Maija Bondar (FI) "Who is this? It's me" - Helphoto 2023




Who is this? It’s me
What is national identity? Maija Bondar never seriously thought about it. In Finland, they ask “Mistä olet kotoisin?” which literally means “Where are you from?”. She’s never been asked, “Who are you?” Maija always answered that she was from Russia, which is logical since she lived there for 17 years before moving to Finland.

Maija was born in Ukraine. At the age of 8, her parents decided to move to Russia when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Every year, they would visit Ukraine for the holidays, where her grandparents lived in a village. Though her grandparents are no longer alive, all her relatives still reside there.

On February 24 in 2022, the war began not only all over the world but also inside Maija. It was very difficult for her to understand her feelings. On one hand, there was fear for her relatives in Ukraine – two of her brothers fought there. On the other hand, she tried to understand her friends living in Russia and find excuses for their silence. None of them have expressed opposition to the war.

At 10 years old, Maija’s grandmother would wake her and her sister up on Sundays to go to church. No persuasion to have breakfast first helped, they had to go to church hungry. Her grandmother sang in the church choir, and everyone knew her grandchildren, so they had to live up to expectations, and they did not let their grandma down.

The more Maija heard that Ukraine was not considered a state at all, that all its cities needed to be razed to the ground, and that Ukrainians were labeled as Nazis, the stronger childhood memories overwhelmed her.

After meals, quiet time was non-negotiable. Whether she wanted to sleep or not, she had to rest. However, she had the option to embroider, and the choice was obvious. Her grandmother would take out a box of threads, a special cloth, and the “quiet pastime” would begin.

Feelings, smells, people, and the streets through which she could walk with her eyes closed – all these thoughts constantly occupied her mind. Maija returns to her childhood, as if starting from it, and in this way, she reconstructs her identity and self-awareness anew.

Now she realizes that external circumstances can push a person of any age to rethink the role of ethnicity in their life and lead to the transformation of national identity. This foundation is essential to resist external pressure, and courage becomes indispensable.

Maija Bondar is a Finnish fine art and documentary photographer. She was born in Ukraine in 1981 and lived in Russia for 17 years. Currently, she is engaged in research on national identity and issues of internal conflicts. 

Maija Bondar (FI) "Who is this? It's me" - Helphoto 2023
Maija Bondar (FI) "Who is this? It's me" - Helphoto 2023