Starting Over: From the Donbass to Chernobyl

Artist Blog by Ilir Tsouko

As a result of the war in Eastern Ukraine back in 2014, over one million displaced persons were looking for a new home. Some are being drawn to a place that until now has stood for destruction, death, and disease. About a new beginning in the former evacuated villages around Chernobyl. Alexeij told me that he has found a home here. He is happy to stay and continue building his life. His wife, on the other hand, would love to return home as soon as there is peace. In my photos of Alexeij, I try to show moments in one family’s life. The focus is less on Chernobyl, exploring instead what it means and looks like to rebuild one’s home.

In one image, Alexej’s family comes together in their backyard, with his youngest daughter playing in front of the camera. Just a couple of minutes before the picture was taken, Aleksej’s wife was in tears, telling me how much she missed her hometown. She told me about the trauma of the war and the loneliness she feels since moving to Chernobyl. I know what it feels like to leave home, but I also recognize the joy of small things that come with rebuilding your life step by step. “Starting Over: From the Donbas to Chernobyl” is not a straightforward migration story: it connects together two national tragedies, two stories of evacuation. But, generally, it reminds us that displacement stories don’t end with the journey, and often, an adopted home does not offer a fresh start. ‘A better life’ is not a destination, but something that is built - a product of migrants’ resilience. From the series “Starting Over: From the Donbass to Chernobyl”.

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