Happy Place: A beach in Crimea
Meeting Point: Odessa, Ukraine
An abandoned beach in Crimea, few kilometers away from Sevastopol, the place where he grew up. This is the Happy Place of Vitaly. We meet him at a hostel in Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea in Southern Ukraine. The decision to come here was made after a spontaneous talk while drinking Moldovan wine with newfound friends the night before.
Many stairs to climb up with our heavy backpacks. We open the door and here we are. More than a hostel where you can meet people, it seems like a coworking space of a modern startup. Everyone is hunched over the screen of their laptop or cell phone. Empty coffee cups surrounded by impeccable silence. Right after we find out we can’t even drink a glass of wine in here. The thing that really catches our attention is not the view from the balconies, but the guy in the middle of the kitchen. Colorful clothes and a nice old school fisherman hat.
Vitaly smiles at us and asks where we come from. He is one of the only we talk to while staying in this hostel. The most interesting person to us. What ties us together right from the start is our mutual fascination for the exotic, a reality very different from our own. The same gleam in his eyes when we tell him we are Swiss, we feel when he tells us he comes from Crimea. Switzerland is enchanting and full of opportunities for him, Crimea is a fascinating place full of contrasts and ongoing conflicts for us.
Vitaly’s English is much better than our Russian but still not enough to build a strong connection. We overcome the language barrier through photography and art. This precious encounter turns into a unique experience when we discover that he is an internationally known artist.
He is a visual artist who participated in numerous international festivals and exhibitions. His contemporary projects with documentary photography reinterpret political issues in the peninsula where he grew up. His works reflect on social and political issues in the history of Crimea.
For over two hours we go through all his poignant pictures. Thanks to these images and his tales we understand his personality. The strong need to tell his story and that of his country and at the same time the simplicity of a man living his everyday life.
He tells us about the tensions in his country and his appreciation for the lifestyle and freedom that characterize western countries. Suddenly, as we often do while traveling, we feel very small and incredibly lucky. We get lost in his stories about how 2014 changed it all for them. The year when Russia invaded the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Dreaming about our journey along Central Asia, Vitaly’s shows us his travels in Kazakhstan and the people he met on the way. He has some magnetism and we can’t help listening to him for hours, or simply watching him while he proudly goes through his pictures. We really appreciate his kind appreciation when he browses through our photographs, despite our unprofessional level.
The Story of a man who has something to say. Something that can’t be told but only shown. A story to be shared with the world to speak up for his people and the difficult times they go through during their everyday life.
The Happy Place, is the beach close by his hometown. A natural wonder for an escape, some time for himself surrounded by stunning landscapes. Untouched, wild and ready to be captured.
Of Vitaly, we keep the courage of telling stories. His powerful images arise feelings way stronger than those of words. His positive and sympathetic attitude while sharing something difficult, that can’t be fully understood by two young people who come from a safe place such as Switzerland.
Vitaly is sharing his projects and art on his blog.