Balaklava is a small town on the Crimean peninsula, on the coast of the Black Sea. In the time of Soviet rule, it was completely closed off, because the Soviets had established a base for military submarines here. For over 30 years, this ‘closed town’ did not exist to the outside world. Well-paid people who enjoyed special benefits worked at the military base. Even their families were not allowed to visit the area without a good reason. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of the military equipment and Balaklava itself were divided in half between Russia and Ukraine, in 1992. The presence of two naval fleets in the town caused constant conflict.
Photographer Oksana Yushko has photographed today’s residents of Balaklava. The collapse of the Soviet Union turned previously privileged officers into despised people. They, in turn, have clung to the past. Balaklava is a place where many residents’ idea of homeland is tightly bound up with ideology. Soviet ideology is still the ‘homeland’ to many who live in Balaklava. Yushko’s photography series was completed just before the Russian invasion of Crimea, in February 2014.
Oksana Yushko (b. 1975) has been working as a photojournalist since 2007. She has studied information technology and mathematics. Yushko was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, and now lives in Moscow.
“Many journalists come here just to ask about the terrorist attack. They report about us and that we still live here, as heroes after the attack, somehow managing to find happiness in life. They always talk about the same thing. But anyone would be able to continue to live. Life goes on, and we cannot change what happened to us. On the contrary, now it’s an even greater pleasure to look at how we laugh, have fun, and enjoy life.”
Fariza, from Beslan
In early September 2004, terrorists took more than 1,100 schoolchildren, teachers, and parents in Beslan, Russia, hostage. The terrorists demanded that Russia release imprisoned Chechen fighters and withdraw their troops from Chechnya. The torment that lasted for three days ended with a battle between the kidnappers and Russian special forces. In all, 334 hostages, of whom 186 were children, were killed in the tragedy.
Photographer Oksana Yushko travelled to Beslan as a volunteer a year after the terrorist attack. Ever since her first visit, she has returned to the town each year to hold workshops and to take photographs. As Yushko has followed the young students, they have in 10 years grown into young men and women. They are now graduating from school, leaving Beslan, and ready to start lives of their own. A decade after the event, many are still experiencing health problems. Nevertheless, they have grown into amazing young people who look forward to the future.
The presence of the media and clichés repeated by journalists have taught the children to take on a tragic role. Fariza, who was photographed by Yushko, says that the children who survived the Beslan school hostage crisis have over the years become used to being in the media spotlight but that they would like to be heroes because of themselves, not because of the tragedy. Yushko has sought to alter this arrangement by adopting an attitude in which she sees the children primarily as friends.