Berkut as ordered by the deposed President Yanukovych on February 18, 2014. It is now under renovation. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 6, 2017

Four months after Euromaidan, Independence Square (Maidan Nezalejnosti) was occupied by pro-European activists. On the right, the former trade union building, and protesters’ headquarters was partly set on fire on February 18, 2014, during an assault by the Berkut security forces. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 25, 2014
Maidan, three years later. The epicentre of pro-European demonstrations is back to its former self. The Berkut’s violent repression ordered by former President Viktor Yanukovych resulted in some 108 deaths and 1,973 injuries between November 2013 and February 2014. The trade union building is currently being renovated. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 7, 2017

An Orthodox rosary hangs on a barbed wire in a park behind the Ukraine Hotel in the Lane of the Heavenly Centuriae. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 25, 2014
Behind the Ukraine Hotel, a spot is dedicated to the Maidan victims. Benches in memory of the deceased have been installed. Barbed wire is adorned with flowers and bracelets in the country’s colours. Kyiv, Ukraine – February 28, 2017

Surrounded by tires and wooden pallets, a pro-European activist stands in front of a makeshift brick shelter outside the entrance to the local Dynamo football club stadium. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 25, 2014
The entrance to the local Dynamo football club stadium, damaged beyond recognition during the Maidan uprising, has been cleaned and renovated by the city’s municipal services. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 7, 2017

A pro-European activist looking towards Maidan through a makeshift tent set up on a sidewalk. Khreschatyk Boulevard and Independence Square were overtaken by activists and their tent city for six months. Once the revolutionaries left the square, most of the militants were determined to stay on the Maidan, as they consider it to be an inviolable sanctuary. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 30, 2014
On Khreschatyk Boulevard near the Maidan, passers-by walk on the once busy sidewalk. The police failed to drive out the last protesters in August 2014, but the people and the city’s municipal services did manage to dislodge the most aggressive activists. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 6, 2017

On Hrushkevskoho Avenue near the entrance to the local Dynamo football club stadium, candles, flowers, and Orthodox rosaries have been placed on the paving stone barricade. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 25, 2014
On the same street, three years later, candles and bouquets of flowers have been placed on what is left of a paving stone barricade. Most of the barricades built during Euromaidan have since been removed. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 6, 2017

A woman carrying a placard with the mention “Klitschko betrayed the 100 who were sacrificed” (the Maidan riot victims) in reference to Kyiv’s new mayor, Vitali Klitschko, during his first speech on Independence Square. Kyiv, Ukraine – June 1, 2014
At day’s end, in a calm atmosphere, people strolling on the pedestrian esplanade of the Maidan along Khreschatyk Boulevard. Occupied for several months in 2014, the street was the spot where numerous demonstrations and gatherings were held. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 6, 2017

On Independence Square, people praying at the entrance to a tent serving as a chapel in memory of the revolutionaries who lost their lives during the riots. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 19, 2014
A woman taking a picture of her daughter on Independence Square. The bereaved atmosphere in 2014 has given way to one of congeniality. Tourists come to immortalize themselves in front of the square that has become the symbol of an entire nation. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 3, 2017

Près de la place de l’Indépendance, un homme se recueille devant un trottoir – improvisé en autel en souvenir des victimes de Maïdan – jonché de bouquets de fleurs et de bougies. Kiev, Ukraine – 27 avril 2014
Three years later at the same spot, a man prays. The makeshift altar has been replaced by stelae in honour of the “heroes of Maidan”. Candles and bouquets of flowers remain, as people continue to honour the victims. Kyiv, Ukraine – February 27, 2017

Walking through Maidan Square in 2014, I was at once seized by the atmosphere. The faces of the determined Ukrainian demonstrators bore a mix of pride and sadness. Because the price of their victory against the Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government had been the lives of those who had been shot by the Berkut riot militias and the snipers ambushed in the Ukrayina Hotel.

My first vision of the Maidan was one of a square decked out with European and Ukrainian flags, a site recovering from the riots that was crowded with activists, blocked by countless barricades, marred by anti-Putin graffiti, and strewn with photos of the victims whose blood had spilled on the pavement. Passers-by walking amid the tents set up by the revolutionaries mingled with journalists who had come from all over the world to cover the uprising.

