SALIUT is a contemporary photography magazine that serves as a platform for emerging and renowned Ukrainian artists. The second issue is dedicated to Ukrainian `90s.
We publish a word from the editors to show you more about the issue.
In 2021, Ukraine celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Independence. Along with the development of the country’s independence, the generation of its peers – those who were born at the dawn of the 1990s – are now grown up. For this issue of SALIUT, we have chosen the theme of the turbulent, ambiguous, familiar, and also unfamiliar 90s in Ukraine. Through selected documentary and artistic photography projects, we offer you to compare our warm nostalgic childhood memories with the turbulent and complex reality of that time. This means analyzing the historical progress of Ukraine through the works and memoirs of the era’s eyewitnesses, and better understanding our present at the same time.
So what does the “wicked 90s” mean? Is it about opportunities or hopelessness? Is this the very same “era of freedom” as well? Why are the post-Soviet 90s considered bad and were they like that for everyone? Who were viewed as heroes and villains in the 90s and what has changed since then?
The 30-year-olds remember the 1990s with the flashes of childhood memories and photos from the photo albums at home. Outside of family photos, that generation will remember Love is … and Stimorol chewing gums, mottled sweaters, Tetris, or even an unattainable dream – a Dendy game console (an NES knockoff). Those who were a little older remember ‘sportivky’ (off-brand sweatpants), T-shirts with Titanic and Beverly Hills, 90210 prints, MTV or Territory A – a program with Ukrainian music; stereo tape recorders and VHS-cassettes, as well as the cult youth magazines OM, COOL!, PTIUCH and EXTREME (ХЗМ). The generation of 30-year-old remembers that time mainly due to their personal stories filled with nostalgia.
However, our nostalgia for the 1990s is the one that people feel after their childhood, and not for the realities of the time, which was obviously not so joyful and cloudless for our parents. They lived during the economic and political collapse of the 1990s and still remember the cost of providing their children with everything they needed. In this issue, we seek to show all that was not etched in children’s memory – the unpleasant, ambiguous, and complex realities of the time – to understand the essence of the stereotypical characterization of the “wicked” 90s.
Firstly, we invite you to immerse yourself in the visual story told via the postcards from the 90s Kyiv made using the first versions of Photoshop and with no foreign language knowledge. Simultaneously full of exalted joy and hopeless despair, they uncompromisingly bring us back to the kitsch and grotesque reality of the time. Those visual markers had their own political and economic reasons. However, for Ukraine, the shake-up and shift towards the festering 90s was not the chronological beginning of the decade, but 1986 – the year of the Chornobyl catastrophe, which was one of the main political reasons for the dissolution of the USSR. Having regained its independence in 1991, Ukraine not only became a sovereign and independent state but inherited all the consequences the late Soviet regime’s negligence supplied, including Chernobyl and the aftermath of the disaster. During the All-Ukrainian referendum, 93% of citizens voted in support of Ukraine’s independence, but this was only the first step in that direction followed by trials of poverty, default, political and social challenges, and a deep identity crisis.
One of the reasons why stereotypical characteristics of the “wicked” 90s emerged as such was the dominance of racketeers, bandits, and crime in general. During the transition of power from the USSR to independent Ukraine, the state briefly lost grip of what was happening in the country. Legal tools of solving problems gave way to crime and brute force. Thus, the bandits took away control of the streets and business from both the legitimate authorities and law enforcement agencies and began to influence the development of the country. They became the heroes of cult movies and TV shows, which were shown alongside films about fearless, simple, and honest police officers. There was no difference between those characters because due to television public morality became ambivalent on the subject, and violence for the sake of conditional justice stopped being seen as violence. Television broadcasts were generally overflowing with concentrated criminal chronicles that normalized the existence of criminals.
Streets became dangerous at any time of day. There were shootings, fights, kidnappings, and human trafficking occurred. However, the streets had also become the only refuge, hope and freedom for the disadvantaged, where they could regain their rights and make use of opportunities through force. Difficult family and economic circumstances led people to the streets. Minors, for example, sought protection from domestic or boarding violence on the streets. Others were united through street protests caused by the government’s inability to pay salaries. One such landmark event was a march of miners who went all the way from Donbas to Kyiv; the inability to provide for their families due to the fact they were not paid in ten months forced them to cover hundreds of kilometers on foot. The march to the capital, rallies under the Cabinet of Ministers and the strikes on the streets forced officials to repay their debts to miners.
The 90s were neither fair nor honest, the gap separating different social groups was disproportionate. On the one hand, there were the “easy money” and living on a grand scale, on the other – poverty and hustling without knowing what to expect tomorrow. Sex, fashion, drugs, homelessness, hunger, glamor, death, porn, emigration, smuggling – all intermixed it became the freedom price that Ukrainian society paid to attain independence.
For a long time, neither in popular culture nor in public memory, no one wanted to bring up the 90s – those were strange and wild times. However, in recent years, the generation born in the 21st century has become interested in the aesthetics of the 90s. Because of the past, new trends in mass culture began to flourish, uniting different generations in stylistic tendencies despite having a fundamentally different origin. For example, our famous eccentric getups of the 1990s originated in thrift stores, where our parents and we used to dress – not because of environmental awareness, but because of poverty. Nowadays it would have been considered conscious consumption. The reason for the colorful noise imprinted on VHS-cassettes was not for a special visual style, but because cameras and recorders had limited technical capabilities. Today, this aesthetic is experiencing its revival – producers use it to “wrap” music as if it was a shiny candy wrapper.
The political, economic, and cultural happenings in the country today are simultaneously influenced by three generations – people with Soviet worldview and thought processes; their children – the 90s generation; and their grandchildren – teenagers living in a completely different cultural, digital, and global paradigm. There are many similarities but also differences between these periods and generations. Some things inherited from Soviet times still influence modern politics and society, shaping our way of thinking. Other things of the past haunt us like a nightmare that no one wants to remember but has to understand. Yet other things with nostalgic aesthetics wither to nourish the myth about the times of infinite freedom and crazy opportunities. And some things remain as warm memories – street style, film photos, and the history of the Ukrainian 90s.