In 1994, the local government in the city of Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, found itself in need of a photographer. The Soviet Union had just collapsed a few years earlier, and like all of its newly independent states, Ukraine had to go through the process of issuing new passports to all of its citizens, roughly 50 million of them.

Alexander Chekmenev after the collapse of the Soviet Union  was an ethnic Russian and Ukrainian citizen. Ethnic identity and citizenship are no more clear 20 years later. The mostly Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine where he was born and raised are embroiled in a sometimes-violent struggle between the Ukrainian government and a separatist movement.

This weekend, Ukrainians will head to the polls to elect a new president, a pivotal moment in the wake of the ouster of the country’s former Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

The election comes at a precarious time for the region. Russia has annexed the Crimean peninsula and appears to be attempting to do the same in other parts of eastern Ukraine, prompting violence between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, whom the West believes have the support of Russia.


Ukrainian Servicemen

The Ukrainian photographer Alexander Chekmenev spent 2014 at the Main Military Clinical Hospital, in Kiev, where he photographed dozens of men who were injured during the protracted conflict between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian authorities. They are mostly Ukrainian servicemen,  but some are members of volunteer battalions that offer the Army additional support. All were wounded in battles with pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In 1994, three years after Ukraine become independent from a dissolving Soviet Union, the government ordered that USSR passports and identity documents be replaced with Ukrainian ones. Alexander Chekmenev was a young photographer working in a photo studio in the city of Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, when he was assigned by a social aid organization to take passport pictures of the ill and elderly people who could not leave their homes.

Photography Exhibition of Alexander Chekmenev opened in Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex within the frames of the large-scale project «Ukrainian landscape. Beyond despair”. This exposition presents a photographic portrait of injured Ukrainian soldiers who were involved with the Anti-Terrorist Operation in eastern Ukraine, as well as portraits of the civilians of Slavyansk and vicinity, where the military operation has continued till recently.

Documentary photographer Alexander Chekmenev about why he photographs misfits, which photographs he never exhibits, what he learned in his one year in an ambulance and when he realized he had changed forever.

Alexander Chekmenev photographed Ukrainian people in the turmoil of 

history, after the collapse of an empire and at the start of an independent state. 

"There’s something kind of sad but beautiful about Passport. I wonder whether any of the sitters ever had the chance to use their new passports for travel. I really doubt it. Some of the eyes are bright and excited, some less lit as if the action is going on somewhere far away from their windows on the world."

Times were tumultuous in post-Soviet eastern Ukraine when Alexander Chekmenev started out as a young photographer in his home city. “Like the whole country, Luhansk in the mid-1990s was suffering from economic collapse and the rise of crime. Those times were called the ‘evil 90s’,” he says.In 1994, all old passports from the Soviet Union had to be changed to new Ukrainian passports,” he says. “People were lining up at photo studios. Photographers could earn a car in a season.”

1 January 2017

Dewi Lewis Publishing

In 1994-1995, in Luhansk, a town in southeast Ukraine, social services began employing photographers to take passport photos in the homes of those who were elderly or ill, and could not themselves afford to pay a photographer. Alexander Chekmenev was one of the photographers commissioned to go door to door during this national campaign. And so he  ended up in the homes of these people, along with the social workers whose more usual job was to provide free medicine and groceries.

2 January 2017

Photobook Reviews

How to review a book like Alexander Checkmenev‘s Passport? Maybe by stating the obvious right away. First, the book is filled with a lot of pretty amazing pictures. Second, many of those pictures make for very uncomfortable viewing. Third, The preceding is likely to trigger a discussion around the ethics of either taking the pictures in the first place or publishing them.

Twenty years after the series was created, it was published as a book by the British publishing house Dewi Lewis Publishing. Bird in Flight talked to Alexander about his most important series to date, and asked photographers Donald Weber and Alexander Lyapin about their view on Passport.

26 January 2017

Book Review Passport

After a photograph of the artist’s own passport and a brief introduction, the book begins with a series of headshots. These photographs are of various sizes and printed on semi-translucent paper. Surrounding the headshots are the black outlines of rectangles, which serve to show what the size of the passport would have been in relation to the photograph. While this section of the book acts as a curious introduction, it is nowhere near as powerful as the images that follow shortly after. 

The remainder of the book contains some of the most intriguing, powerful, unique, and unsettling environmental portraits that I have ever seen.



13 DECEMBER 2017


Selected as one of the Best Books of 2017 by Rafal Milach

 In 1994-1995, in Luhansk, a town in southeast Ukraine, social services began employing photographers to take passport photos in the homes of those who were elderly or ill, and could not themselves afford to pay a photographer. 



Alexander Chekmenev created a series of portraits of protestors, called Warriors, just as they emerged from the street battles. 

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