New East Digital Archive

Up in the air: Ukraine’s youth look for meaning in a world that’s stopped making sense

Post-Soviet Youth

18 February 2016

The first thing which strikes you about Natasha Kotzuruba’s photos is their sense of movement: unfinished gestures, a turn of the head, flight, wind, laughter, anticipation. She captures perfectly the brief transitional phase of early youth, perhaps because it’s a subject she’s never stopped being fascinated by.

Born in Ukraine, 21 year-old Kotzuruba was a teenager when she got her first camera. “My friends bought an old camera at a thrift store and gave it to me,” she remembers. “The photos were blurry because there were no camera settings, it was just a pinhole camera. Some shots were taken with an Olympus zoom, also a present, which is notorious for shitty image quality.”

Technical considerations were the last thing the photographer was thinking about at the time. She was intent instead on capturing the unique feeling of adolescence, chasing the moment she shared with her peers. “In 2013 I turned 18 and went on a hitchhiking trip to Moscow,” she says. “I ended up in St Petersburg photographing local skaters, and also in the Carpathian mountains although I didn’t end up photographing a lot of the mountains. I was more interested in the atmosphere. I captured my friends and particular moments which somehow touched me. It’s not a linear narrative, more an attempt to capture the way you feel as a teenager. Uncertainty, rage, courage, awareness of the surrounding world and your own vulnerability, the loneliness which shapes you.”

Kotzuruba has also tried to catch the atmosphere in Ukraine, reaching beyond news reports of civil unrest and war to touch the feeling in the air, the hidden paths of an emerging generation. “I’ve taken a lot of photos in Kiev,” she says. “I love wild places where you forget where you are and the only signs of the city are big roads and bridges. And once we went to the military airport to have a look at the planes, about two weeks before the war in Eastern Ukraine. The photo with a girl and the barbed wire is from there, I like it as it reflects the atmosphere in the country after the revolution, a lot of psychosis and aggression.”

The photos are Kotzuruba’s attempt to express how it feels to grow up in a country in the wake of major political and social shifts. “The photos are very rough but I guess pretty sincere,” she says. “I had very little money and it would be fake to try and fit your life into cute coming-of-age pictures, which have no relation to the merciless reality of our youth. But I’m still in love with both the reality and the youth.”

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