This New Photo Book Captures the “Beauty of Ukraine and Its People”

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Happy Springs by Patrick Bienert
Happy SpringsPhotography by Patrick Bienert

“I wanted to show this positive, beautiful way of Ukraine and of its people,” says Patrick Bienert of his latest photo book, Happy Springs, which was shot between 2015-2020

In 2015, Patrick Bienert visited Ukraine for the first time. “It was after Maidan, and it felt like lots of interesting things were going on,” he recalls, alluding to the civil unrest that sparked the 2014 revolution, and the young generation subsequently seeking new cultural freedoms. “I made friends there so I started going more and more.” The capital’s night scene in particular proved enticing, and in 2017 Bienert released Wake Up Nights, an evocative study of Kyiv’s clubs, their patrons and the accompanying dawn. “It’s about the connection between techno and something bigger,” he told Dazed at the time. With his new book Happy Springs, Bienert moves beyond subcultures, documenting the wider country at play with a series made between 2015-2020. 

“I don’t have a personal connection,” the German photographer explains over Zoom, referring to his work in the former USSR (in his previous book East End of Europe, he photographed millennials in Georgia between 2015-2018, while he has shot fashion editorials in Serbia and Moldova). “I just felt it was really interesting. [In Kyiv] I worked on a project about the nightlife scene, with all the young people building up new clubs and organising themselves in a beautiful way. It was really interesting to see what they did – being the first generation after the Soviet Union – and how everything’s transforming, building a new life.” 

Travelling all around Ukraine, Bienert began by simply meeting people on the street, and quickly became affected by the hospitality. “In the beginning I really just went to see [the country], then to see friends. After a while I figured I wanted to do a project and I travelled more specifically to different regions and along the Dnipro River, which goes almost through all the country and then floats into the Black Sea, so you pass by all different kinds of landscapes,” he says of his experience. “It’s always been really beautiful meeting people there, and more and more they’re interested in Western culture and [are] just really open.”

Shot in the spring and summer months, in his pictures Ukrainians – particularly young people – are captured in leisurely, sometimes intimate moments. In one photograph, the camera homes in on a young boy’s back, wet from the sea, his bandana drips down and the water glistens in the sun; elsewhere a sunbather meets the camera’s gaze, her body stretched out in the shade as her friends’ limbs glow by her side. “I really don't look for one particular image, I like to work in series, so the images belong to each other,” Bienert notes. Underscored by a distinct softness, together the pictures project a warmth that defies the grim imagery that has come out of the country over the past twelve months, following the Russian invasion.  

Affectionately named after the village of Shchaslyvtseve – which translates as ‘happy’, and is home to a mineral hot spring in the south – the book is composed of full colour and black-and-white spreads, a strong mix that further illuminates the considered but carefree scenes that unfold within. “People are more open in spring and summer, which I was very interested in photographing – showing this moment when people are going out,” says Bienert. “I think that’s something I was really looking for, because especially when you look back, the Soviet Union has always been very dark, the Western perception of it is always quite grey. I wanted to show this positive, beautiful way of Ukraine and of its people.”

Happy Springs by Patrick Bienert is published by Patrick Remy Studio and is out now.