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Gorsad photography collective Ukraine
Courtesy of Gorsad

These photos capture pre-war life for young Ukrainians

Photography collective Gorsad has spent years documenting the youth of Kyiv. As the war wages on, they share their hopes and fears for the future

Almost a month has passed since Putin launched a brutal attack on Ukraine. Since then, the lives of many have been ruined. With civilians thrust into danger, many have had little choice but to take up arms and defend themselves. 

Gorsad is a photography collective consisting of artists Viktor Vasiliev, Maria Romaniuk and Ulik Romaniuk. Their vivid, provocative work focuses mainly on youth and sexuality, with the trio living and working in Kyiv. The city is a space of great inspiration for Gorsad, and their practice revolves predominantly around its inhabitants. “Kyiv is for us, in all senses, a place of inspiration, power and freedom,” Vasiliev tells Dazed. “All young people here are eager to progress, learn and create meaningful art. Kyiv is inhabited by conscientious and extremely talented people who are building the foundation of a powerful country to be proud of.” All three members of Gorsad are still in Ukraine, currently weathering the relentless Russian invasion.

Having had the pleasure of meeting and working with Gorsad’s Vasiliev last year, I have been keeping abreast with his situation and life on the ground. “If hell exists, let us call it so,” he says. “We never thought that such a peaceful country as ours could be invaded, and in such a brutal manner.” Last weekend, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that 1,119 civilians have been killed and another 1,790 wounded. Key infrastructure – such as a maternity ward and a theatre sheltering over 1,000 civilians – have also been targeted. “It’s really hard to put into words the losses that almost all Ukrainians are experiencing every day,” explains Vasiliev. “Every second you’re thinking, ‘God, what will happen next?’ What could be worse than that?”

Emotions are at an all-time high and misinformation is rife, making it hard for those in Ukraine to gauge the escalating situation. “At the moment everything we feel is intense and mixed,” he continues. “On the one hand, civilians have a complete misunderstanding of what is happening. On the other hand, we have unwavering faith in our victory over the occupier.”

The war has separated Gorsad, and has greatly altered their perspectives on what’s really important. Many have had to leave behind their loved ones and homes in the hopes of survival, highlighting the alarming temporality of our day-to-day lives: “things that we worried about yesterday turned into nothing. The war scattered us in different places, but we are still in touch. We’re trying to support each other as much as we can.”

Although worried for the future, Viktor is relieved by the outpouring of support for Ukrainians in this time of need. “We are pleasantly surprised by how actively the world has supported Ukraine in these dark times. Many foreign brands are collaborating with our designers, galleries are arranging exhibitions and offering our artists residencies. This is a real manifestation of love and kindness. We are so grateful to everyone who is with us in such a difficult time.”

Speaking on the youth of Kyiv, Viktor adds: “you’ll never find something more sincere and open-minded than these free spirits always ready to act as their heart feels.” Plunged into a time of great darkness and loss, the future holds uncertainty and peril for young Ukrainians like Gorsad. Still, they continue to fight for their freedom and remain adamant of the unwavering courage of those facing invasion. “We are proud of our brave people and we are ready to win and live in the Ukraine we all dreamed about.”

If you want to support Gorsad directly, subscribe to their Patreon. For impactful action from abroad, this resource provides country-specific information to support through protest, donation and hosting. Also consider financial aid for Palestine, whose people have been fighting against occupation since 1948.