Next Stop: Ukrzaliznytsia

Ukrainian photographer Julie Poly is one of the most promising voices from the budding Eastern European creative scene. And while the entire world is facing travel restrictions, her book "Ukrzaliznytsia", an ode not only to train rides but also the East, takes you all the way from quarantine onto Ukrainian railways. Her work is an appropriate metaphor for our new issue "Go East".

What do you see, when you look to the East? With our new issue making its way to newsstands all over Europe right now, Achtung Mode is inviting you on a journey. An East that is by far not as dark as one seems to think. But in times, when physically crossing borders is barely possible, isn’t it even more important to overcome those borders stuck in our heads?

One of the talents that is lightning up Eastern Europe’s creative scene is Ukrainian photographer Julie Poly. After working as a train attendant in her college years, she worked her way up to being one of the most interesting photographers. Of course, her work features prominently in our Achtung Mode Nr. 39, where she shot a story on Ukraine designer Anton Belinskiy.

Julie Poly used to work as a train attendant in her summer holidays in college times.

With her book Ukrzaliznytsia (the name of the Ukraine’s railway company), being available to preorder this week, Julie Poly takes us with her on a journey throughout her motherland on railways. Sharing a preview of her book here, she told Achtung Digital why it’s important to look into your Heimat and how raves are keeping her up to date. 

Julie Poly’s Book Ukrzaliznytsia is available to preorder starting this week.

Achtung Digital: At Achtung, we like to look East instead of West – what is it about the East that you would like to be seen?

Julie Poly: In general, there are a lot of stereotypes about the East that mostly aren’t true. In any case, I would like people to see that we are all human beings. We are all the same, even if we grew up in different environments or are affected by different circumstances. 

AD: Why do you think we all should “Go East” more often?

JP: People from the East often forget about their origin. I often see photographers trying to copy artists from the West, but can’t achieve the same results because they live in a different environment. You have to pay attention on things that surround you in real time. No one should ever forget their origins, on the contrary: we should find out more about them, explore and look into them. 

“I think that the fashion industry in Ukraine is just at the very beginning,” JP.

AD: How does your origin and living in Kiev influence your view on the fashion industry?

JP: I think that the fashion industry in Ukraine is just at the very beginning. In Kyiv you have a unique opportunity to see, how it’s forming and growing, to meet the people who are responsible for that. Because in Kyiv everything is easy, people are very open-minded and straightforward.

AD: You used to work as a train attendant during the summer break, tell us about this experience?

JP: The whole experience was crazy. The train chief used to work on the legendary route Kharkiv – Vladivostok and told me a lot of stories. Many people were going to or coming from Vladivostok to buy products from China and sell them back home. So they either had a lot of money with them on the way there or some products on the way back home. He told me about the people called “36” (the number of the cards in the deck), who were getting on a train to play cards for money, they knew whom they could take advantage of. And a lot about clonidine abusers. Actually, many of those stories became references in Ukrzaliznytsia and some are represented as poems in the book. Also, there are portraits of me as a train attendant demonstrating the rules of behavior on the train. 

A private dance of stripper in a compartment with Ukrainian Army guys – a shot that ended up on the cover of Julie Poly’s photo book Ukrzaliznytsia.

AD: You capture it in your pictures – the youth culture in Ukraine, what makes it special?

JP: The Ukrainian youth combines very different things, on one hand they have a furious desire to show their identity and uniqueness; and on the other they are kind of naive, and touching. I often attend raves just to see and watch our young people, find out what they are striving for, what paths they choose and why. That is very useful for my personal growth and helps to understand the world in general. Youth feels the time better than others.

AD: You are in your 30s, if there was one word that could describe your generation, what would it be?

JP: I think, that I am a part of that generation, which can be associated with images. A lot of us are visionaries. So, “picture” or “img” fit.  

AD: Women in a mixture of baby pink and leopard prints, blue eye shadows and garish colors, the provincial references to the 90’s literally cry out to the viewer, why the 90’s?

JP: I was growing up in the 90’s and was putting on blue eye shadow and wore leopard leggings myself. It all made an imprint on my visual language, on me as a person and me as an artist. So, those are references not just about the time but also about the environment that I grew up in. 

Julie Poly’s aesthetics are heavily influenced by her youth in the 90’s.

AD: The 90’s in the Ukraine were also perceived as a time of liberation and freedom with the end of the Soviet Union, when the future looked promising and bright, how does the Ukraine feel today?

JP: This is a sensitive subject for me, now there is a separation of the East from the country. My family lives in the East, and what I see there, it is very hard to look at. But talking about the time of liberation and a promising future, that is what you can feel in Kyiv. Everything is developing here: everyone is coming from different countries to work in Kyiv. At the same time, there is a war in the Ukraine and all my thoughts are aimed at ending this as soon as possible. I want the country to be united and the picture to be complete.

AD: The Ukraine has been experiencing turbulent times since the Euromaidan – this restlessness does that inspire your work, or does it hinder you?

JP: It doesn’t inspire, it doesn’t interfere either. But it hurts. This restlessness directs you to certain thoughts, the thoughts about what each of us can do to help solve this conflict.

Ukrzaliznytsia: the name of the Ukrainian railway service.

AD: What do you think does the future hold for creatives in the Ukraine?

JP: The world is about to face some huge changes. Due to the global crisis, people all over the world reconsider their values and change their way of working. A lot of professions will lose their relevance. It’s a turning point for everyone, but I think that creatives will recover sooner, than others. The creative industry is very adaptive, it’s easier for creatives to find ways of bringing something to life and finding solutions. 

AD: You are about to publish your book, what’s the next stop?

JP: It took me two years to complete my current project: from the idea to its realization and printing the book. After that I will focus on my other projects that I’ve been planning for a while – a video project about situation in the East of the Ukraine and a magazine about erotica.