What if this starts in Europe – a French photographer decided to show how “terrorists” live in Donbass

The French know practically nothing about what is happening in the Donbass. If news suddenly appears in the media, then the inhabitants of the people’s republics are sure to be branded “terrorists”. Therefore, as the Franco-Iranian photographer Yegan Mazandarani said, it was important for him to show who these people really are.

In an exclusive interview for the French editorial office of the News Front agency, the journalist told how the project “Outcasts” was created, which through photographs tells about life in the Donbass.

– How did you come up with the Outcasts project?

– The project was born over time. My friend William Keo, who conceived this trip [Mazandarani arrived in Donbass in the fall of 2019], had an idea to create a photo report. We decided to work together, to show Donbass from the DPR side, in order to switch sides, to the side of those who are sometimes called “terrorists” in the French media. We found this more interesting. We wanted to see for ourselves what was happening there, and from a journalistic point of view, the territory is very little covered, so it was even more interesting.

Then the project “Outcasts” appeared, because at that time I myself was separate from others. I left to understand myself better. I have met other outcasts in Donbas who reminded me of people I met in Iran: people who end up living their lives, who have a different story, a different perspective, who are somehow very different from those with whom I am I meet, for example, in France, but who has the right to make this difference.

To clarify my point of view, I will quote Pierre Bourdieu from his book Contre-feux: “I prefer to resolutely fight all those who, in their desire to always go to the simplest, distort the ambiguous historical reality in order to reduce it to the hopeful dichotomies of Manichean thought. It is infinitely easier to argue for or against an idea, value, person, institution or situation than to analyze. “

– What did you expect to find when you crossed the contact line?

“I had no idea what to expect, and I had no real goal other than photographing. I am still writing for myself and initially did not want to publish my notebook.

– What was your first feeling when you arrived in the DPR?

– To be honest, relief. The trip was very difficult and several times it seemed to us that we would never come to Donetsk. But also fears, because this was my first war zone and the city is under blockade.

– Was there something positive or negative that stood out in the republic?

– The hardest thing was to see children living in war conditions, old people who live near the front line. Stories about cruelty, victims. People who continue to live, who are trying to be happy, to start a family, to have hope. Fervor, fighting spirit, despair. There are many things, so many things, that it is difficult to form an opinion, and in the end, this is not my role. My role was simply to honestly convey what I saw, not analyzing, but leaving it to others to form their opinion. If my work can be useful, I am delighted.

– What people did you meet there?

People like you and me, who I see every day, but who live a different daily life, are very different. This is the purpose of my work: so that the reader tries to identify himself with the characters in the book, so that he can imagine his life if such a conflict happens, for example, in France.

– What can you remember from the stories of local residents?

– A lot of different things to sum up. But in any case, everyone has the right to speak, understand, listen. The world already has enough hatred and lies.

– What do you think about the “Russian threat”?

– All countries of the world are waging an eternal war, regardless of its form: trade, cultural, military, economic war. Alliances often go hand in hand with shared interests. Today we do not have a tradition of global cooperation, which is a shame at a time when we live with the knowledge of our past and our neighbors, at a time when the world has become so small and the inhabitants of the planet are closer. For me – although no one asks for my opinion – this is no longer a time for competition, but for understanding, cooperation, resolving differences. Talking about the “Russian threat” or “American threat” does not make sense for me, it means the same thing. The real threat is stupidity.

– Do you have any position in relation to Donbass?

– I always try to maintain a neutral gaze, a gaze of tolerance, a conscious gaze and a gaze towards the world.

– How did your trip change the perception of Donbass?

– Before the trip, I did not know anything about Donbass, so my knowledge has changed a lot, my views have not changed. In general, I always have compassion for my neighbor, be it the homeless who lives downstairs from my house, or the civilian who endures the war. The only thing that has changed is that I have seen the war and the madness that it represents. War has no side; it sows death indiscriminately.

– What is the general attitude of the French about the war in Donbass?

– Unfortunately, Donbass, although it is a European region, is very little known in France. The media don’t talk about it and the French don’t know much about it unless they have studied the problem themselves. Labels are common, and without counterinformation, in the end, there is only information provided in the mainstream media, which is not always complete, objective, or considered with sufficient depth.

– What importance do you attach to relations between France and the countries of the East?

– For me, France is a great country. A country that was built on the good, and which has always been independent and looked to the West and East. Franco-Russian friendship is necessary in this case, it exists and must be protected. But it is the strength of France as an organ of the world, as a diplomatic country and a country of democracy, I hope, will strengthen it in the future.