Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“I am convinced – compassion cannot be killed”

Maksym Liukov, winner of the Den’s Photo Exhibit, tells about photographic documentary on Maidan and about the ability to see true dignity through the camera lens
1 September, 2015 - 12:02

Maksym Liukov, professional Ukrainian photographer from Kyiv, has received the Audience Award on the 16th International Photo Exhibit of Den Newspaper in 2014 for his work Human Warmth. This work was also endorsed by the competition’s partner – Canon, which awarded the author an individual prize. Working on Maidan during the turbulent events, Maksym saw through the lens of his camera not only the violence of the Berkut-protesters opposition – which included Molotov cocktails, burning tires, and pulled down pavement – but he had also been able to subtly convey the character of dignity and humanity in images of protesters. The history of photography, liked by thousands of the exhibition visitors, the peculiarities of his work on Maidan, and the Den’s Photo Contest as a start of a photography season – were the subject of this interview with Liukov.

What did the Revolution of Dignity mean personally to you? Was it difficult to capture the events of November 2013 – February 2014?

“I had a firm understanding that there was something going on that would change history forever. As a photographer, in the beginning I was just trying to capture the events the best I   could and not get involved personally, because I was certain that journalism should be neutral and unbiased. But as the events unfolded, the non-involvement became increasingly difficult, as many of my friends – intelligent, concerned citizens who wanted to change the country – were deeply distressed and went to Maidan themselves. I used to like spending time there. It was a special atmosphere, a sense of changes that permeated the air... It was good to see a lot of people who liked the change and made it happen.”

What exactly are your photos about? Do they show an unforeseen emotion captured or are they pictures of life with a specific background?

“I remember well the circumstances under which the two photographic stories were captured, which I sent to the Den’s Photo Contest past year. One of them is Human Warmth, which I alternatively call ‘Compassion Cannot Be Killed.’ This photo was taken on February 19, 2014 – in the midst of events. All the day before I had spent exclusively on the Maidan, running from Berkut, seeing many things and getting very tired. So, I went home for the night and when I came back on February 19 in the morning... I saw the other Maidan. The House of Trade Unions was burning then – it was smoke and soot everywhere... I was shocked at the sight of people on the pavement. Their faces were blank, they had a kind of a thousand-yard stare with a hint of a silent surprise that the night had already passed and yet they survived it. I saw Maidan on fire. I saw asphalt burning, rubber bullets whistling around... People on Maidan threw rocksand bottles in response, it was a real war. Then I suddenly noticed a man who was carrying a little dog away from the smoke. And I became interested in his expression – it was very kind. I was in awe of the situation: people are shooting, trying to inflict harm to the enemy, and a young man amid all this is busy doing good things. I saw this dog, that never had done anything wrong in its life, and a young guy. I heard shouts, noises; just a minute before I saw somebody’s severed hand. And there in the thick of the chaos, one rescues a harmless creature...”

Do you consider your photos to be symbolic?

“Yes, they do show the heroes of our time. The characters on this frame are associated with many Heroes of Maidan – people who, despite everything, still kept their decency and dignity, who saved the helpless. These people were guided only by the brightest of feelings. Incidentally, later I learned that this puppy was a resident of Maidan, not just someone who found itself there by chance. A week or two before that, the people of Maidan had sheltered him and had given him a sleeping spot in one of their tents. They called it Teddy Bear, probably because of its clumsiness. And at this night, between February 18 and 19, all the tents were burned to the ground, so the boy went to rescue the dog from the trouble.”

And what about the Go Out photographic story – how was it taken?

“I took it on the morning of February 18. At 9:00, the activists of Maidan marched peacefully to the Parliament. I saw a girl hugging a boy as if anticipating a trouble... Remember what happened next? Berkut chased the protesters, tough fights were initiated. The law-enforcement officials went on the offensive. And it seemed that the girl made a symbolic, prophetic gesture, not wanting to let her beloved go. I do not know what’s happened to the guy later. The drama of the moment struck me afterwards. We see a beginning of the day, a peaceful morning, after which a lot of blood was shed...”

How do you assess the 2014 events on Maidan today?

“I will say one thing: I want to see changes in my country, for the sake of the people I met on Maidan...”

Maksym, it was not the first time you took part in the Den’s Photo Contest. Our newspaper has already announced the application process, which runs through September 27, for the next competition. For you, what is the significance of the photographic competition and the Den’s Photo Exhibit?

“They are definitely important events. They offer a good, I would say a unique platform for photographers to show their artwork to the world on par with the others. The most important thing is a conscious viewer who comes and evaluates the jury-selected works, not just singles out the ones they like or not. The visitors of the Den’s Photo Exhibit spend as much as several minutes standing before every photo, as if immersing into each one of them, trying to comprehend everything based on their viewpoints and experience, and the concept of each story is important to them. And for us, the photographers, the participation in this prestigious competition is a great opportunity to explore and understand the modern viewer, as well as to compare our work with the work of our reputable colleagues. And one more thing: the Den’s Photo Exhibit is not a one-day venue; it is an artistic event on the national scale with many years of proven reputation. Many photographers and spectators are waiting for it as a start for the new photography season.”

By Anastasia RUDENKO