Wooden Box

A story of old memories and displaced families.

Words by

Oksana Parafeniuk

© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

I open the big wooden box of old family photographs and carefully pick ones taken more than twenty years ago in the town of Korostyshiv, one hundred kilometers west from Kyiv, Ukraine. For me it is a place of very intimate family and memory attachment. My mother was born there. It has always been a place where our family members would gather, sit around the table and tell stories from our family history. Korostyshiv is where my roots are, where I spent a lot of time thinking about memory and connection to the place, and the importance of handing down family reminiscences and significant events from generation to generation.

© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

Since the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine, there are over one million internally displaced persons. One day, I read online that a group of displaced people settled in an old summer camp in Korostyshiv, only ten minutes’ walk from our house and the camp that I have known since my sister and I were little. Imagining these families in an environment that I know well, yet which is entirely new for them, made me think about the detachment from one’s own memory, your place, about the loss of everything full of meaning, and about the difficulties of settling in a new place and not being able to return to your home.

© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

I found a family from a little town in Luhansk region, who fled the war in the summer of 2014 and now live in this camp in Korostyshiv. I immediately felt a strong connection with two sisters Liliia and Iuliia, and Iuliia’s daughters Ania, 10, and Nastia, 8. I also grew up with my younger sister. They shared memories of how they spent time with their grandparents in the country house, and they also talked about their own big wooden box with old photographs, some of which they could only bring to Korostyshiv recently.

© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

I wanted to spend time with this family, sharing our memories and stories, in order to help them develop connections to Korostyshiv, seeding a foreign environment with personal tales, and to hear more about their own lost history. At a time when there are so many displaced people in Ukraine, this project is a way to explore the meaning of place as it pertains to memory, and how the loss of access to a place affects one’s memories. It is also a way to look how layers of history and identity shape our lives and our interaction with the new environment.

© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

I photographed the family on a summer day, their poses mirroring the old black & white photos taken by my parents, in the very same places in Korostyshiv. It is a collaborative attempt to create a modern family album, combining our memories from different times. The collages are done in a rather childish manner, as childhood memories are often the strongest.

In the end, it became a personal exploration of my roots and a meditation on the possible detachment from everything that is my foundation in life.

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© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

© Oksana Parafeniuk | Wooden Box

Oksana Parafeniuk is an independent photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she is exploring the manifestations of human resilience and dignity among people facing hardships. Her main interest is to explore creative approaches in documentary photography.

In addition to her personal projects, Oksana has worked with and published her work in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, NBC News, BuzzFeed News, The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera English, Rest of World, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, MSF Doctors Without Borders, UN Women, UNHCR, L’Oeil de la Photographie, and others.

https://www.oksanaparafeniuk.com
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