Skip to navigationSkip to content

Ukrainian and Russian lovers unite in poignant plea for peace

Oksana Yushko
Vladimir and Olga’s love is stronger than geopolitical conflicts.
By Meredith Bennett-Smith
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It all started with a visit to her parents in Kharkov, Ukraine, last May.

“My heart was broken when I realized that many friends and families have been divided by barriers and opinions,” photographer Oksana Yushko told Quartz. Strife in Crimea and more recently across swathes of eastern Ukraine has polarized communities and shredded friendships. “Propaganda from both sides has made myths into reality in people’s minds,” she said.

Yushko’s parents seem to bridge this divide. Her mother, born in Russia, and her father, who was born in Ukraine, are both scientists and have been together for close to five decades.

“My idea was very simple. I photographed them and posted their picture on my Facebook page with some words and the hashtags #love, #nowar, #friendship etc.,” Yushko said. “It was my message to my friends to listen to each other and to think about what should we do for peace.”

Oksana Yushko
The photo that started it all: Engelina Georgievna and Viktor Kuzmich live in Kharkov, Ukraine.

While the situation in eastern Ukraine has grown increasingly bloody over the past 12 months as Moscow-backed rebels and Ukraine government forces battle for control of the area, it wasn’t always this way, according to Yushko. Growing up, she never felt that her family was divided politically or culturally. Born in Ukraine but a longtime resident of Moscow, Yushko said she was nonetheless surprised that her parent’s portrait seemed to strike such a strong chord online. ”Love, like art and music does not have any borders,” one commenter wrote. “Stop the ICE AGE!!…Peace, no war indeed,” another offered.

Expanding her project to include couples from Moscow to the Russian Far East to Crimea, Yushko hopes that her ever-expanding series of portraits will remind viewers of the powerful, perhaps even peacemaking, effects of love.

So far, her favorite photo features the Ukrainian-born Dasha and Russian-born Maxim, both now residing in Moscow. “Their love story started half a year ago,” Yushko said. The pair met serendipitously on a summer day in Voronezh, Russia, when they used the same ride-sharing service to “end up spending 7 hours together in the back seat,” Yushko explained. “Maxim told me that it was love at first sight. I loved working with them and listening to their story. They may be divided by the color of their passports, but that’s nothing when compared to their love.”

Oksana Yushko
Dasha is from Sumy, Ukraine. Maxim was born in Karaganda. They met each other in a car heading from Kaluga to Voronezh.

Yushko is quick to note out that her art is not necessarily meant to be political. Imbued with a sense of almost quaint romanticism, the photographer said that she hopes her photos give people—especially those in war-torn areas—tools to help create a brighter future. “We too often lack kind words for each other. Traveling and talking to people, trying to understand their opinions, this is the best way we can communicate without prejudice and stereotypes,” she said.

While unlikely to significantly cool geopolitical tensions, Yushko’s emphasis on human connection has certainly helped her project garner attention, primarily through word of mouth and social media. ”I speak to one person, and then he speaks to someone else. I call this concept +1,” she said. “This way we can change a little things around us in our world going, one person at a time.”

Oksana Yushko
Alexander Fedorovich is Russian by way of Siberia. A veteran of World War II, he met Ukrainian wife Tatyana Grigoryevna over 30 years ago. Following her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Tatyana has become Alexander’s primary caregiver.
Oksana Yushko
Vladimir was born in Moscow, Russia. Eugenia is from Kharkov, Ukraine. They met each other visiting their grandmothers in a village in the Kursk region in 2006. They happily live together with their daughter Arisha in Moscow.
Oksana Yushko
Alexander is Ukrainian. Irina is Russian. They celebrated their 32nd anniversary in August. Their love story started with a dance when he was a cadet in a military school, and she was a nurse.
Oksana Yushko
Valery is from Odessa, Ukraine. Sveta was born in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. They met in Odessa when Sveta came to visit her friend. They both are interested in yoga, different cultures and esoteric things.
Oksana Yushko
Irina is Russian. Aleksandr is from Ukraine. He met Irina in 2006 during a business trip. The couple now lives together live in Moscow with their son Nikita.
Oksana Yushko
Vera is from Kiev, Ukraine. She used to be a ballet dancer. Boris is a coder from Moscow, Russia. They met each other hiking in the mountains. Married in 2013, they are waiting the birth of their first child.
Oksana Yushko
Tatyana is Ukrainian, born in Chernigov. Sergey is Russian from the Amurskaya region in the far east. They met each other while there were both studying in Kiev. Married for 30 years, they now live in Zeya, Russia.
Oksana Yushko
Sergey is from Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. Alla was born in Ufa, Russia. They met  in 2006 during an orthodox forum in Kiev. They now live in Kiev with children Dasha, 7, and Lesha, 3. Once a year the family returns to visit relatives in Russia.
Oksana Yushko
Bohdan is Ukrainian from Rava Ruska. Irina is Russian. Close to 25 years ago Bohdan stopped his motorbike to ask Irina if she would be a lovely daughter-in-law for his father. They’ve been together ever since.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.