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Work / Photography

Alexander Chekmenev’s compelling photographs of elderly citizens in the newly independent Ukraine

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent Ukraine underwent a nationwide programme to issue each citizen with a new passport to replace the old soviet ones. Each person had to be photographed and fill out the paperwork within a year in order to receive the document. For those that were too elderly, or ill, to get a photograph taken outside of their home, or simply could not afford to, social services began employing photographers to get the images.

Photographer Alexander Chekmenev was employed by the authorities in Luhansk to take these images. “I was one of the photographers commissioned to go door to door during this national campaign,” he says in the introduction to his book. “And so I ended up in the homes of these people, along with the social workers whose more usual job was to provide free medicine and groceries.”

His images have been compiled in a new 74-page book, Passport, published by Dewi Lewis, which serves as a powerful document of the birth of an independent nation and the people who were unlikely to live long enough to see it prosper. The book is split between a catalogue of official images that capture the faces of each subject, and then shots that show how the portraits were set up – revealing the homes and the efforts of carers and families to get the subject to pose correctly.

“I took photographs of the things that I saw and captured that particular time. The pictures were really difficult to take. Some people were just breaking down and begging us to leave them alone,” says Alexander. “They asked why we were making them suffer, claiming that there was not much time left for them and that soon they would be dead. I don’t know whether any of these people are still alive today. I hope so, though I doubt it.”

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© Alexander Chekmenev from Passport / Dewi Lewis Publishing

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© Alexander Chekmenev from Passport / Dewi Lewis Publishing

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© Alexander Chekmenev from Passport / Dewi Lewis Publishing

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© Alexander Chekmenev from Passport / Dewi Lewis Publishing

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© Alexander Chekmenev from Passport / Dewi Lewis Publishing

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© Alexander Chekmenev from Passport / Dewi Lewis Publishing