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Oscar Holland, CNN
In a drone photograph by Yevhen Samuchenko, Lake Lemuria, the so-called “Dead Sea of Ukraine,” takes on a surreal, otherworldly quality. Its waters turned pink by algae, its shoreline streaked with white salt deposits, the body of water might easily be confused for an abstract painting were it not for the presence of two tiny figures and their nearby car.
“I wanted to show the scale of the landscape, because when you see the very small people, you understand how big the location is,” said Samuchenko, via a translator, on a video call from his home in the Ukrainian city of Odesa. “But I also want the viewer to see themselves as being like these people — to invite them into the photo.”
The photographer’s mission to showcase Ukraine’s natural beauty has taken on new urgency following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. Since Samuchenko captured the image, titled “White Car & Two People,” in 2019, the region in which the lake is located, Kherson Oblast, has been partially occupied by Vladimir Putin’s forces.
When Samuchenko visited, however, the lake was a peaceful spot — one reachable only via “very bad roads” and with very little tourist infrastructure, he explained. The figures standing face-to-face in the image are two of Samuchenko’s fellow photographers, though he says the moment shared by his two friends was spontaneous, not posed.
“White Car & Two People” has since been shortlisted for the prestigious Earth Photo 2022 competition, while the photographer’s wider series on Lake Lemuria, titled “At the Pink Planet,” has been recognized by Sony World Photography Awards and Travel Photographer of the Year competitions.
Samuchenko recently donated his drone to the Ukrainian military, and he says it is currently impossible for him to operate as a photographer. But in a conflict that may hinge on the support of sympathetic allies, he hopes his work can still contribute to the war effort by appealing to hearts and minds. “It’s my frontline,” he said.
Over the summer, Samuchenko published a book featuring almost 150 of his photos, including many from regions devastated by conflict, such as Mykolaiv and Zhytomyr Oblasts. “The Beauty of Ukraine,” which was shot over the course of two years, acts as a survey of the country’s vast and varied geography, spanning both natural and man-made landscapes.
Like his images of Lake Lemuria, the painterly photos reveal hidden symmetries, patterns and shapes. Canyons, riverbeds, forests and farmland burst with color and take on a surreal new beauty when viewed from above.
Samuchenko’s book was already in production when the war began. Some of the places depicted have since been damaged, according to author Lucia Bondar, who wrote the accompanying text.
“Even nature has suffered because of this terrible war,” she said, adding: “It’s very important to show the world now the other side of Ukraine. Every day, the whole planet sees these dramatic pictures on their screens, in real time. They see this pain and these tears… In our book they can see the other side of Ukraine — of our people, of our lives and of pure beauty.”
“The Beauty of Ukraine: Landscape Photography,” published by teNeues, is available now.
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