Portraiture of post-Soviet labour, territory, and self: Abandoned People (1994-1999) by Valeriy Miloserdov

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Contributing to the end of Soviet rule and Ukrainian independence, the miners’ strikes starting in the late eighties became a fundamental part of Ukrainian history, even if this was not the intention. Between 1989 and 1998, strikes in the mining region of Donbas in eastern Ukraine became a yearly ritual during which the workers protested the non-payment of wages, and demanded safer working conditions, higher wages and housing subsidies for their families. The first strike of July 1989 started in the Kuzbass mines of southern Russia working its way towards the Ukrainian Donbas region culminating in over half a million workers on strike, forming the first national-level miners’ strike. The movement was fuelled by distrust and dissatisfaction with the Soviet government, at a time when the industry relied heavily on government subsidies. Following independence on August 24th, 1991 came a wave of privatisation in Ukraine, causing a large rift in the working conditions in the private and state-owned mines. In May 1998, the strikers decided to march on Kyiv with 1,000 men walking the 600 km journey, which took over three weeks to accomplish and resulted in the government agreeing to pay their unpaid wages of nine months; the strikers returned via train and were back at work a few days after.

Valeriy Miloserdov. Abandoned People. 1994-1999

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Arsen Savadov. Donbas-Chocolate. 1997

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Viktor Marushchenko. Dreamland Donbas. 2002-2003

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Valeriy Miloserdov is a Ukrainian photographer and photo editor.

Miloserdov worked extensively for the Ukrainian and Soviet press.

His series of documentary photographs about the problems of the Donbas miners, “Abandoned people” (1994-99), won the Special Award of the jury at the Grand Prix Images Vevey festival (1995, Switzerland). He is the author of personal exhibitions and a participant of collective exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad. Works as a photo collection curator at the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (Kyiv) and teaches at Viktor Marushchenko School of Photography (Kyiv).

Glesni Williams is an art journalist and translator from North Wales, based in Bologna, Italy.

Her writing focuses on the evolution of contemporary art practice, the makers, and the interlinked exhibition spaces, with a particular interest in industrial photography, and the use of archival materials. She has worked at the Venice Biennale, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and the MAST Foundation. She writes for Lampoon Magazine, Sound of Life, and Spinosa Magazine, in addition, she is an arts contributor for BBC Radio Cymru.