Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline, Bosnia, Chicago, Chicago Magazine, Germany, Illinois, Kazakhstan, Midwest America, National Geographic, Politics, Portraits, Publications, Rahm Emanuel, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, Welt am Sonntag

Best of 2014: Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Germany and Sweet Home Chicago

(NOTE: Much of my work from this year remains under embargo until publication including my recent work in Bosnia and Herzegovina with National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee Cara Eckholm.)

In February, events in Ukraine rapidly spiraled out of control following the peaceful occupation of the central Maidan Niezalezhnosti or Independence Square in Kiev that had begun late in 2013. On the evening of February 18, 2014, the government of Viktor Yanukovych ordered snipers positioned around the square to fire on demonstrators. The gunfire continued intermittently, killing dozens for two days until it stopped. Then Yanukovych fled to Russia. Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea and sent troops into eastern regions of Ukraine. The government in Kiev has realigned itself with the West and the European Union.

In early April, I traveled to Kiev to photograph those who had survived the sniper attacks from February 18-20, 2014 and to hear their stories. I hoped to bring their voice into a conversation about the conflict playing out in the international media and policy circles in Washington and around Vladimir Putin in Russia that has seldom revolved around the Ukrainians themselves. I tried to bring the voice of these survivors – who other Ukrainians labeled “Maidan Heroes” – into the captions. I am grateful for the genuine willingness of so many to share their stories. The overwhelming difficulty of working on a project like this consisted of finding those who had survived, which meant transversing Kiev many times and visits to several hospitals and private apartments. Those who shared with me were eager to share with others their stories.

Tanya, 25, of Vinnytsa sits in front of the occupied October Palace near the Maidan Square in Kiev, Ukraine on April 2, 2014.  Tanya, a mother of two, was injured by a bullet that struck her left leg in Marinsky Park on February 20, 2014; she was hospitalized for ten days from March 3 until March 13. "From December, I was protesting.  I have two children, a boy and a girl, and I don't want them to live in such an awful country as we have now.  We were standing for the EU from the beginning.  We don't want Putin to take Crimea and Kiev.  It is not as if Yanukovych is gone, his bandits are still shooting at us."

Tanya, 25, of Vinnytsa sits in front of the occupied October Palace near the Maidan Square in Kiev, Ukraine on April 2, 2014. Tanya, a mother of two, was injured by a bullet that struck her left leg in Marinsky Park on February 20, 2014; she was hospitalized for ten days from March 3 until March 13.
“From December, I was protesting. I have two children, a boy and a girl, and I don’t want them to live in such an awful country as we have now. We were standing for the EU from the beginning. We don’t want Putin to take Crimea and Kiev. It is not as if Yanukovych is gone, his bandits are still shooting at us.”

Oleksandr, 32, a freelance photographer, sits in his kitchen on the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine on April 7, 2014.  Oleskandr was shot in the leg on February 18, 2014 while he was working on Khreschatyk Street by a bus stop in front of the Trade Unions building; he was wearing a neon orange vest that clearly marked him as press at the time. "For me, I am lucky it was not so serious.  The bullet only hit me in the leg and went through.  I was lucky that the bullet did not go through the bone, only the muscles.  I went to see friends [for treatment] instead of the public hospital because I am a freelancer and I don't have this big media to support me.  I tried to go to Maidan every day.  A few times I was photographing there when there were not so many photographers there.  I sold pictures to Reuters and AP.  Of course I support the protesters 100 percent but I wasn't making molotov cocktails because I didn't want to compromise myself because I am a journalist.  Of course I don't know who shot me but it was definitely not the protesters.  I don't think I was shot to be killed, just to make me leave there.  If there was no Russia here like an older brother, I hope everything would be ok.  I want stability and wealth, like Yanuovych's posters advertised [joking], only I want this to be true."

Oleksandr, 32, a freelance photographer, sits in his kitchen on the right bank of the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine on April 7, 2014. Oleskandr was shot in the leg on February 18, 2014 while he was working on Khreschatyk Street by a bus stop in front of the Trade Unions building; he was wearing a neon orange vest that clearly marked him as press at the time.
“For me, I am lucky it was not so serious. The bullet only hit me in the leg and went through. I was lucky that the bullet did not go through the bone, only the muscles. I went to see friends [for treatment] instead of the public hospital because I am a freelancer and I don’t have this big media to support me. I tried to go to Maidan every day. A few times I was photographing there when there were not so many photographers there. I sold pictures to Reuters and AP. Of course I support the protesters 100 percent but I wasn’t making molotov cocktails because I didn’t want to compromise myself because I am a journalist. Of course I don’t know who shot me but it was definitely not the protesters. I don’t think I was shot to be killed, just to make me leave there. If there was no Russia here like an older brother, I hope everything would be ok. I want stability and wealth, like Yanuovych’s posters advertised [joking], only I want this to be true.”

