“Jewish Heritage” in Ukraine’s Wiki Loves Monuments 2023 photo contest

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For the sixth time, Ukraine’s local organizing team of the Wiki Loves Monuments photo contest supported a special category devoted to Jewish cultural heritage in Ukraine. The special category was held in partnership with the Ukrainian branch of Canadian NGO Ukrainian Jewish Encounter (UJE). Let’s look at the results and winners for the 2023 contest.

As well as all other cultural sites, Jewish cultural heritage in Ukraine is in danger today. Russian military aggression not only harms people, but also destroys historical memory and monuments. In these circumstances it is even more crucial and urgent to document what is left and upload personal photo archives. 

For this special category within the contest the organisers have created and continue to maintain a list of cultural heritage monuments, which can be found here: jh.wlm.photo. Both sites that have official protection status and sites that do not have been included.  

More than 800 photos were uploaded within the special category in 2023. They depict 119 sites, including 46 that are not officially protected by the state. The photos depict Jewish heritage sites from 20 regions of Ukraine. Over 50 participants uploaded their works for the special category. Altogether as of now there are 940 sites in the “Jewish Heritage” special category, including 670 not protected by the state. 

The 2023 jury of the special category (alphabetically): 

  • Serhii Khomiak (Truskavets), a photographer and editor-in-chief of the analytical platform “IQ-analytics”. He graduated from Lviv Polytechnic National University, was involved in the socio-historical photo project “Synagogues of Lviv Region” along with the project “Oi vei: UA”. His works were published online on jewishnews.com.ua, myshtetl.org and zaxid.net. Serhii is a winner of the special category “Jewish Heritage” in 2021 in Wiki Loves Monuments.
  • Marla Raucher Osborn and Jay Osborn (San Francisco/Lviv) are co-founders of the volunteer NGO “Rohatyn Jewish Heritage” (RJH). Long-term participants of the Ukrainian, Polish and French parts of “Wiki Loves Monuments”, contributors to Wikipedia. Marla is a doctor of jurisprudence (Juris Doctor) with a BA in political science from UCLA. She worked at the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODŻ), Warsaw. With the support of the Fulbright program, in 2019-2020 she conducted research and created a demonstration project for Jewish heritage in western Ukraine. An ardent researcher of family history, and one of the original members of the Rohatyn District Research Group (RDRG), started in 2009 for Jewish descendants living abroad, and she also served on the boards of directors of Gesher Galicia and Remembrance and Reconciliation. She is the author of many publications on genealogy and heritage topics and gives lectures at schools, meetings and conferences in the USA, Israel and Europe, including in Rohatyn. Marla is the president of RJH. Jay holds a BS in mechanical engineering with honors from UC Irvine and has worked as a computer-aided design engineer for 30 years. Author of more than 20 American and British patents for Sun Microsystems and Apple, he worked in California, Europe and Asia. He is currently responsible for researching historical maps and creating a digital Map Room for Gesher Galicia. Jay is the head of the supervisory board of RJH. You can read more about RJH and how to help here
  • Myroslav Pereimybida (Lviv) is an economist, German-language teacher and translator from Croatian, Polish and Macedonian. He promotes hiking and local tourism. He is a member of the foundation “Save the Church in Kuhaiv”, and a blood donor for the AFU and maternity hospitals. Myroslav has been participating in Wiki Loves Monuments for many years, has won in special categories “Ukrainian Wooden Architecture Monuments” and “Mills” and is a volunteer reviewer of the photos. He thinks that “photos of monuments for Wikipedia familiarize people with their common cultural heritage in the fastest and easiest way, and thus everything that is needed should be done to promote such a practice, regardless of the photos’ category. The more contests, the better”
  • Alla Snurnikova (Ivano-Frankivsk/Rishon LeZion/Leipzig) is an activist, philologist-translator, marketing and business development expert and economist. She reported from Israel for hromadske.tv. She is a chartered secretary of the Ivano-Frankivsk Rotary Club of Rotary International and a volunteer at the International Human Rights Commission (IHRC). Alla is an inspirer of the Ukrainian Culture Fans’ Community in Israel and a board member of “Union of Ukrainian Women”. She popularizes Ukrainian culture (language, literature, songs, art, traditional crafts, etc) and teaches Ukrainian, Czech and other slavic languages. She is a head of the Leipzig branch of the public association de.Perspektive

There were three stages of the jury’s work: at the first stage the jury received portions of photos for the primary selection; they had to select up to 50 photos out of almost 700 to go to the next round. At the second stage the jury graded almost 100 works on a 9-point scale. At the third stage the jury scored the 23 photos that got the most points in the previous round. 

Twelve photos that show sites from seven regions of Ukraine (Khmelnytsky, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Cherkasy, Rivne, and Kyiv Oblasts) won based on the choice of the jury. These works are divided into three main subcategories: “Synagogues”, “Cemeteries” and “Other buildings”. These are the photos which received the most points for technical requirements and jury ratings. The best series of photos was highlighted separately. 

The best series 

The best series of photos includes three works showing the Jewish cemetery of Delatyn, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, by Taras Zolotavin. The cemetery is not protected by the state. 

The jury noted not only the composition of the individual works, but also their detailed documentation: over 100 photos of the cemetery were uploaded, which in the past was presented in the Wikimedia projects only by 3 photos of the user Trip Impressions Iryna

Photo by Taras Zolotavin, CC BY-SA 4.0

Marla and Jay commented on one photo from the series: “This image captures one of the few surviving intact Jewish cemeteries in the western part of Ukraine, aging naturally without intervention. The photo illustrates the typical density of burials that these old cemeteries had, and the unique carving style of the inscriptions and symbols (both primitive and more sophisticated). Although there is perhaps more color adjustment than is warranted, the photo nevertheless represents the vastness and rarity of this unusual historical site”.

