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The book "Independent: The history of modern Ukraine in the photos of the best documentarians"

The 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence is a significant reason to reconsider our experiences of achievements and failures, discoveries and disappointments. No great history is created evenly. It's woven from events, each playing a crucial role, each needing to be documented and preserved because that is our reality.

In 2021, many books detailed the history of modern Ukraine, but this book is not one of them. We did not aim to make a history textbook or a photo album of Ukrainian documentary photography. We set out to show the path of independence through the eyes of several generations of talented Ukrainian reporters and documentarians, making it interesting for both a broad audience and specialists. You won't find a comprehensive list of names and historical events here. However, the photos gathered in the book are not just imprints of their time. They are symbols, essential historical and cultural baggage, with the power to shift public opinion, thereby influencing history. 144 photos from over 60 photographers - winners of not only Ukrainian but also global competitions - have crafted a unique art publication that captured Ukraine's recent history and will showcase it to the world.

Flipping through the pages of this album-book, everyone will see Ukraine in all its diversity and yet so familiar: relive the day of independence proclamation and the adoption of the Constitution, join protests and revolutions, attend significant sports competitions and witness world record achievements, meet outstanding Ukrainians and unknown heroes, descend into a coal mine and soar on the wings of "Dream", witness the fight against ecological disasters, communist idols, and the pandemic. These photos, sometimes painful and brutal, are part of the inalienable process of creating national identity. They have helped make Ukraine stronger.

We do not claim to present a complete picture or encyclopedic objectivity. Photography is subjective, and therein lies part of its magic. Our experience has allowed us to gather diverse images and share a perspective on history through the eyes of Ukrainian documentarians, presenting it in the context of global photography. Because history is not what happened, but what remains in our memory. History without photography is merely words, and in today's world, nobody believes words anymore. Documentarians, if not shaping the history of our independence, at least help ensure it is not ruined by those wishing to rewrite it.

"The Independents" capture the political, cultural, and sports events, tragedies, hopes, pride, and joy of Ukraine – not just as reportage photographs but as cultural heritage. It's the epitome of Ukrainian documentary work, never before assembled under a single cover.

"The Independents" is an expansive research and preservation of the modern Ukrainian photographic legacy, deserving of a global audience. Besides the Ukrainian edition, there's a planned English version, already printed in the highest quality. This makes it a ready desk book for Ukrainian diplomats, cultural leaders, and politicians but will equally captivate any Ukrainian.

"The Independents" is a distinctive collection that amalgamates the artistic photographs of today's most recognized Ukrainian documentarians with unseen shots, unfamiliar to the broader audience.

Furthermore, this publication, perhaps for the first time in recent memory, highlights the exceptionally high level of professionalism of Ukrainian documentarians. Every day, despite risks and barriers, they tirelessly continue to chronicle our history.


Mstyslav Chernov:

"The working title of the project was '100 Best Documentary Photographs of Independent Ukraine'. However, telling the story of a country solely through its 'best photos' seemed a utopian idea. The book was initially meant to consist of sections, each dedicated to a certain decade. Yet, this structure would have resulted in uneven chapter lengths. The period after 2014 occupies almost half of the book. This wasn't because we deemed some events more significant than others, but rather because they were more thoroughly documented. Hence, we opted against this division and simply arranged the photographs chronologically with brief historical annotations. Still, readers will discern three eras: the post-Soviet period (1991—2000), the stagnation period (2000—2012), and the breakthrough (2014—2022).

When we completed the book, the interconnectedness of the history of Ukrainian photography with the country's broader events became evident. It seems that tragic events provoke documentary photography and other art forms to evolve. Within eight years, a new generation of authors emerged, thinking in terms of projects. This has elevated Ukrainian documentary photography to a global level. I realized that I no longer perceive history as a mere list of dates, events, and names. Working on the book allowed me to see how specific historical events set the stage for subsequent ones and how pivotal moments are interlinked—visually as well. We are currently working on the English version of the album."


Mykhailo Palinchak:

"Up until 1991, it's almost impossible to find street photography. Political life is better documented, but even then, sometimes there aren't enough photographs. Due to the lack of photographs, we didn't include the monetary reform of 1996 in the book, when the new national currency, the hryvnia, was introduced. International sports competitions where Ukrainians participated also weren't captured. While such photographs exist in agencies and among foreign photographers, they are absent from domestic archives. Back then, Ukrainian photographers were merely trying to survive, while foreign photographers shot only what interested them.

A distinct watershed is the year 2014, after which photographers began to cover various events, each in their unique way. The book includes not only the works of renowned authors but also those of lesser-known ones. Interestingly, one of the snapshots from the Maidan was taken by a girl who wasn't even connected to photography."

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