National Geographic News
Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

Ukrainians wore blue and yellow ribbons similar to the one above in support of the protests.


Eve Conant

for National Geographic

Published February 24, 2014

In an improvised studio in a graffiti-strewn alley, photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind has been quietly capturing images of the people who have been taking part in the dramatic protests in Kiev. Last week those violent protests, in the downtown square known as the Maidan, left more than 80 protesters and many police officers dead and culminated in the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Taylor-Lind discusses what it was like to photograph these men, women, and children before and after last week's unprecedented violence.

How were you able to set up a portrait studio on a protest square, and why did you decide on portraits?

I started photographing in the Maidan the beginning of February by setting up a makeshift studio by the barricades along Hrushevsky Street [named after Mykhailo Serhiyovych Hrushevsky, president of the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic, 1917-1918]. I've been using a black backdrop of black muslin fabric, and have a wonderful photo assistant, Emine Ziyatdinova, who has been working with a silver and gold reflector. But it's pretty makeshift. I didn't come to Ukraine intending to make a series of portraits. I've been working on a long-term project in Europe about declining populations, but it's been impossible to ignore what's been going on here in Ukraine. I had noticed the uniforms the fighters had fashioned for themselves and found it so interesting. They haven't coordinated what they wear, but there is sort of an ideal for how they look.

And what is that ideal? Also, what is the yellow ribbon I see on one man's arm? (See image above.)

It's distinctly militaristic. There is a feeling of a uniform to it. The yellow ribbon—it's actually yellow and blue. Those are the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and people have been tying on the ribbon in order to show support for the protests. The pictures are from two weeks ago, and some of the same people are almost unrecognizable now. So many here are clearly traumatized now. At the time of the pictures, the atmosphere was quite optimistic and defiant. Now the mood and atmosphere have completely changed. We are photographing some of the people again now, and they are completely different.

Can we see those pictures now?

I need to bring them back to London to process and scan. Some are of the same people, and some are different. Right now we're also photographing some of the thousands of women who are paying their respects and laying flowers for the dead.

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

One of your pictures is of a child. Were there actually children there at the barricades?

Yes. There is a photo of a little boy and then a girl in a white coat.

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine..

At that time there were three types of people occupying the Maidan: protesters and fighters, journalists, and civilians—ordinary people who would come to visit. The boy and girl in the white cream coat came at the weekend to see the barricades and protesters for themselves.

Did this little boy borrow this helmet from a fighter?

No, he was wearing it when he came with his parents. He also is wearing a little army-style bag. Again, it's this unofficial, collective uniform we saw on the Maidan. Even the journalists had a sort of uniform, and sometimes talked about having a "Maidan tan"—which is when your skin goes black from the soot of burning tires.

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

It seems like one of the men in your portraits has a motorcycle helmet as defense.

Yes, many were wearing motorcycle helmets. It was clear from the clashes early on that the fighters would need body armor. So they fashioned their own. They'd wear motorcycle helmets and drape themselves in Ukrainian flags. One man in the photos is resting on a weapon: a baseball bat. They were stockpiling homemade weapons, and there were people whose job it was to fashion homemade armor. I saw shin guards, thigh guards, and forearm guards fashioned from plastic drainpipes.

After the violence, did you see any evidence that the makeshift armor worked?

Many who were killed were shot by snipers. Their bodies were laid out in the streets. You could see all of their armor, but the rounds had gone straight through their helmets. Many of these were proper army helmets as well. I have a ballistics-grade helmet, and I don't think I could have survived a sniper bullet with it.

Were you out there during the worst day of the fighting?

Yes, last Thursday. It was like a war zone. There were snipers shooting all day.

Were you using your makeshift studio that day?

No. That would have been impossible. We were only able to resume yesterday [Saturday], because before then the situation was just too chaotic.

Was the drainpipe part of their uniforms effective at all?

No. The majority of people I saw were killed by sniper bullets, so they were shot in the head and the chest. Some were shot in the legs first, so that when someone else came out to rescue them, both would get shot in the head.  The walls were covered in bullet holes, some 40 centimeters deep. Bullets were going into people and out the other side—people wearing bulletproof vests.

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

There is one of a fighter who appears to be holding a sandwich.

There have been these women—an army of volunteers—who feed these men. They were coming with cardboard boxes filled with sandwiches. This one woman, she had just come past right before we filmed. Often people with full-time jobs would come when they could with sandwiches and hot tea –that's what's been keeping us going as well. On the helmet of the man is the national symbol of Ukraine: the coat of arms. The sandwich in his hands is salo [pork fat] and pickle.

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

What about the picture of the man with his hands looped into his flak jacket?

We actually just saw him yesterday and gave him a copy of this photo.

So he survived?

Yes. He survived. But his teeth were missing. His two front teeth were broken off. But he was not injured in his body. [Photographer assistant Ziyatdinova comes on the phone to add detail from her conversations in Ukrainian with the man: "He was happy to have the photograph. He said that in the tents all their photographs were burned. All the tents were burned when the police stormed the camp; the protesters had been in the tents for months and had a lot of photographs from home."]

And there is another man with a rosary and an icon on his helmet. (See image fourth from top.) Did you see a lot of religious symbolism there?

Yes. I believe that priests passed them out on the Maidan. They were plastic and donated by volunteers. We were given an icon too. This man has his pasted on with [Scotch] tape.

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

In another photograph we see a man wearing blue gloves. He looks like a character.

I didn't ask him to pose like this. He was very keen to have his picture taken. I'm sure if we saw him now, the portrait would be very different. It's very somber, the mood here today. You'll also see in the pictures that people are wearing many layers. It was between zero and minus 13 degrees Celsius [8.6 degrees Fahrenheit].

