In late 2013, English photographer Christopher Nunn found himself in a small town in Ukraine, alone and unable to speak the language, just as the crisis in Crimea was starting to foment.
Equipped with only his camera, Nunn had been in the country for months, attempting to reconnect with his family’s forgotten Ukrainian roots through photography. He was especially interested in capturing the everyday lives of Ukraine’s common citizens.
But as crisis spread and unrest grew, Nunn’s work took a different tone.
“I never set out to document the political situation or the war directly,” Nunn says.
Nonetheless, he captured what he saw, chronicling the subtle and not-so-subtle effects the violence and turmoil had on daily life in Ukraine, in both big cities and small towns.
In early 2013, Nunn decided to travel to his grandmother's hometown of Kalush, in western Ukraine. His grandmother left the town when she was 15 years old and never returned. Nunn wanted to connect to a part of his family's history that he was unfamiliar with by exploring and photographing.
Nunn, who was travelling alone and did not speak any Ukrainian, says that the country 'was like another world to me. I was interested in the way people live, but I didn't want to see this from a distance, I wanted to get close and understand more and take my time.'
Nunn says he spent a lot of time 'walking around, drinking vodka, and smoking cigarettes.' He met briefly with another photographer who wrote a note for him which read 'Please can I take photo?' in Ukrainian before leaving. From then on, he was on his own.
Nunn says in this way, he made some great friendships. 'Language obviously makes things easier, but it's not vital. You can connect with people without it, and understand each other without out,' Nunn tells Business Insider. He says he visited Ukraine four times before ever meeting anyone who spoke English.
Nunn was in Kalush when protests broke out in Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine. 'There were coaches full of volunteers heading out to Maidan every day. You could sign up and get on the bus with a helmet and a shield,' he says.
'At one point I saw hundreds of local people take to the streets with all kinds of makeshift weaponry to repel a rumoured attack by gangs of Berkut, which in the end never happened,' he says.
Nunn says that he was interested in documenting how the revolutionary events were effecting a small town, away from the media frenzy in Kiev. He saw much 'panic and rumours' in towns like Kalush, where citizens feared that government thugs would come and crack down.
Later, Nunn traveled to Donetsk, one of the epicenters of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. It was there that he witnessed one of the earliest civilian casualties of the conflict, a parking lot attendant who was caught in crossfire. Nunn says he doesn't consider himself a photojournalist, yet he found himself in the midst of history just the same. 'I was just a guy with a camera who happened to be there at various points of this crisis,' he says.
Over time, the crisis seemed to affect everyone Nunn interacted with all over the country, from those in the midst of the chaos to those on the fringes. 'Despite these flashpoints of chaos, I was always more interested in everyday life so that's what I tried to focus on,' he explains.
'There was always a lot of sadness, disbelief and anger,' Nunn says. 'Some did their best to ignore it, and were happy as long as they were getting their wages and there was food on the table.' Still, the war was hard to forget.
Nunn says there was a feeling of fatigue from all the propaganda and conflicting ideas, opinions, and news coverage.
'I've met people who are pro-Ukraine and very patriotic, people who are pro-Russia and support the 'DNR' (the Donetsk People's Republic, a semi-autonomous state and military backed by Russia), people who are ethnic Russians but hate Russia, and people who have been completely brainwashed by propaganda. They all have different sentiments about the future,' he says.
'I think, in general, a lot of younger people I know are hopeful about the future, but understand that things may be very difficult and unstable for many years,' Nunn says.
Throughout his travels and despite the conflicts, Nunn says that he was 'always very touched by the generosity, hospitality, honesty, humour and positivity of many of the people I met.'
'The subject matter is confusing and complicated. It's a mess,' Nunn says. He says he will continue to work on the project as long as he feels is right, documenting this country he shares a personal connection with, against a backdrop of transformation and violence.
'On one hand, it feels like Ukraine is falling apart, but on the other hand, I can see great strength and determination, which I hope the viewer also sees,' Nunn explains.
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