Oksana Yushko

Balaklava the Lost History


This project is a part of my exploration of people’s mind who were born in the USSR.

Changing people’s mind is the most difficult thing. The Soviet Union hasn’t existed for 20 years but the shadow of it lies everywhere. Things have changed but people’s minds and attitudes have not.



I made my way to Balaklava, a small town by the sea in the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine. During the Soviet era, it was a city that didn’t exist to the outside world. The town closed to the public for more than 30 years due to the submarine base that was situated there.

Almost the entire population of Balaklava worked at the base and even their family members could not visit the town without a good reason or proper identification. It was a closed society, an ambitious, privileged caste, a major league, a private club with limited membership. Officers were well paid, enjoyed special apartments and were given other privileges. It used to be like this.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1992, the Soviet army was automatically transferred to Russia’s control. It was only in 1997 that the ships and equipment of the Black Sea Fleet were officially divided between the two countries Russia and Ukraine. The process of fleet division remains painful since many aspects of the two navies co-existence are under-regulated, causing recurring conflicts.

The system collapse turned the once privileged Soviet officers into unwanted people.
Crossing the streets of Balaklava, I saw traces of this not only in the town but also on people’s faces. They still live in the past. Their attitude to the present situation is complicated, but most of them don’t want to look forward to the future.




Oksana Yushko is a freelance photographer based in Moscow. She started working as a professional journalist in 2006 and currently focuses on personal projects in Russia, Chechnya, Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. Yushko was a selected participant of the 2011 Noor-Nikon Masterclass in Documentary Photography in Bucharest, Romania, and a finalist of the 2010 Conscientious Portfolio Competition. She was also finalist of the 2013 Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival, the Grand Prize Winner of Lens Culture International Exposure Awards 2011, a finalist of the Aftermath Project 2010 and a 2011 finalist of the Manuel-Riveira Oritz Foundation. Yushko’s work has been exhibited in galleries in Russia, Finland, UK, USA, and France and her work has been published by media across the world.


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Oksana Yushko




7 thoughts on “Oksana Yushko – Balaklava the Lost History”

  1. Another very quiet, subdued, winning, essay. It tells a story I knew nothing of, about what can happen when the elite warriors of a society dedicate their lives to prepare and train for the most devastating war ever and then that war is never fought. I am glad to have learned.

    I am not sure why the photographer felt it necessary to impose the antique look and to include so many overexposed images so bright and chalky that it hurts my eyes a bit to look at them. Still, she is the artist and knows why she did it and so did the judges. Maybe I will yet figure it out.

    Wait… I suddenly get it… the bright, chalky, overexposures represent the nuclear blasts that never happened. Those blasts would have surely hurt the eyes, too. Blinded them, even, if they did not reduce them to atoms.

    Congratulations, Oksana. I look forward to your future work.

  2. After the fall, there was nothing special. Just diamonds and rust. A quiet story, indeed.

  3. Yes a quiet story, low pitched and obviously a rather sad tale. One thing I continually notice is how the great majority of photographers tend to delve in the melancholic sad of life and virtually nobody except DAH revel in the positive and fiesta side of life.

  4. DAH can get away with it, Paul, because he is who he is; a young photographer who wants to be taken seriously, on the other hand, had better tackle serious subjects. The same is true across the arts, I think. The great tragedies outnumber the great comedies, for reasons that are too depressing to think about.

  5. Akaky, if it were too depressing to think about, there wouldn’t be all that much serious photography, would there? Apropos of something or other, I went to a concert the other night and ended up sitting near a serious-looking photographer. As someone always open to learning from my betters, I observed what he was doing. Turns out he was taking surreptitious pictures of all the black women in sight. To paraphrase the immortal Mickey Knox, I thought that was a powerful statement about contemporary documentary photography. Though I’‘m not a hundred percent sure exactly what it‘s saying.

    Oh fuck it. Yes I am exactly sure what it’s saying.

  6. I agree with Paul, and thought the same thing myself about this essay. As a former Peace Corps volunteer in a Post Soviet country (Armenia) I totally get the austere and romantic beauty of the landscape, interiors, and of the people in these places. It is easy to show this side. But there’s a shit load of small joyous celebrations happening all the time. It is my opinion that whatever it takes and has people like DAH shooting the fun of life takes some evolved thinking – realizing being heavy isn’t all that helpful. All in all though a big congratulations for being a runner up Oksana, keep up the great work!

  7. Akaky…

    Good point, however maybe it’s just much more effort to make a happy essay “sing”. I always had a tougher time improvising a guitar solo in a major key, minor keys were always somehow more inspiring.

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