I wanted to immortalize this atmosphere with old-fashioned film photography. I was still only an amateur photographer, but I already knew that I wanted to do my first story in Kyiv and interview the pro-Ukrainian young people I had met near the Maidan. Surprised to be approached by a Frenchman, these young people agreed to speak to me about their daily lives. Alina, Anna, Constantine, Dmytro, Ira, Lisa, Oksana, Olga, Roma, Viktor, and the others were between 20 and 25 years old, distraught by the repression, but proud of having been able to change the course of events and optimistic about a rapprochement with the European Union.

Their hopes would soon be dashed. In the aftermath of what appeared to be a Ukrainian victory, tensions rose, and the incidents in Kyiv finally triggered Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as well as the conflict in the Donbass that pitted separatists supported by Moscow against the new Kyiv government. A few weeks after documenting these events, I interviewed the pro-Russians in Donetsk where I saw the initial bomb attacks of the war that would lead up to the 2022 invasion.

The years passed, bringing us closer to that outcome, but I had kept in touch with these young people. We had become friends. The Ukraine, from Kyiv to Donetsk, had traumatized me and left me with a deep scar. My friends and I shared this feeling. I was now using a digital camera instead of analog film. I had turned my back on my career in administration to become a photojournalist. On social networks, we shared with each other our daily lives. Roma had left school and had enlisted in the army to avenge those who had killed his father on the Donbass front. His sister Oksana was thinking of fleeing the country. Traumatized by the Maidan uprising, Anna was studying in Dresden, Germany. Dmytro was concentrating on his medical studies in Kyiv, and Lisa was in Canada taking a breath of air.

Independence Square was once again a gathering place when I returned in 2017, but it also served as a base for nationalists who were assembling and raising their troops to taunt Russia. Flowers were always left to honour the dead. In a street that had been renamed, “Lane of the One Hundred Celestial Heroes”, grave markers were now built of marble rather than bricks.

I had the good fortune to see my friends again. After completing his military duty, Roma was working in marketing. Lisa was a graphic designer in Kyiv. My encounter with Ira impressed me the most. In 2014, she had been a student in organic agriculture who would wear a crown of flowers and dress like a young woman of her age. In 2017, returning from Donbass, she wore a military outfit. Obliged to go on a leave of absence to rest, she had one obsession: to return to combat. In the meantime, she was pleading with the Ukrainians to come to their senses and fight the pro-Russians.

In 2018, I returned to the Ukraine. My friends wanted to actively contribute to Ukraine’s future. Constantine ran a successful ecolodge, Olga worked for the United Nations, and Dmytro was now a cardiologist. Ira had returned to Donbass, while Roma, who had enlisted in the army, was headed there. They had all observed the changes the Ukraine had gone through since the Maidan uprising, despite the corruption. The country had acquired a sense of unity and solidarity combined with strong patriotism and cultural pride. The entire nation was ready to fight if Russia ever declared war.

I planned to pursue my project when Olga, then Anna, Oksana and Dmytro called me on 24 February 2022. We were all disturbed by the Russian invasion, but it had not come as a surprise. The shock was even more severe for Anna and Oksana because they now lived in Leipzig, Germany and La Coruña, Spain. Olga, Lisa, and Alina had fled the nation’s capital to settle in the western part of the country. Dmytro decided not to remain at the hospital in Kyiv. Roma and Ira were headed for the front. I have not received any news since we last spoke in March.

I hope to return to Kyiv and other cities in a few months and continue the project that I started in 2014. I had no idea of which direction it would go, or the turn of events. After Maidan, my friends in Kyiv had taken to dreaming. They, like the entire nation, believed that Europe and the world would open up to them and that they would discover new cultures. But since 24 February 2022, they have only dreamed of victory and freedom.

Olga Diachuk, 24, a journalist for a fashion magazine in Kyiv and originally from Ivano-Frankisvk, standing in Pushkinska Street not far from the Maidan. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 29, 2014
Olga Diachuk, 27, an online editor for Vogue magazine in Kyiv standing in Pushkinska Street near Independence Square. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 7, 2017

Ira Ivanishkova, a 25-year-old pro-European activist, holding a Kalashnikov at a recruitment centre of the Pravy Sektor nationalist party located on the pedestrian esplanade of Independence Square. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 26, 2014
Same spot, three years later: the revolutionary spirit of the Maidan has disappeared. A young woman posing on the pedestrian esplanade in front of the still visible entrance of the Globus underground shopping mall. Kyiv, Ukraine – February 27, 2017

