• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Kyiv is the Unbreakable Heart of Europe at the Museum of Edinburgh

ByRachel Hartley

Oct 11, 2023
A photograph of a wooden-panelled art gallery. 6 photographs are neatly lined up on one wall and to the right in a glass case, two other photographs taken in Kyiv is shown.

This intimate photography exhibition showcases 32 images commissioned by the Kyiv City State Administration. Prior to settling in Edinburgh, Kyiv is the Unbreakable Heart of Europe was on show in Prague, Lublin, Giessen, Mexico City and Berlin, a touring exhibition of solidarity. For now, its home is a small, quaint room in the charming Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile. Included in the Edinburgh exhibition are photographs taken by Mykola Tymchenko, Borys Korpusenko, Maryna Kotsupey, Mykola Synelnykov, Andrily Skakodub, Denys Kopylov, Pavlo Petrov, Oleksiy Samsonov and the Press State Emergency Services of Ukraine in Kyiv.

The exhibition space is just off the side of the silver display room in the museum. Upon entering, you can see all the photographs have been enlarged and printed onto placards, with text along the bottom in Ukrainian and English articulating the title, location, date, and photographer. The photographs line the wall, and some are in glass cases, but it’s the ones on the wall that grabbed my attention. Rather than presenting the images in protective frames with glazing, the images and scenes they capture are spatially closer to the viewer and unobstructed by traditional display measures. Interestingly, the photographers are described as an ‘автор,’ an author, creator, or originator rather than an artist or photographer. These are not just artworks but authored stories of the people of Kyiv.

The photographs are incredibly emotive—aged portrait photographs in the rubble of what was once a house. Undamaged monuments of Ukrainian poet T.H Shevchenko bearing witness to destroyed buildings. Musicians enlisted as soldiers performing on blasted bridges.

My favourite of them all is a photograph of numerous bustling press journalists. In the centre of the photo is a pile-up of tanks; you’d presume that would be the focus of the journalists and us, the viewers, but no. You almost miss the first look, but a group of journalists are gathered in front of the tanks, their attention and cameras focused on a cat. 

Some of the images are heart-wrenching, particularly the ones of the children of Kyiv. Among the ruins of a city, Synelnykov documented groups of children playing football and basketball. Samsonov captured a lone little boy waiting patiently at the side of a road lined with cars, patiently waiting for evacuation. Within the history of photographic documentation of war-torn areas, the images of children always chill the soul and make you think, ‘Why is this happening? How could this happen? Just stop.’ However, unlike Nick Ut’s The Terror of War, which could send viewers into a nihilistic spin, Synelnykov’s children tell a story of hope and the unbreakable human spirit.

This exhibition made me think about the effectiveness of content and context. Here, in a little room, is a relatively unflashy exhibition. It’s no national gallery blockbuster. Yet, you can actively engage with and care for the lives of these people that seem so far removed from Edinburgh, yet their stories are being told here. This little room brings us much closer.

Kyiv is the Unbreakable Heart of Europe and is free to visit at The Museum of Edinburgh from 23 September – 12 November.

Image of the exhibition via Rachel Hartley