We met at the Second International Theater Festival “Vasara,” which is currently held at Lithuanian Druskininkai. Yurii Rost is not just a famous photographer and journalist, but also a poet and a writer. Within the framework of the festival the well-known master presented his new book Group Portrait in the Background of the World. This thick volume that weighs six kilograms includes the author’s photos he made over the decades of creative work, literary commentaries, and essays. The number of the characters is extremely high, the book spans various society layers, representatives of different countries and continents, both outstanding and unknown people.
For us, Ukrainians, it is interesting that the book includes a series of Rost’s meetings with the famous people’s artist Maria Prymachenko; the story with the Kamianets-Podilsky monument of a mother of ten Lysenko brothers, not all of whom returned from the front; the story of Borys Lytvak, who created a unique rehabilitation center for disabled children. All the photos are united by the master’s attentive, talented, and benevolent look through the lens. He sees life and people in such a way that each of his works becomes a finished work of art. The compositions of the photos are extremely simple, but this simplicity possesses life truth and deep sincerity.
Yurii Rost was born and grew up in Kyiv. His father was an actor of the capital Theater of Young Spectator and is known well to Kyiv long-time theater goers. Although there are actor’s works in his creative destiny, in youth Rost did not follow in his father’s footsteps, but graduated from the Kyiv Institute of Physical Training, and later – the Journalism Department of the Leningrad University. In 1967 Rost became a special correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda, and 12 years later he became a reviewer and photo correspondent of Literary Newspaper.
Although Rost has been residing in Moscow for a long time, he still remembers Kyiv. Not only does he remember, but really, without any hesitation, supports justice and truth. It was him who on February 20 finished his article with the paragraph: “P.S. Dear friends, this is my last material from Sochi. I’m sorry but I cannot take part in the Olympic festivities when people are dying in the streets of Kyiv, where I was born and grew up. This is my decision. I don’t call upon you to support me. I just ask the readers of Novaya gazeta to understand me.” A month later he wrote the article “I am ashamed” with rigorous openness, “The president called part of its people national betrayers, and I feel ashamed. He is a hero. He has held and won the Olympic Games, annexed the Crimea – you should triumph! The majority is triumphing, but some part of the citizens has not joined the united solemn impulse. Some people feel disturbed, not joyful. We have acquired Abkhazia (or haven’t we?), and lost Georgia. We have acquired the Crimea, and lost Ukraine. Which of our former brothers are we going to lose on the way of ‘gathering the lands’? And our victories are shameful. We take the closest ones. Who is going to be the next? Moldova? Kazakhstan? Why are you angry that not all of your nationals want to have a war with their brother, although the situation when we ‘bite’ something is historically close to us? Others are happy so far. We will live on. But now this will be a different life. Without shame.”
Four months have passed since the time of this brave expression, and the events are developing in an uncontrollable way, and I want to read new articles by Yurii Rost, his reasonable and farsighted commentaries. We met for the first time at “Vasara 2014.”
You follow Ukrainian events. Share your thought regarding what is going on between our countries.
“For the most part I receive information from my Novaya gazeta. Our correspondent in Kyiv works well and traveling journalists give objective information. We are trying to understand what is going on in reality. The role of Russia in these publications is harmful. Putin is a coldhearted man, he can give a good answer, but he is unable of making a strategic decision, and he has a bad notion of what results and the consequences may follow. In my opinion, the conflict has reached an international scale, and it will be hard for Russia to get out of it, because people who fight in Donetsk and Luhansk are poisoned with war. If they go back to Russia, they won’t be able to live simply, they will need great psychological shocks, conflicts, and they are able to provoke them already on their own territory.”
You were born in Kyiv. Do you consider yourself a Ukrainian?
“I consider myself a Kyivite. This is my favorite city. I know it well and I come here with pleasure. When I was living in Kyiv, I knew all famous people of that time, in particular, actors Natalia Uzhvii, Amvrosii Buchma, Mykhailo Romanov, directors of Kyiv theaters. For example, Patorzhynsky and Lytvynenko-Volhemut were living nearby, in Pushkinska Street (we had an apartment in the house of the Theater of Russian Drama). I knew well Viktor Platonovych Nekrasov. He and my father went to the front together. My father, Mykhailo Rost, was working in the Theater of Young Spectator, and was a Merited Artist. After the war, after a grave injury in the leg, he returned to the stage, he was a kind of theater Maresyev. My father is buried in Kyiv as well as my brother. Many friends and acquaintances of mine are connected with Kyiv.”
As a man who is accustomed to be in the center of events, you have been in the hottest spots, you react to all conflicts. When the revolutionary events started in Kyiv, Maidan gathered, didn’t you want to visit your native city?
“I have been practically in all spots of conflicts of the Soviet time, in Lithuania, in Georgia. However, I haven’t been to Chechnya, because I was too old for this. I was afraid to go to Kyiv, and I’m still afraid. It exists in my life as a kind of a dream city. I remember what it was like after the war; I have been told what it was like during the war and before it. I would like to preserve this image, to write about Kyiv, I have written much already, and when I finish, I will come there for sure. However, I was in Ukraine when Maidan was already beginning. I didn’t take an active part, but I wrote about those events in my newspaper in Moscow. I am very worried about what is going on now, how everything is going to be resolved in the east of Ukraine.”
In your opinion, when and how will everything end?
“I never try to guess. However, eight years ago I wrote the text ‘Death of the president,’ I gave it to our editor Dmitry Muratov to read, not telling him when it was written. He read it and said that it was a good text and that we would publish it. Then I showed him the date and told that it had already been published in Obshchaya gazeta. Therefore some things can be foreseen, but, unfortunately, we cannot expect good things to happen. By the dynamic, as I thought, Ukraine should have outrun Russia without doubt; it had all prerequisites to become a democratic state despite all the flaws, silliness, and theft that exist there, although not on a scale as large as in Russia. Ukraine is the first country which had a change of several presidents in a legal way; you have had the freedom of press and thought. I think the same will persist in the upcoming years, although you will have to overcome the material difficulties. Sooner or later, this Donetsk-Luhansk ‘Palestine’ will end. To begin a normal life, production should start to work, and this requires huge investments. This is a very lengthy and difficult process. The Dutch are drying their lands, build cities on them where future generations are going to live. In the same way, Ukraine will have to build its country, the benefits of which will be used by the future generations. Of course, everyone has a dim notion of what the future will be; people always try to live in the present day and want it to be good. Time will tell how capable Ukrainian politicians are of bringing Ukraine to stability, if not to prosperity.”