Ukrainian Photographer’s Ethnic Photos Represent What’s at Stake

Anna Senik's ethno-photography

In the face of adversity as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a local ethno-photographer Anna Senik has taken up arms and enlisted as a soldier but hasn’t given up on her love for photography.

Senik — who publishes under the artistic pseudonym “Ładna Kobieta” — is based in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, which on Sunday received the largest attack from Russia since the invasion began. A new Retroville shopping center was hit by an airstrike and left at least eight people dead as reported by The Guardian.

Dealing with the consequences of Russia’s invasion is part of Senik’s daily reality as she serves in the Armed Territorial Defense. Although this has temporarily taken her away from her passion for what she describes as ethno-photography, she actively continues to use her work as a source of inspiration.

Photographer Celebrates the Beauty of Tradition

“I’ve been taking photos for over 10 years, and all this time I worked in the style of the-photography — reproducing traditional images,” Senik tells PetaPixel. “For me, national clothes are one of the most aesthetic things in the world — this is what I have dedicated my life to.”

Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography

For the most part, Senik’s models are not professionals and she hand-picks them, while the outfits are all authentic antique clothes from both private and museum collections. Together with her team, which includes ethnographers, costumers, collectors, and assistants, Senik has created a collection of visual heritage that she hopes “will prolong the life of the unique traditional culture of Ukraine.”

“But the main reason why I do it is that I just love this beauty,” she adds.

From Photography to the Armed Territorial Defense

Military experience is nothing new to Senik. She first volunteered in 2014 at the beginning of the Russian aggression when it invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

“Therefore, we can say that I have always had decisions about the need to protect my homeland,” she explains. “I knew what I would do if necessary. Since I was already at war, it was easier for me to take up arms again now. Because I knew what to be ready for and had no illusions.”

Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography

Although Senik had confidence in her own decision to enlist, she still was briefly stunned as, for the first time, war was so close. As the conflict reached the outskirts of Kyiv, she had to persuade her family to leave Kyiv, which she eventually managed to do.

Although Senik’s daily life now revolves around her military responsibilities, photography still plays a major role. For example, Senik uses her Instagram to share regular updates on the current situation in the country.

She often uses professional photos from her archives as the first image in a photo carousel, juxtaposed with first-hand accounts of military life, destroyed homes, and lives. In a way, her photographs serve as a stark reminder to herself and others of what’s at stake.

Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography

“Not to forget why we are here, what we are defending and what we are fighting for,” Senik writes under one of her Instagram posts. “This is Ukraine — and it is beautiful.”

For Senik, photography is a way of seeing the world. “Sharing my work on social media during the war is a way to show the world Ukraine, its beauty and meaning, which Russia is now trying to destroy,” she explains.

Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography Anna Senik's ethno-photography

“Ukraine must have concrete visual images,” Senik continues. “I want the world to know not only about the war but also about what we are losing because of this war. That’s why I combine my art photos with war materials — it’s before and after, it’s a contrast, it’s a struggle of good and evil.”

Senik is confident in the victory of her country and believes that her people will not stop fighting for their freedom.

“Whether I survive or not, Ukraine will definitely be,” she says. “For myself, my only dream is ю all my family and friends to be alive and healthy, and I will be able to return to art after all.”

More of Senik’s work can be found on her website and Instagram page.

Image credits: All photos by Anna Senik.