Above Left: A view of Kyiv's Left Bank from the air

Kyiv’s Left Bank – confusingly the area of the city situated to the right of the Dnieper river – is commonly derided as the lesser side of the city, thanks to its lack of landmarks, poor infrastructure, giant industrial zones, and endless rows of dilapidated Soviet-era housing projects.

Viewed from above, however, the Left Bank provides a variety of form and texture that cannot be found elsewhere in the city. As spring takes hold, the intermingling of nature and humanity turns the Left Bank into a complex concert of colour, pattern and tone.


A nation's tensions are laid bare in Kyiv's colourful city-within-a-city. Welcome to Comfort Town.

The full article was published on The Calvert Journal in April 2019

The election on Sunday of comedian Volodymyr Zelensky as the nation’s new president has shown just how deep dissatisfaction with the status quo runs in Ukraine. In one corner of Kyiv, a housing development tells the story of generational divisions and the uneasy search for a workable future among the country’s youth.

Glance out of the aeroplane window as you descend into Kyiv’s Borispol airport and you are likely to spot a 40-hectare explosion of rainbow-coloured concrete on the ground below. This is Comfort Town, erupting from its drab surroundings like Lego on a shabby grey carpet.

Comfort Town’s 180 low-rise apartment buildings are indeed inspired by children’s building blocks; a playful response to the sprawling 1950s and 60s communist-era housing that encircles them. The secured grounds operate as a city-within-a-city, housing everything needed for modern life, from shops and restaurants to schools and gyms.

“Your little slice of Europe in Kyiv,” declares the brochure. Indeed, for the most part, its 8,500 apartments and manicured courtyards have been embraced by a generation of young families and urban professionals who feel culturally closer to Europe than to the country’s Soviet heritage.

Ukraine is a country struggling against endemic corruption, suffocating poverty, chronic depopulation, and a gruelling war with Russia-backed separatists. Stifled by a powerful elite unwilling to relinquish control, much of the country has failed to modernise in its 28 years of independence. In this context, islands of modernity like Comfort Town raise the important question of whether such developments are a precursor to wider progress in the country, or a symptom of a system incapable of change.

Conceived in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Comfort Town was built on the site of a disused rubber factory on Kyiv’s Left Bank. Confusingly located to the right of the Dnieper river, the Left Bank is often derided as the less desirable side of the city, thanks to its lack of landmarks, poor transport, and endless Soviet-era housing projects, now some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the city. Despite this, Comfort Town has proven incredibly popular, claiming the title of “Ukraine’s most successful development” (in terms of unit sales) since independence.

Unlike many older estates, the buildings and common spaces in Comfort Town are well maintained. Responsibility is shared among residents through service charges, democratic voting rights, and a Facebook group with nearly 10,000 members. People take collective responsibility in a way that is uncommon elsewhere in the city.

“In the Soviet Union, people didn’t have to take responsibility, because somebody else did,” explains Alina Dvorzhanska, 30, a property manager and interior designer who works regularly in Comfort Town. She tells me it’s normal for common areas in older buildings to be uncared for. “The younger generation wants to live in new developments because the neighbourhood thinks differently. They care because they know no one else will.”


“The younger generation wants to live in new developments because the neighbourhood thinks differently.”

By isolating itself from the outside, Comfort Town has also become a refuge for some residents who have been subject to racism elsewhere. Neuro Lloyd, a black Zimbabwean who emigrated to Ukraine six years ago to study medicine, has been violently attacked in other parts of the city eight times. He receives verbal abuse on an almost almost daily basis. “In Comfort Town,” he says, “I haven’t had any of those problems. I feel so much more comfortable walking around, especially at night.”

Although beyond the reach of the city’s poorest, the complex is still considered affordable for those on middle incomes. For many residents, however, living in Comfort Town is about more than economics. Tetiana Donets, 23, a film producer who lives and works in Comfort Town, says she loves where she lives but is under no illusions about what her home represents…

…Read the full article on The Calvert Journal


Into the Zone: 4 days inside Chernobyl's secretive 'stalker' subculture

The full article was published on The Calvert Journal in January 2019

In the shadows of the tourist boom in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are the ‘stalkers’; Young Ukrainian men, now offering an illegal alternative to the theatre of the official tours.

I can feel the undergrowth digging into my legs as the two of us hide among the trees in anxious silence. The darkness is so absolute I feel entombed within it. It’s been seven hours since my last drink. Kirill, our guide, left to get water with the others, but they haven’t returned; after hearing a barking dog in the distance, we fear they’ve been caught.

We entered the 2,600-square kilometre Chernobyl Exclusion Zone illegally last night. Without Kirill, we are lost, somewhere in a forest, with no water, no map, and no plan.