Refat, 19, a Ukrainian soldier from Crimea, sits on his hospital bed at the Main Military Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kiev, Ukraine on April 8, 2014.  Refat was shot in the left knee by a sniper on February 20, 2014 while trying to maintain a line of soldiers on orders and had the lower part of his left leg amputated from above the knee. "We had orders to stand in the line.  In the morning, it was quite calm and silent and then the protesters started to attack and they threw a grenade and I walked away from there and then I felt a sniper's bullet in my knee.  It was the morning of February 20 and we were unarmed.  I was standing with just a shield.  That morning there was shooting from both sides.  The criminal case is still open and nobody knows why they were shooting.  I blame the president.  I want a normal president and stability to come to Ukraine.  I want to stay in Kiev and enter the main university and study law.  I want to become a prosecutor.  I want things to be tranquil here in Ukraine."

Refat, 19, a Ukrainian soldier from Crimea, sits on his hospital bed at the Main Military Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kiev, Ukraine on April 8, 2014. Refat was shot in the left knee by a sniper on February 20, 2014 while trying to maintain a line of soldiers on orders and had the lower part of his left leg amputated from above the knee.
“We had orders to stand in the line. In the morning, it was quite calm and silent and then the protesters started to attack and they threw a grenade and I walked away from there and then I felt a sniper’s bullet in my knee. It was the morning of February 20 and we were unarmed. I was standing with just a shield. That morning there was shooting from both sides. The criminal case is still open and nobody knows why they were shooting. I blame the president. I want a normal president and stability to come to Ukraine. I want to stay in Kiev and enter the main university and study law. I want to become a prosecutor. I want things to be tranquil here in Ukraine.”

In May, I went to Astana, Kazakhstan, the capital of a Central Asian nation unfortunately most famous for something it has no control over: being the homeland of Sasha Baron Cohen’s fictitious personality Borat. Astana is a completely artificial city drafted from the imagination of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who like many leaders in Central Asia is a hangover from the Soviet period. The entire city of Astana is built around his presidential palace, which looks something like the palace of the fallen communist-era Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaucescu with a giant Prussian hat atop it. Very little about Astana has been constructed with people and human life beyond that of President Nazarbayev in mind. It’s existence can be attributed to the country’s vast hydrocarbon wealth which is financing the boom. In addition to visiting many of the attractions which were monolithic style replicas of architectural works elsewhere, I attended an arms fair and saw cutting edge military hardware and accessories from the former Soviet Union and around the world on display. There was also a tank waltz and a military band that performed “Gangnam Style”. Children crawled on tanks.

A woman walks in front of the Opera in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 21, 2014.

A woman walks in front of the Opera in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 21, 2014.

An officer with two kids are seen beside a missile at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

An officer with two kids are seen beside a missile at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

Children climb on a tank at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

Children climb on a tank at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

A tank demonstration labeled a tank waltz by organizers at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

A tank demonstration labeled a tank waltz by organizers at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

A Russian military uniform manufacturer's display at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

A Russian military uniform manufacturer’s display at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

Members of the public watch an airshow at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

Members of the public watch an airshow at the Kadex 2014 Defense Expo at the Astana Military Airport in Astana, Kazakhstan on May 24, 2014.

In June, I attended the Turkish Olympiad, an event that brings together students from around the world who attend schools created and run by followers of the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen to recite poetry and perform songs, some of which are written by Gülen. The event is usually held in Turkey but Gülen is embroiled in a high stakes political controversy in Turkey and has run afoul of the government of the powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, formerly the Prime Minister. For the first time ever, the Turkish Olympiad was not held in Turkey but in Bucharest, Romania and Düsseldorf, Germany.

