Currently governed by self-proclaimed “people’s republics”, the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine is not on most people’s cultural map, but DIY zine Golden Coal is aiming to show a different side to life in the Uncontrolled Territories. By Lera Nepeina
As soon as I read the first lines saying this was a ‘zine about the underground culture of Donetsk and Lugansk’, I immediately became obsessed with the idea of printing Golden Coal (the zine was produced with support from Shcherbenko Art Centre in Kyiv).
Yes, the subjects of the zine represent varied (and sometimes vague) political positions, but that wasn’t really the point – the aim was to show a ‘hidden’ youth culture, totally un-covered by conventional media.
Indeed, Golden Coal is one of the only information sources from the Uncontrolled Territories that isn’t exclusively about ‘war’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘occupation’, or propaganda with the aim of demeaning the local culture. Within these pages, people only rave from 5pm until 10pm, so they can get back home before curfew. They create DIY copies of inaccessible designer clothes. Artists and graffiti writers turn abandoned buildings into art squats, and amateur photographers show street fashion via Instagram.
Golden Coal was started by young Ukrainian artists from the Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora (LCD) collective, who lived in Lugansk before the Russian military intervention in the Donbass region and they were forced to flee. Now, they are telling the stories of those who remain – trapped by circumstance, or who simply decided to stick around. LCD are now based in Kyiv, western Ukraine or abroad.
"We hope readers can find here familiar stories, desires and feelings, hopes and viewpoints that unite young people,” says the informal community of Lugansk Contemporary Diaspora (LCD), “regardless of their present location and circumstance.”
When I saw the first digital version of the zine, its layout caught my eye. For those of us who grew up in the post-Soviet 90s, its homage to cult magazine COOL was clear. This visual style, combined with ‘post-internet’ aesthetics, was clearly not chosen by accident. By using this visual language, the creators had made an attempt to be understandable to today’s young people. The acid aesthetics also evoke a nostalgic ideal of underground movements.
The zine showcases young Donetsk and Lugansk creatives in resistance to the ‘official’ narrative – an information policy established by both sides of the conflict that distances the residents of these ‘republics’ from those elsewhere in Ukraine. Golden Coal resists this gap and aims to regain lost connections between people living on different sides of the conflict.
While attempting to produce this project, the reaction we faced was quite negative because this topic was at odds with the 'official' aims of the Ukrainian government, or of the many international organizations.
Nonetheless, the ongoing political chaos, military conflict and half-ruined industrial landscapes have not stopped these young people dreaming and creating their own youth culture as a means of escape, trying to forget the troubled and uncertain reality they’re forced to live in. It seems culture has not yet abandoned these forgotten and decaying places.
Golden Coal was produced with support from Shcherbenko Art Centre (Kyiv, Ukraine)
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