Down by the river
River island
Where Kiev spends the summer

The Dnieper river runs through Kiev and splits the city in two. In the summer, residents come together at the Hydropark, a recreational area spread across two islands on the river boasting beaches, watersports, clubs and a 10,000 m2 open-air gym. From a certain angle, the park looks similar to California's Venice beach. But while some of the bars and restaurants are new, the park itself is a product of the Soviet era, and many of its facilities still reflect the past.

German photographer Freya Najade, who is based in London, documented the Hydropark in the years before the start of Ukraine's political upheavals in 2013. She returned there in the following summers, capturing how the park changed over time as carousels and other Soviet relics were removed.

“The development of the sports arena and beach bars illustrates how public space was given up in favour of privately run enterprises targeted at the middle class and more affluent people,” says Najade.

“Nevertheless, there had been some effort, especially by individuals, to maintain some of the existing communal spaces such as the open air gym.” Built from car parts and metal scraps in the 1970s, the gym takes its title Kachalka from the word kachat, meaning “to pump”.

Free to the public, it continues to be maintained by young volunteers. “They planned and organised everything themselves, and at the end there was a big opening party. I was amazed by their drive.”

One of the things that remained unchanged was the atmosphere of the Hydropark, with thousands of visitors flocking to the beaches and clubs on hot summer days.

“Even though I witnessed new things popping up along with the renewal of old places and the decline of others, there was a lot that stayed the same,” recalls Najade.

“The elderly continued to socialise on the beach, even though they had lost a small strip on the shore where they used to play chess.”

It’s easy to think of Najade’s photographs as nostalgic, reflecting on the period before Ukraine was gripped with conflict. Yet, as the photographer describes it, the Hydropark “speaks at once about Ukraine’s past, present and future.”

Text: Liza Premiyak
Image: Freya Najade