I attended the competition in Düsseldorf, a city I first visited when I was the recipient of a John J. McCloy Fellowship in Journalism from the American Council on Germany. I was there to interview a German nationalist, Rudi Pawelka, the head of the Federation of the Expelled (Bund der Vertrieben), who had sued the Polish government in the European Court of Human Rights to get back Polish land that was owned by Germans before the Second World War. That first time, I took the train and remember in the short walk from the main train station to Pawelka’s foundation’s office the abundance of Turkish döner and call shops along the way. When the Gülenist media announced the location, I could not think of a better place beyond Turkey’s borders as I had referred to Düsseldorf as “a wonderful Turkish city” ever since that first visit.

The crowd, primarily made up of Turkish immigrants to Germany, waved both Turkish and German flags with equal enthusiasm at the Turkish Language and Culture Festival at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany on June 21, 2014.  Formerly called the Turkish Olympiad and always held in Istanbul, the Language and Culture Festival is being held in Germany for the first time after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it could not be held in Turkey after an open political feud erupted last fall between Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as AK Party, and the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania and his followers.

The crowd, primarily made up of Turkish immigrants to Germany, waved both Turkish and German flags with equal enthusiasm at the Turkish Language and Culture Festival at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany on June 21, 2014. Formerly called the Turkish Olympiad and always held in Istanbul, the Language and Culture Festival is being held in Germany for the first time after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it could not be held in Turkey after an open political feud erupted last fall between Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as AK Party, and the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania and his followers.

Men pray in the hallway before the Turkish Language and Culture Festival at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany on June 21, 2014.  Formerly called the Turkish Olympiad and always held in Istanbul, the Language and Culture Festival is being held in Germany for the first time after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it could not be held in Turkey after an open political feud erupted last fall between Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as AK Party, and the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania and his followers.

Men pray in the hallway before the Turkish Language and Culture Festival at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany on June 21, 2014. Formerly called the Turkish Olympiad and always held in Istanbul, the Language and Culture Festival is being held in Germany for the first time after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it could not be held in Turkey after an open political feud erupted last fall between Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as AK Party, and the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania and his followers.

Children wave different national flags of participating nations during one of the opening numbers at the Turkish Language and Culture Festival at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany on June 21, 2014.  Formerly called the Turkish Olympiad and always held in Istanbul, the Language and Culture Festival is being held in Germany for the first time after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it could not be held in Turkey after an open political feud erupted last fall between Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as AK Party, and the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania and his followers.

Children wave different national flags of participating nations during one of the opening numbers at the Turkish Language and Culture Festival at the ISS Dome in Dusseldorf, Germany on June 21, 2014. Formerly called the Turkish Olympiad and always held in Istanbul, the Language and Culture Festival is being held in Germany for the first time after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it could not be held in Turkey after an open political feud erupted last fall between Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials as AK Party, and the Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen living in self-exile in rural Pennsylvania and his followers.

In November, my hometown, Chicago, received a new Cardinal, Blase Cupich, as Cardinal Francis George stepped down to retire. On assignment for Chicago Magazine, I photographed his installation ceremony and the first few prayers he led as the Archbishop of Chicago.

Priests from Chicago and around the nation and world arrive for the mass ahead of the installation ceremony of the Archbishop-elect of Chicago, Blase Cupich, at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 2014.  Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

Priests from Chicago and around the nation and world arrive for the mass ahead of the installation ceremony of the Archbishop-elect of Chicago, Blase Cupich, at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 2014. Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel leads a line of civic and state leaders in greeting the new Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich at the start of the mass ahead of Cupich's installation ceremony at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 2014.  Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel leads a line of civic and state leaders in greeting the new Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich at the start of the mass ahead of Cupich’s installation ceremony at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 2014. Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

A nun sings a psalm during morning prayer the day after the installation ceremony of Archbishop Blase Cupich at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 19, 2014.  Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

A nun sings a psalm during morning prayer the day after the installation ceremony of Archbishop Blase Cupich at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 19, 2014. Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

Archbishop Blase Cupich prays at the conclusion of evening prayer or vespers the day after his installation ceremony at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 19, 2014.  Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

Archbishop Blase Cupich prays at the conclusion of evening prayer or vespers the day after his installation ceremony at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 19, 2014. Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

The Archbishop-elect of Chicago, Blase Cupich, enters the mass ahead of his installation ceremony after ceremoniously knocking on the door at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 2014.  Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

The Archbishop-elect of Chicago, Blase Cupich, enters the mass ahead of his installation ceremony after ceremoniously knocking on the door at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois on November 18, 2014. Cupich is the ninth Archbishop of Chicago and succeeds Cardinal Francis George.

Happy holidays, stay safe and don’t drink and drive!