“I wanted to spotlight a new wave of feminism in Ukraine” photographer Julie Poly says of her new art zine Hrishnytsia, a glossy publication that explores patriarchal cultures in Ukraine and a new era of feminism that is growing in the country’s capital city, Kiev. The centrepiece of the project is a photo series at one of the city’s most popular strip clubs, Star Rhino, that subverts the commonplace male gaze of the room by featuring creatives on the stage, including the art director of the Kiev Symphony Orchestra Bogdan Moroz. “Sometimes in Ukraine, certain environments are really not a safe place for women” Poly says of the images, “but there are many women in Kiev who are now challenging this, and creating space for Ukrainian women’s stories where before there was none.”.
Hrishnytsia is the feminist zine that encapsulates this movement. In it’s pages is specially commissioned original work created especially for the zine by an array of artists. The 2019 Pinchuk Art Prize winning art collaborative Mikhail Koptev and Alina Kleitman shot a photo series featuring women with sexist slurs written over their bodies, a graphic nod to the insults Ukrainian women regularly receive online. Their work is published alongside fashion photography by Maryna Tymchenko, Yevhenia Laptiy and Chris Voitkiv and illustrations by Kateryna Lykhach that respond to the brief of women redefining art history. Hrishnytsia’s graphic design riffs on 1990s tattoo typography and the magazine features spreads of original artwork by tattoo artists Katya Kopeikina and Okovnet.
“I think that people don’t realise how women’s rights in Ukraine are still quite a controversial issue”, Poly says of the need for a publication like Hrishnytsia ― “There are a lot of problematic standards for how women should be treated if they are dressed up in a glamorous way, or in clothes that might be considered by some as revealing.”.
Growing up in Ukraine in the 1980s and 1990s, Poly knows this misogyny well. She remembers a terrifying lack of safety on the streets for women and girls, and women not being taken seriously because their outfits weren’t considered conservative. But there’s a new era of feminism in Ukraine that she’s excited about, and she’s jumped on this moment with her art zine. She’s no doubt the right candidate to platform these artists, Poly herself has established herself as a photographer with a fast-growing global audience who love her vivacious lens on Ukrainian life ― recent series Ukrzaliznytsia saw her photograph travellers on the Ukrainian cross country East and West train lines.
Hrishnytsia is produced alongside Kyiv Art and Fashion Days, a new initiative by Sofia Tchkonia, the founder of Tbilisi Fashion Week. Like Tchkonia did with Tbilisi Fashion Week ― which put designers such as celebrity favourite George Keburia and tailoring perfectionist Situationist on the map ― Tchkonia is now working on nurturing the new wave of talent in Kiev, ranging from photographers like Poly, to fashion designers including Valeria Zhilyova ― who tailors suiting from her Kiev atelier and Gunia Project, an elevated Ukrainian craft brand whose silk scarves are worn by women across the world. Following the success of her new zine, Poly will start working on another issue, which she’ll begin producing in 2022 ― “there is so much formidable creativity to show in Ukraine”, she says.