Donbas in Focus: Visions of Industry in the Ukrainian East

Composite photo - Miners against backdrop of mining structureDonbas in Focus: Visions of Industry in the Ukrainian East explores the ways that Donbas, a heavily industrialised region in Eastern Ukraine, was depicted in photography and film across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and asks how these processes continue to resonate in the region's political and cultural landscapes today. Situating the Donbas case in a comparative research frame, it questions established notions of the region's post-Soviet specificity, highlighting common challenges and experiences in post-industrial regions and communities across the UK and Europe.  

While a number of recent studies have begun to address the question of Donbas's cultural construction through word, image and social practice, there is no single-authored volume in Ukrainian, Russian, or English that engages with the politics of visualising industry in the Ukrainian East and the ways these politics have informed the cultural myth of Donbas across the Soviet and post-independence eras. A study of this kind is now more urgent than ever given the ongoing conflict in Donbas, in the context of which marked tendencies to "Otherize" the heavily industrialised region have emerged. By drawing parallels with the cultural construction of (post-)industrial regions across the UK, the project will contribute valuable new perspectives to the debate about Donbas identity politics, shifting the focus away from questions of ethnolinguistic identities, which have dominated Ukrainian public discourse and international media coverage of the conflict, to discuss the dynamics of power that shape and inform (post-)industrial regional subjectivities and experiences. 

The project includes a number of collaboratively conceived creative initiatives with partners in the heritage and creative industries across the UK and Ukraine:  

1) a series of industrial archive workshops that will provide an opportunity for heritage professionals, artists, and local communities to engage critically with archived photographs and film relating to the steel industry in Ebbw Vale, the coal mining industry in Durham, and the oil shale industry in West Lothian, and to work with artists to formulate their own creative responses to these materials;  

2) a schools photography project in West Lothian that will explore historic visualisations of the industrial landscape in regional archives and museums and engage local photographers and younger residents to create a new corpus of photographic work responding to (post-)industrial themes;  

3) a touring exhibition of project photography and digital work, including creative outputs from the workshops and schools photography project, that will be displayed at venues across the UK and Ukraine.  

Through these events, the project will prompt a reappraisal of the value of post-industrial history and heritage, highlighting the potential of post-industrial sites for stimulating innovation in education, creativity and tourism. 

Victoria Donovan has been awarded a 2-year Arts and Humanities Research Council Early Career Researcher Leadership Fellowship to support this work. 

Images are from Oleksandr Kuchynskyi’s “De?industry” series produced as part of the Un/archiving post/industry Summer Residency in Pokrovsk (2021).

Composite photo - Vintage car against background of industrial landscape