Postcards from Kiev: Texas Ex Witnesses History in Ukraine

For months, civil unrest has plagued the country of Ukraine, as protests rage on and clashes continue between anti-government protesters and police forces.

One UT alumnus traveled into the heart of the conflict in February to shed light on the human experience there. Mark Estabrook, BS ’78, explores much of the globe by air as a cargo pilot for FedEx, but he has a background in professional photography.

“I wanted to capture the art of these people as they really are,” he said of going to Ukraine. But what began as a mission to shoot creative street photography ended up as something entirely different, as Estabrook witnessed what he calls the “amazing efforts of the protestors there.”

A day before he was scheduled to leave, Estabrook was injured during a government attack when he was struck by two concussion grenades. The Ukraine police force, the Berkut, broke down the gate that separated them from Estabrook and the Euromaidan protestors. He narrowly escaped the dangerous frenzy, and made it out of Kiev the next day to undergo surgery at a hospital in Germany  before returning to Austin.

During two weeks in Ukraine, Estabrook captured more than 2,000 photos that show not just the upheaval and violence in Ukraine, but also how Ukrainians are carrying on with their daily lives in the midst of the chaos. He chose a handful of images to share with us below.

Serious Appetite
This man gave the camera a serious glare for interrupting his lunch. Despite the less-than-pleasant expression, Estabrook said he appreciates this type of photo. “Too often people try to smile for you, so I love it when people are really themselves,” he says. “They’re not trying to be something that they expect you want or like. It’s nice when someone gives you their honest reaction.”

Beauty of a Woman

Estabrook wanted this photo, taken at a square during a speaker rally, to capture the positivity of the crowd. As soon as he pointed his camera at this woman, her face lit up. “There’s only one reason I took that photograph: she’s gorgeous!”

Man on Bench

Estabrook wanted to mix in with the locals as much as possible. After passing by this Euromaidan fighter—or anti-government protestor—a few times, he decided to interrupt the man—who was probably texting on his cell phone—to take his picture. Estabrook was pleasantly surprised when the man looked directly at him and smiled ever so slightly.


Like many street photographers, Estabrook hoped to capture the feel of the local townspeople. Many traveled from around the country to see the protests, and onlookers gathered around this particular barricade that offered a view of government troops from the top.

“This place [barricade] is like a living museum,” Estabrook says. By climbing it, he believes citizens were simply showing their respect for the Euromaidan fighters. “It’s a mixture of emotions, patriotism, and curiosity.”

Batter Up

A Euromaidan commander armed with a baseball bat barks orders during a drill, his troops following the various shield formations as he yells commands. What struck Estabrook was the antiquity of their methods.

“To go into battle with a baseball bat and small metal shields…it’s hopeless. I look at this training they’re doing and I see the futility in it. It’s so outdated, but they’re doing the best they can.”

When Will We Be Free

Estabrook had to use caution when photographing protesters manning an entrance next to a barricade. The man in this photo is studying the building’s many windows for sniper activity. Protestors often put up sniper blankets (the material seen in the left side of the photo) to minimize the risk of being targeted.

Front Line

Estabrook was often puzzled by the “bizarre world of battle” that occurred between police forces and protesters. He struggled to follow their logic, especially in this action shot. A group of Euromaidan fighters protects themselves as water cannons blast against their shields, which were used by police forces to cause fatigue when mixed with winter weather. At the same time, another fighter prepares a Molotov cocktail to counter the attacks.


This man’s clearly exposed face shows his fatigue after being overexposed to water hoses. As he starts to collapse, the masked Euromaidan fighter to his left tries to rescue him.

God Crashes

This Orthodox priest struck Estabrook with his constant presence. “He is one of the bravest guys I’ve ever seen,” he said. Each day, he crossed the space between police and Euromaidan fighters to pound crosses into the ground, light candles, and pray. The police did not attempt to deter his efforts.

EuroMaidan and Bystanders

On the day Estabrook was injured, many bystanders remained on the sidelines of the protest activity. Combining elements of action and civilian life, he wanted to show the juxtaposition of Euromaidan fighters in front of the barricade with civilians standing in moral support.

Gates of Hell

Government forces break through the barrier as Estabrook stood on the other side with his camera. As the fighting intensified in the moments before his injury, he simply kept shooting.

Estabrook wanted to capture the moment when the police initiated fire. He says that he is frustrated with the current coverage of political unrest in Ukraine, and believes that the Euromaidans saved his life in the moments after he was wounded. They protected him, a complete stranger with a camera trying to tell their story.

“The world needs to know that,” he says.

 See more photos from Mark Estabrook’s time in Ukraine on his Flickr page.


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