In the early evening, on Khreschatyk Boulevard, members of the far-right Svoboda party holding a torchlight march headed for the Maidan. The evening ended with violent confrontations between the Svoboda militia and pro-European anti-nationalist activists. Kyiv, Ukraine – May 6, 2014
Passers-by walk along Khreschatyk Boulevard considered as the “Champs Elysées avenue of Kyiv”. It is the main business thoroughfare of the city. Residents have gone back to their pre-Euromaidan habits; they like to meet each other and stroll among the many shops on the street. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 4, 2017

Ira Ivanishcheva, 25, an organic farming student from Kyiv, wearing a wreath (one of the main features of women’s national costume) standing in front of pro-Maidan graffiti. She is close to the Pravy Sektor nationalist party. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 26, 2014
Ira Ivanishcheva, 28, standing on Khreschatyk Boulevard a few months after completing his military duty in the Donbass. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 2, 2017

Roma Batkovich, 20, a marketing student in Kyiv wearing an embroidered Ukrainian shirt. Originally from Bila Tservka, he is standing in front of a barricade built by pro-European activists on Khreschatyk Boulevard. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 28, 2014
Roma Batkovich, 23, a social media marketing manager, standing on Khreschatyk Boulevard, which has since been reopened to traffic. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 3, 2016

On the Maidan, Ukrainian veterans who participated in the first war in Afghanistan form a security cordon during the speech of Kyiv’snew mayor, Vitali Klitschko. Kyiv, Ukraine – June 1, 2014
Tourists passing by on the pedestrian esplanade of Independence Square, The Maidan, which has become a national symbol, is no longer a daily gathering place for activists. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 4, 2017

A pro-EU activist in fatigues singing Ukraine’s national anthem with his hand on his heart just before Kyiv’s new mayor, Vitali Klitschko, delivers his first speech on Independence Square. Kyiv, Ukraine – June 1, 2014
Three years later, on Khreschatyk Boulevard where Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, made his first speech. He ordered that the Maidan be cleaned up so that life in the capital city could return to normal. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 6, 2017

Lisa Manoryk, 20, a design student from Kyiv, lies on the grass in Vichnoyi Slavy Park. Kyiv, Ukraine – May 2, 2014
Lisa Manoryk, 23, a freelance graphic designer in Taras Shevchenko Park several months after returning from Canada. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 3, 2017

Oksana Shamonova, 25, a journalist in Kyiv and originally from Bila Tserkva, posing in front of a barricade built by pro-European activists in Zankovetska Street near the Maidan. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 28, 2014
Oksana Shamonova, 28, a communications officer in Kyiv, on Zankovetska Street three years later. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 4, 2017

Near a Maidan Nezalejnosti metro exit in the Lane of the Heavenly Centuriae, a priest offering a daily prayer in front of an improvised altar in memory of the victims of Maidan, while a woman and her daughter, dressed in traditional Ukrainian attire, are meditating. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 29, 2014
Not far from the sanctuary of the “New Ukrainian Martyrs” (a chapel quickly built after the Euromaidan), people exiting the Maidan Nezalejnosti metro station walk in front of commemorative steles in the renamed Lane of “the Hundred Celestial Heroes” that pay tribute to the victims of the police repression. Kyiv, Ukraine – February 28, 2017

One of the many exits of the Maidan Nezalejnosti metro station leading to Europe Square is blocked by a heap of tires. The blockage of the Maidan was to cause huge traffic problems for the city. Kyiv, Ukraine – April 28, 2014
On the stairs, now evacuated, leading to Europe Square three years later, teen-agers walking to the Maidan Nezalejnosti metro station. Kyiv, Ukraine – March 1, 2017

Support Humanitarian Alternatives

Was this article useful and did you like it? Support our publication!

All of the publications on this site are freely accessible because our work is made possible in large part by the generosity of a group of financial partners. However, any additional support from our readers is greatly appreciated! It should enable us to further innovate, deepen the review’s content, expand its outreach, and provide the entire humanitarian sector with a bilingual international publication that addresses major humanitarian issues from an independent and quality-conscious standpoint. You can support our work by subscribing to the printed review, purchasing single issues or making a donation. We hope to see you on our online store! To support us with other actions and keep our research and debate community in great shape, click here!