Well, it would be a dark and solemn reminder if it had not been turned into a paintballing arena. This being Colombia, once the tour of the main mansion is completed, it is time to suit up and head to the series of annexes close by for some good old ‘capture the flag’, or in this case ‘capture the coke’.

In recent years, the Zone, a highly restricted area in northern Ukraine that surrounds the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, has become a tourist hotspot. Each morning, tour buses queue at the entry checkpoint where a souvenir shop plastered with nuclear warning symbols peddles neon keyrings and radiation suits. The guides’ t-shirts read: “Follow me and you will survive”. In fact, the dangers are minimal. Along their tightly demarcated routes, these visitors will be exposed to less radiation than during a routine x-ray.

Beyond youthful rebellion, the motivations of the modern stalkers are complex, and speak to the national trauma that resulted from a tragedy whose effects will be felt for generations. And now there is another side to the practice. Enterprising stalkers have started offering their own “illegal tours” to travellers seeking a less restricted (and therefore more dangerous) experience of the Exclusion Zone. I joined one such tour in an effort to discover why visitors might chose a stalker over an official guide. Can a subculture that is so tied to deep wells of personal and national loss really offer something of value to an outsider?

Accompanying me on my journey into the Zone are two Americans, Bradley Garrett and Steve Doe (not his real name), and a Brit, Darmon Richter. Garrett and Richter are renowned urban explorers; the former’s passion for adventure has earned him a PhD, a column for The Guardian, and criminal convictions in four countries, while the latter himself runs tours of post-socialist ruins. We meet in a bar, awaiting our stalker, Kirill Stepanets. Having first visited Chernobyl at the age of 21, Kirill has completed over 100 illegal trips to the Zone. When he arrives, he is tall and fair, with long stubble and a round face. His frameless glasses bounce in unison with jovial, shifting facial expressions. He is not the stoic, battle-scarred individual I had pictured.

Before long, we are driving through a town close to the Zone’s perimeter. “They will bring us here if we get caught,” Kirill jokes, doing little to calm my nerves. Nobody knows the exact implications of getting caught for a foreigner; the least we can expect is a jail cell.

Read the full article on The Calvert Journal


Hong Kong - Between the Shadows

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Standing on the city streets, it is all but impossible to be alone. Yet, hiding in the shadows of this chaos are countless moments of serene isolation.


Inside the Nightly Market that Feeds Hanoi

This series was published on Fodor’s in October 2018.

Hanoi is well known for its vibrant, busy streets that provide a plethora of ways to stimulate the adventurous traveler’s senses. Yet, while most of the city’s visitors are safely tucked up in bed, an extravaganza like no other is developing under the cover of night. From 2 a.m. onwards, seven days a week, Hanoi’s restaurateurs, food retailers and street vendors flock to the sprawling Long Bien market complex. Over 1,200 stalls, lockups, and trucks sell wholesale fruit, vegetables, and fish by the crate. By 5 am, as the sun breaks over the horizon, the market is complete pandemonium. Come midday, however, the crowds have dispersed and peace has returned to the area. The daily cycle of boom and bust allows visitors who are willing to skip some shut-eye to witness the compelling, truly Vietnamese story of the Long Bien market.


In the Presence of Absence

In May of 2017, I took my terminally ill father to Armenia, his cultural homeland and a place in which he had never set foot. As we explored Armenia’s majestic landscapes and ancient historical sites, there was an unspoken, yet palpable sense that this was our last journey together.

He would pass away just two months after our return. In documenting the final months of my father’s life in this way, this series explores how knowledge of our own mortality, and later the presence of absence itself, affects our perception of the world around us.

This series was shortlisted for the Hellerau Photography Awards 2018, held in Dresden, Germany.


Hanoi - A view from the street

Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is a place rich in history and tradition. The city’s visitors are treated to a plethora of exciting items to add to their itinerary. Yet, it is the serendipitous moments that occur in passing, as one wonders the chaotic, vibrant streets, that reveal the most about this wonderful, surreal place and its unique people.


The Nag's Head Market

London’s streets are changing. Gleaming monoliths of glass and steel are replacing dilapidated retail spaces, filled with chain stores who spend millions developing brands that emulate the ‘local charm’ of the independent businesses they replace. Even the markets, once the staple of working class London, have become the domain of the middle class yuppie.

Yet, tucked away in a discreet corner of Holloway, North London, is a market which so far seems to have escaped the ominous march of gentrification. The Nag’s Head Covered Market, on Seven Sisters road is a small collection of around 60 stalls, both temporary and permanent, that has been in the area for 25 years.

I spent two months documenting the comings and goings of life in the market. What I witnessed was a rare thing in today’s London: genuine humanity, warts and all.