PASSPORT
1994-1995
  •       After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became necessary in the newly independent Ukraine to replace old Soviet passports with the new Ukrainian ones. There was a rush to accomplish this in the shortest possible time. All Ukrainians had to get a new passport within a year. In 1994, the social services of Lugansk, a town in southeast of Ukraine, started offering photographers a job of shooting passport photos in homes of the elderly and ill citizens, who could not pay a photographer on their own. I was one of the photographers commissioned by the social services to go door to door during this national passportisation campaign. This is how I ended up in the homes of these people, along with the social workers whose job was to provide free medicine and groceries. When I saw how people were living out the final years of their lives, it had made a very strong impression on me. I remember a blind woman. I did not know that she was blind, so I asked her to look into the camera, but she said that she could not see. I thought, why would a blind person need a passport? She did not have too much time left anyway. There was one day when I took pictures of nearly 60 people, mostly old folks, obviously. The next day, when I was handing out the shots, I found out that one of these old guys had just died. I was really flabbergasted by one particular house. An old woman who lived there had prepared a coffin for herself. She lived in one room, while the coffin inhabited the other one. She was basically ready to leave for the other world at any moment. Then I also heard a story about a 92-year-old man. He had made similar arrangements, acquired a coffin, and was waiting for his death. He placed a coffin into his shed and whenever he finished off a bottle of vodka, he would put the empty bottle into his coffin. When the coffin was filled with empty bottles, he passed it on to somebody else saying that his hour had not struck yet. When we came to take a photo of him, he was well into his nineties. He sat at a table with his nephew with a bottle of vodka and two filled shot glasses placed in front of them. I also took photos of people with some mental disorders. They did not know what was going on, why they were being seated, and why I was taking pictures of them. There was one bed-stricken person who had to be lifted from his bed. Two social workers were holding him in an upright position, and the other two were holding the backdrop. Evidently, he too needed a new passport. In any case, I took photos of the things that I saw then and captured that particular time. I do not know whether any of these people are still alive today. I hope that someone is, but I doubt it. It was really difficult to take these pictures because some people were just breaking down and begging us to leave them alone. They asked why we were making them suffer, claiming that there was not much time left for them and soon they would be dead.

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