Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, British artist Mark Neville moved to Kyiv, a city he traveled to frequently from his home in London since beginning Stop Tanks with Books in 2016. The project, which culminates in a new 180-page volume edited by David Company and published by Nazraeli Press, involved documenting life in the country through portraits of passersby on the street, families lounging at the beach, and others dancing among energetic nightclub crowds.
Each photograph tethers a human face to the entirely inhumane atrocities of war and “(weaponizes) the medium to effect change.” The images are intimate and profound, showing a young girl screaming into a toy phone following shelling in 2016 or a father and son cradling goats in their home in Decyatny.
Neville’s intention for the project has always been twofold. He hoped to inspire broad, international support for Ukraine’s independence in Donbas and Crimea and to offer a necessary corrective to the stereotypical information and images disseminated by the Kremlin, which he saw Western media sources often redistributing without context. “Stop Tanks With Books was my attempt to fight Russian aggression,” Neville says.
Eighty of his portraits are positioned alongside research from the Centre of Eastern European Studies in Berlin about the 2.5 million people who had already been displaced by 2018, in addition to short stories by Ukrainian poet and novelist Lyuba Yakimchuk that detail life under Russian occupation in Donbas.
The pairings lead to a call to action written in both Ukrainian and English, one made more urgent by the full-scale assault on the nation that’s taken thousands of civilian lives alone in the last three months. “I wonder what the international response would be if Stockholm, London, Paris, or New York were threatened with an unprovoked and imminent invasion by Russia? Our book is a prayer and a necessary plea to the international community,” Neville wrote before the war officially began, when he also sent copies of the book to 750 policymakers, ambassadors, media members, and those involved in peace talks. He hoped to raise awareness about the immediate threat the people of Ukraine faced.
There are a few copies of Stop Tanks with Books available from Setanta Books, although a second edition with a new foreword by Neville is in progress. You can find much more of the photographer’s activist-centered work, in addition to more images from the series, on his site. (via Lens Culture)
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