We Were Here

Photo, video, audio, print on textile

The project was implemented within the "Coming Out of Isolation: Through Art to Visibility" art residency organized by IZOLYATSIA and KYIVPRIDE NGO with the support of the EVZ Foundation.

The initial text was written in 2018 for the presentation of the project. "We Were Here" is a series of works depicting real LGBTQ veterans of the war in Donbas. After participating in this project, veteran Viktor Pylypenko created the Union of Ukrainian LGBTQ Military, which, before the full-scale invasion, numbered about 130 people. At the moment, the union includes more than 300 people, 100 of whom are openly queer. Most of them are currently taking part in hostilities.

More than 330,000 Ukrainians took part in the Anti-Terrorist Operation on the east of Ukraine*. No data exist on the number of LGBTQ+ persons among them. The far right groups and people who share conservative views strongly believe that they are totally not there. That belief is often used as an argument against holding human rights events and Marches of Equality. We Were Here project is aimed at shedding light upon individuals who are modern Ukrainian heroes on the one hand - and on the other hand are ignored by the majority of their fellow citizens.

The LGBT+ community representatives became central figures of the project We Were Here. They were engaged in ATO and currently take part in JFO (Joint Forces Operation) as soldiers and volunteers. The collision, conflict and merge of these identities is reflected in a series of portraits.

Most of the protagonists have to wear camouflage not only during the service, but in casual life as well. They don’t make public coming outs in civilian life, they mostly conceal that in army too, being afraid of mocking and negative feedback. Concerned about not to be identified, some of them asked to use aliases.

They all have different points of view: some speak up for Marches of Equality, others say that will just provoke the far rights. The only thing that unites them is the service in Ukrainian army, active participation in volunteer movement and sexuality, gender identity. These issues are still a taboo both in such typically masculine structure as army, and in general Ukrainian society.

*Data on granting the combat veteran status by State Service of Ukraine for War Veterans and Anti-Terrorist Operation Participants as of May 2, 2018

Installation shots from IZOLYATSIA, Kyiv:

Installation shots from Melkweg Expo, Amsterdam:

Installation shots from Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart:

Shown at:
Württembergischen Kunstverein Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
Augarten Contemporary, Wien, Austria
Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Melkweg Expo, Amsterdam, Netherlands
IZOLYATSIA, Kyiv, Ukraine
Ron Mandos Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Catalyst Arts, Belfast, Northern Ireland 
033fotostad, Amersfoort, Netherlands 
Kmytiv Museum of Art, Kmytiv, Ukraine