The narrow-gauge railway, survived two World Wars, bicycle homestead in place of the old granary, a village that turned into a tomato valley, a tea-house in the mountains at an altitude of more than a thousand meters… It was this Ukraine that appeared in the project Ukraїner, which started almost 2 years ago from the expedition to Transcarpathia. Since the trip, the project team has brought unique panoramic shots, but no less unique stories about people, who are changing the country for the better. Next were Azov, Polissya, Poltava, Bessarabia, Podillia, Bukovyna, Carpathians and a few dozen impressive stories.

The author of the project was the famous Ukrainian writer and journalist, who visited more than 50 countries of the world – Bohdan Logvynenko. The traveler says: while traveling abroad, people were constantly interested and asked what exactly Ukraine is. Therefore, Ukraїner should become the answer to this question. The answer is not only for foreigners, but for the Ukrainians themselves.

Already this April, the team of Ukraїner went in search of new places and heroes to the Azov Sea and Tavria. The first long expedition under the project should end in 2018. According to its results, it is planned to create modern guidebooks of Ukraine in several languages. More about the project is in conversation with Bohdan Logvynenko.

Bohdan Logvynenko. Photo: Alina Kondratenko

How did the idea of ​​creating the project Ukraїner come about?

When I lived in Southeast Asia, I went hitchhiking abroad, and I was constantly asked what Ukraine is. And in order to explain briefly and clearly, we need content that would give an opportunity to show and say: “Look, this is Ukraine. I’m from there”. Accordingly, one should be not ashamed for this content. And at that time the most commercials about our country were Dobkin and Yanukovych on YouTube. So I wanted to create something alternative. I wanted to show that Ukraine is not only fools in politics, but also beautiful, intelligent people and beautiful nature. Already at the start we realized that this project is about the unification of regions, and, at the same time about decentralization, decentralization in all senses. We shoot stories not about big cities, but about small towns and villages. We show that even there people can create and develop something. There are many different initiatives, each region has its own agents of change. It is interesting to say about it even for Ukrainians themselves. In addition, we touched on the topic of national minorities in order to show that Ukraine is a multicultural one. It is such a huge inflorescence of different peoples, ethnic groups, which form the country.

German Michel Jacobi breeds buffalo in Transcarpathia. Photo: Bohdan
Logvynenko, Ukraїner

What was the team on the first expedition?

The first expedition was to Transcarpathia. Actually, there were five of us in Ukraїner. But the expedition members are not the entire project team, because there is still a person who is planning – fixer, producer, coordinator – you can call it differently. There are always those, who cannot be seen: the director, the editors, the authors of the materials, the photo editor, the site administrator and the like. But many of these functions were performed by me at the beginning. Now the team has significantly expanded, and it is very difficult to say who is in it. It depends on the expedition. It happens, 12 people are traveling. However, each of the photographers goes for a week, not three, like the other members of the team. The coordinator can also be changed during filming. In general, every new member of the expedition is another impression, emotions, a different view of what we see every day.

On the project website, one can fill in the online form and join the team as a volunteer. How often do you receive applications and who are you looking for?

This form was filled already by 1500 people, and during the existence of the project we were joined by about 200 volunteers. But we are not able to accept all comers. For a long time we gathered a team of editors, mostly journalists, who wanted to participate in expeditions. But the journalist, who is travelling, is usually me. That’s why they are not necessary. Also photographers were filed, but mostly beginners. Of course, this is not bad, but sometimes we cannot take chances. Therefore, due to the fact that we can drop out one link, the material cannot be covered completely. That’s why we conduct selection among volunteers. But there are types of works that are filled with less. For example, there are not enough editors, and yet – a good PR manager.

What is the main feature that unites all the team members?

Probably everyone is united by love for discoveries. This is the very first thing, because everyone in the team tries to bring something of their own, supplement this project, something to think of. This is the greatest value. Of course, sometimes people write to us, and they just want to travel with us. To us they are absolutely not close.

Ecohouse in the Carpathians. Photo: Dmytro Bartosh, Ukraїner

Ukraїner is built on stories, but it is likely that the planned protagonists do not make contact. How do you solve this problem, and were there situations when exactly because of the refusal of protagonist the shooting was canceled?

We realize that some people cannot show up because they are not contacting. For example, we have interesting and strong stories, but we must spend a week of time with the protagonist to disclose it. We have no such opportunity. One of my favorite stories is about the man with the sheep in the pasture, which answers to all the questions: “Well…” with different intonations, sometimes supplemented with a few words. But the stories we build, are without an interviewer, so it is simply impossible to show this man. Therefore, we constantly think how to tell about those, who do not fit into the available format. But people did not contact us only twice. The first case – a hermit in Transcarpathia. But the very formulation of his identity says that he is unlikely to want to talk to someone. The second is the village of Voloka in Bukovyna, whose inhabitants are engaged in wedding dresses. They do not want to communicate, because they are terribly afraid that someone will steal the secret of their wedding dresses. In fact, this is a very interesting cluster. We also shoot them. Together with the team we were in the village of Utkonosivka in Odesa region, whose inhabitants massively grow tomatoes. We also talked about the village in Podillya, which weaves brooms. In Ukraine, there are many interesting examples, as whole villages turn into small-scale production.

Estuary Shagany, Odesa region. Photo: Polina Zabizhko, Ukraїner

How do you find the characters for the project?

Before each expedition, a fairly thorough work is carried out, an analysis of each region. We are looking for stories. This is a very routine and long process. Plus we interview those, who read and watch us, because in every region someone is watching Ukraїner. We have a kind of network of agents, who help us with ideas for filming.

Do you communicate with the characters after the material is released?

We are friends with many people. Some people help us, support after the publication of the material. For example, there was a story about the tea-house “Suria”. Its characters decided to send small New Year’s gifts to our volunteers. Although, we do not have any conditions for the release of the material. We do it honestly, without exchanging something. Also, some of our characters became volunteers on the project. We talked about bicycle homestead, which Alisa Smirna did. Now she translates the web-site’s publications into German. In addition, we consult some people. So, while preparing an informative clip about Askania-Nova, consulted its director. He helped us in wording, because often what is already in the media or in “Wikipedia” is subjected to a complete rewriting. We always try to check the information as much as possible. And it is very good, when there is such an opportunity.

What goals did Ukraїner put at the start of the project, and how much do you feel that you have managed to achieve them?

Goals? To show Ukraine to the world, acquaint Ukrainians with each other, bring together regions, change a little media accents, show that there are much more interesting characters, which can also be media. I will not say that for each of these goals we finally succeeded, but none of them bent. We constantly read many reviews from readers, viewers, who confirm that our goals were correct and we are gradually reaching them. Ukraїner is not a popular project, which should immediately “shoot”. Therefore, we understand: it takes time to reach out to a much larger number of people.

Interviewed by Maryna Barba

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