Passport to eternity: photographing the forgotten elderly of Ukraine

By Simon Bowcock

Alexander Chekmenev was tasked with making new passport photos in eastern Ukraine – and ended up with a powerfully humane portrait series. As the images are published 20 years later, he explains why old people deserve better care

Times were tumultuous in post-Soviet eastern Ukraine when Alexander Chekmenev started out as a young photographer in his home city. “Like the whole country, Luhansk in the mid-1990s was suffering from economic collapse and the rise of crime. Those times were called the ‘evil 90s',” he says.

But amid the turmoil there were opportunities, and not just for the criminals. “In 1994, all old passports from the Soviet Union had to be changed to new Ukrainian passports,” he says. “People were lining up at photo studios. Photographers could earn a car in a season.”

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