Frederick Paxton
Ukraine Kiev
2014

In Kiev, Ukraine, peaceful pro-European protests turned violent shortly after President Viktor Yanukovych passed undemocratic laws severely restricting freedom of speech and assembly. These “dictatorship laws”- as they have come to be known- criminalised all forms of demonstration and protest, and enforced jail time for pitching tents, wearing helmets or even scarves. These laws go so far as to ridicule Ukraine’s constitution, of which Article 21 states, “Human rights and freedoms are inalienable and inviolable”. Given the turmoil that has since engulfed Kiev and other parts of Ukraine, one can’t help but notice how hauntingly timely the lyrics to their national anthem are. The first line of the chorus rings out, “Souls and bodies we’ll lay down, all for our freedom”.

From the 24th to the 28th of January, 2014, collected footage of the clashes between protesters and ‘Berkut’ special units on Hrushevskoho Street, outside the Dynamo Stadium. The front line of the conflict is filmed in slow motion (at 120 frames per second), allowing you to see the intimate details of the physical conditions and personal narratives that comprise the overarching socio-political one.

This is a land trapped in a disturbing flux, politically and physically. Billowing walls of fire illuminate the frozen, vaporous ground. There is volatile change occurring, with physical states constantly mutating between freezing, melting and burning. Just as ice encrusted metal structures resemble palm trees, things transform to take on new meanings. Makeshift weapons are crafted from found objects, and scrap tires double up as barricades and fuel for fire. The footage also portrays the personal narratives that constitute the conflict. Seeing the faces that make up the front line- a protester cracking a smile amidst an infernal backdrop, or the gaze of a young Berkut officer, soon to be deployed as a human shield- remind us of the hundreds of thousand interwoven personal stories that all draw upon love, hate, and fear.