Danila Tkachenko: from the front of Anna Politkovskaya to exile

This article was published in issue 30/31 of Vanity Fair in newsstands until August 2, 2022

Moscow fell in 1937 due to Stalin’s oppression. Death and fear breathe. “It’s May, Danila Tkachenko is about to leave: she can no longer stay or say where she wants to go. He tried to sabotage Victory Day, May 9, after buying 140 yellow and blue smoke bombs, like the Ukrainian flag, with which he wanted to color the sky over the parade, but the services found out. He told it on Facebook and exposed himself even more. Colors, to erase the black of death. And to think that his most famous photographs are completely white, the tanks and submarines abandoned in the snow in distant Russia, the moon, on the cover of Anna Politkovskaya’s books, e.g. Putin’s Russia. You have certainly seen it: 7 reprints have been made since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine – 10 in 17 years. Danila says he is honored that his art is combined with the work of the journalist from Novaja Gazeta killed on October 7, 2006, Putin’s birthday. “I was 17 when she died, but I remember it well,” she explains. “I lived near the place where she was killed. It is worrying that there are more and more places in Moscow where political killings have taken place. “

How has your life changed since May 9th?
“I had to leave my country in a hurry with my girlfriend, Katya Kabalina, also an artist. A criminal case has been initiated against me for the issue of smoke bombs and also for what I wrote on social networks (took a stand against the “terrorists holding the country hostage”, red). The police went to search the home of my relatives and friends, who were interrogated and threatened. Someone was beaten and put in jail. ”

Is he scared?
“I am angry”.

You went to photograph Soviet monuments, abandoned Orthodox churches, the remains of the gulags. Is this your first time challenging the regime?
“I did not challenge him, but art is free. And it bothers you. I had problems when I presented my critical project on the disappearance of villages and the centralization of power in Russia. I had to prove my innocence. Today times have become more difficult , more and more oppressive laws are being invented ‘.

It does not seem to click anymore.
“I have stopped all my projects, yes. I have exposed myself more and more to the war. I continue a long way from ‘.

Had he foreseen the consequences of his action?
“Yes, I knew it, but Russia is the country where I was born and I could not keep quiet. Putin today has power criminally, jails and kills his opponents and organizes wars and terrorist attacks in other countries. I think we need to discuss it, face reality. Evil only stops if everyone says no and they resist. ‘

From here, it seems that the Russian people are not fighting.
“Putin spends a huge amount of money on propaganda, as all his internal policies are based on the creation of an external enemy, which he protects us from. Thus, people distract themselves from internal problems, from poverty, justify oppression and even war. If we add complete control over the media, we understand that everyone is manipulated, but I got the idea that today there are three types of people in Russia.

Or?
‘Those who risk their own security and openly declare their position against the war. So the people who are against it, who get information from alternative sources, but who are afraid to say no. And then those who are hypnotized by propaganda or apolitical ».

Have they given up?
“There is a sense of helplessness, they think that what is happening in the Kremlin does not depend on them, they are resigned to the fact that nothing can be different. Do you know about Stockholm Syndrome? The Soviet repression was the world’s largest experiment in state violence against its citizens. Putin is the heir to that power. Fear is inherited from generation to generation.

Putin turns 70 this year, and the end of his term is not in sight. What future do you see for your country?
“To stop this cycle of violence, we need a complete decentralization of power. And I can only think of after Putin’s death: Russia will face an inevitable civil war and further division. As Politkovskaya said, Putin is obsessed with the imperial idea, “even if it is an outdated idea. Perhaps we are witnessing the collapse of the last empire at the expense of thousands of deaths under its ruins.”

Do you have friends or family in Ukraine?
“I have Ukrainian roots: my great-grandfather, a German, went to Ukraine from Germany to open his eye clinic. There he married a woman and took her surname, Tkachenko, as the German surname Dietrich was not very safe in the Soviet Union on it. My girlfriend is also Ukrainian and her large family lived there before the war. They fled from Kiev and from Bucha ».

You were born in the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall: how does your generation relate to the West?
“We grew up with a sense of freedom, in a situation of free information. We have a critical sense that is completely lacking in those who lived in the era of Soviet propaganda. Do you know what they call Putin? ”

How?
“Grandfather”. With love. This is the most dramatic split between children and fathers: we want the freedom to choose, they seem nostalgic for their totalitarian childhood.

Do they not change their minds when they see their children and grandchildren die in war?
“Some do not have the exact awareness of the huge number of dead Russian soldiers, some are afraid to talk about it. There is criminal liability if you say there is a “war” going on. Mentioning that people are dying in this war is also a crime. Relatives of killed soldiers do not have the right to declare this publicly, they are intimidated and can be arrested. Young soldiers are recruited on purpose from remote and impoverished regions where it is easier to exercise control. In any case, the war has divided families … ».

Also his?
“Yes, part of my family believes in propaganda and considers me a traitor because I am against it. I lost touch with them because of this.”

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