New East Digital Archive

Love in a hopeless place: a romantic getaway to a Soviet sanatorium

The Soviet-era sanatorium might not be one of the most romantic places: with all the weird treatments on offer, from crude-oil baths to magnetic therapy, it’s often more comparable to a hospital than a luxury spa. Yet Kuyalnik Sanatorium, built beside an estuary on the outskirts of Odessa and famous for its soothing mud treatments, is a hit with newlyweds and wedding photographers alike. Female photographer trio Anastasiya Lazurenko, Kristina Podobed and Daria Svertilova love the old-world charm of Ukraine’s sanatoriums. For their latest shoot, they wanted to inject the unlikely romantic destination of Kulyanik with some sex-appeal by staging a couples photo series. “The hall with the big red sofa and the dancing hall all belong to the sanatorium complex. It’s the kind of place where you feel like nothing has changed since the 70s and 80s. We wanted to play on the contrast of the gloomy sanatorium and young love. Youth is about raw rebellious energy — notions that are the opposite to Kuyalnik,” explains Svertilova. They didn’t want to cast regular models and instead found real couples from among their friends. The story is part documentary, part fashion shoot, part artful satire of amateur wedding photography. “This inbetweenness inspires us. That’s why we often shoot together, each keeping the uniqueness of her own style.”