Photo of a protestor in Ukraine.

One of your portraits appears to be of a photographer. Is that right?

Yes, that's Eric Bouvet. On some days I could see more photographers than people on the barricades. I photographed 20 or 25 photographers. Shame on any photographer who spends their life taking photographs but refuses to have theirs taken. Those I photographed were fine with it, though.

Why are you not used to working around other photographers?

I'm a documentary photographer. My first piece for the magazine [National Geographic] was last year: I shot medium format and followed in the footsteps of writer Peter Hessler along the Yangtze River. That was much quieter, not news oriented. I have all my film sitting on my bed here; I'm not really set up for a news situation. I've actually been using my iPhone to take photos through my viewfinder to show on social media, so I can post a few. I usually work on long-term personal documentary projects. That's what I was supposed to be doing here, but then I found myself in a news situation.

Donna C.
Donna C.

You are all missing the point.  No one is looking at what they are wearing.  Look into their eyes.  Look at the grief, pain and exhaustion.  That is what you should be noticing.  The hard to smile look can be read if you look into their eyes.  Even the little boy has so much pain and this will be with him for the rest of his life.  The photographer can see what she was photographing.  It is you who are all missing the point.  My heart goes out to every Ukrainian living in Ukraine and throughout the world (including myself as a Ukrainian).  These photos show an incredible amount of strength and love for their country.  Its like reading a book.  Read it and you will understand their story.  XX

Ivan G.
Ivan G.

interesting photos if do not to take inte account the fact that most of these aggressive revolutionaries - hidden Nazi fanatics and there is nothing to be proud... Hope that these pictures are apolitical, because it's a shame of the real protesters... So many years Ukrainian, Russian and European people died in the struggle against Nazism. Photos of people who kill citizens with Nazi flags in their hands - should be strictly apolitical. Otherwise it will be immoral.

Ukrainians, you have to go through it worthily. Russian wholeheartedly with you, people. We are one blood..

norbert wabnig
norbert wabnig

interesting comments.

the spirit of a movement, or anything that involves a lot of ppl, can hardly be captured by one portrait. one does only see one face and idealize that up to a standard, subjectivley, depending on your perception and actual knowledge. it is more a projecting on to something. basic phsychology. what we see is more a projection of what we have experienced ourselfs.

so in conclusion, when actually beeing aware of that, those images do not suggest that all ppl involved in this mess were like this. also, it is an untrue assumption to define wether or not those ppl are poor, rich, beaten up or anything you could think of.

so much for the nonsense will never see what you saw through the eyes of another person, yuz he or she just isn't you.

as far as this series goes, i am actually a big fan.

inbetween the photos of burning tires and videos of snipers shooting people this series adds some humanity to an otherwise flash of violence.

the black abckdrop really helps to focus on the ppl beeing seen on this photos.

lets you dicover the details that are very well explained in this short interview and add to the story.

the composition is always the same, allowing you to concentrate on the people more than it would otherwise.

as far as the backdrop goes, i rly like it better if it not straighten out, because i feel it looks like a makeshift portraitstudio looks like.

this is comming from personal reference as well, since i havent used a "real" studio to take portraits as of right now, but i dnt feel like bashing anyone here.

i justa sdd this cuz i am trying to make a point,..well...didnt work rly. i guess.

so anyway.

this photoseries is very well done, i feel like it enriches the photography already out there concerning this topic.

great work, i absolutely love it.


ps: to all the trolls: read elias canetti's book. maybe this will help

pss: dnt feed the trolls...i know..

Sergiy S
Sergiy S

I am from Ukraine, and on my opinion author of pictures shows not real face of Ukrainian revolutioner.

Yevgeniy Kuzik
Yevgeniy Kuzik

Hi. I am from Ukraine, and I know how the revolution is look's like. This portraits is realy great but they doesn't show how it was looking for real. On this pictures are many unnecessary details. Ukrainians are not so poor as the pictures shows.
Thank you.

Denis Vorobyov
Denis Vorobyov

Such as the lack of talent on a black blanket, you can publish?

Muhammad Adib Zailan
Muhammad Adib Zailan

absolutely heartwrenching! thank you so much for such a beautiful story. live on, live well!

Philip Liu
Philip Liu

Excellent photos; they really capture the living moments in the maidan. You should've taken some photos of the men and women on the other side as well. The police and public security forces also form a part of the struggle of all Ukrainians.

susan imrie
susan imrie

Thank you for these photographs, I found them very moving.

Petro Nimchuk
Petro Nimchuk

@Ivan G. There were hundreds of people from all Ukraine coming to protect their right to be called humans. You call them Nazi. We live in difficult  time when real Nazi call themself antiNazi like you. Never talk about things you don't know anything. Your hate will hurt us but will kill you.

norbert wabnig
norbert wabnig

to add something.

i absolutely love the fact, that one cannot see that this one guys had his two front teeth broken off.

i would really be interested to see photos of the same person before the shootings and after.

great work..


Popular Stories

  • Lost City Found in Honduras

    Lost City Found in Honduras

    A joint Honduran-American expedition has confirmed the presence of extensive pre-Columbian ruins in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras, a region rumored to contain ruins of a lost "White City" or "City of the Monkey God."

  • Astronomers Find a Galaxy That Shouldn't Exist

    Astronomers Find a Galaxy That Shouldn't Exist

    Small, young galaxies should be free of interstellar dust, but an object called A1689-zD1 is breaking all the rules.

  • Cool Polar Bear Pictures

    Cool Polar Bear Pictures

    Take a peek at polar bears playing, swimming, and sleeping in their changing habitat.

The Future of Food

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

See more food news, photos, and videos »