Photo by Taras Zolotavin, CC BY-SA 4.0

Myroslav Pereimybida highlighted this work in the series: “[There is] nothing excessive. The dark cloudy sky and light tones of stone are contrasting while not drawing attention away from the matseva”. Serhii Khomiak noted as well: “The camera angle and combination of both artistic and documentary components are well-chosen. The gloomy sky enhances the atmosphere”.

Photo by Taras Zolotavin, CC BY-SA 4.0

Taras Zolotavin first participated in the competition in 2021 standing out among debutants, and in 2022 he was among the top ten most successful contestants. He is currently serving in Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Taras commented:

“[It] was one of my trips to the Carpathians. Usually I visit the mountains there, but I am interested in local history and culture as well. I saw information about the Jewish cemetery in Deliatyn somewhere on the Internet (as we learned later, it was not illustrated in Wikipedia at all, although it deserves it). [So] I decided to devote one day specifically to explore it. And it was really worth it.

I was impressed by the size of the cemetery, I had never seen so many matsevas at the same place and in such diversity of ornaments before. On the bright side, the cemetery was well-maintained, overgrown greenery had been cut down, and a fence and information board had been installed. Judging by the garbage remains, previously locals had a dump there. 

It was quite difficult to get to the Jewish cemetery’s territory. The surrounding fence protects the place nicely from vandalism and livestock grazing, but I did not find any sort of entrance. I had to ask locals, who showed me a wooden section and opened a makeshift entrance (although there were some questions too, probably not every day they come across people who rush to a cemetery with a camera).

Overall, this place is worth visiting at least once not only for local historians or Jewish history researchers, but for everyone. One can find quite sophisticated stone engravings there. There is also a great variety of stylistics and ornaments, zoological symbols, epitaphs, etc. So there is much work to do [in terms of photographing the cemetery]”. 

Best photos in the category “Synagogues”

Oleksandr Solentsov’s work of the interior of the synagogue in Sataniv won the highest scores from the jury in the category. The synagogue in Sataniv is an architectural monument of national significance. 

The jury noted the quality of the work. Serhii Khomiak emphasized: “It is a compositionally great photo with well-maintained geometry at such a wide angle of photo”. This photo received an award in the special category “Interiors” in 2023 as well. 

Photo by Oleksandr Solentsov (Олександр Соленцов), CC BY-SA 4.0

The second place belongs to a work depicting the Kaniv synagogue. The photo was taken by Oleksandr Malon. The early 19th century building has the status of a newly discovered architectural monument.

Photo by Oleksandr Malyon, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Great Synagogue in Husiatyn won third place. The photo was taken by Petro Hrushko. The jury highlighted good composition and illumination of the work. The synagogue is an architectural monument of national significance and was built in the late 16-17th centuries.

Photo by Petro Hrushko (Петро Грушко), CC BY-SA 4.0

Best photos in the category “Cemeteries”

The first place in the category belongs to a preserved matseva from the Jewish cemetery in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast. The photo was made by Станислава Ро (Stanyslava Ro). This cemetery is also not protected by the state. 

Marla and Jay commented: “A very crisp image of a very old and artistic headstone, truly one of the most interesting of the recovered stones in this cemetery (compare to others in the Commons category). In addition to the lacy vines in the stone frame, the hands are quite realistically depicted, showing the stone carver’s art. The photo is sharp and well-framed, with good illumination and color. A very lovely record of an important object”.

Photo by Станислава Ро, CC BY-SA 4.0

The second place went to the photo of Jewish cemetery on Vovcha Mountain. It has the status of a newly discovered historical monument and is traced back to the 19th century. It is thought that rabbi Israel Avraham Mazal, a spiritual leader, mentor of Jewish community and head of the Jewish community of Chornyi Ostriv, is buried here. The photo was taken by Valentyn Mahovkin

Valentyn explained his motivation: “For me it is important to preserve and carry the memory of historical monuments that are disappearing, and capture them in a photo for the next generations. [And] Jewish heritage in my historical hometown Chornyi Ostriv has recently begun to be restored, [here] it is about an old cemetery. It is literally arising from the ruins, from the ground”.

Photo by Valentyn Mahovkin (Валентин Маговкін), CC BY-SA 4.0

The jury gave third place in this category to Dmytro Poliukhovych and his photo of the Jewish cemetery in Horodets, Khmelnytskyi Oblast. The cemetery goes back to the 18th-20th centuries and also is not protected by the state.

Photo by Dmytro Poliukhovych (Дмитро Полюхович), CC BY-SA 4.0

Best photos in the category “Other buildings”

This category includes all the photos which the jury rated highly, but which illustrate neither synagogues nor cemeteries. 

The jury recognized Serhii Plakhotniuk’s photo of the red Jewish house in Stavyshche, Kyiv Oblast. This brick house has been preserved as traditional Jewish architecture. There was a shop on the ground floor, and a living area on the first floor. The building doesn’t have official protected status, even though its bricks date back to 1902. The local military commissariat was housed there, then the building became private property and started slowly deteriorating. 

Photo by Serhii Plakhotniuk (Сергій Плахотнюк), CC BY-SA 4.0

Serhii Khomiak noted that it is “an interesting building, which prompts interest to explore and look inside it. There is a bicycle and people, so life continues”. Marla and Jay added: “From our perspective, the image is well-framed, well-illuminated, and with added elements (people and bicycle) to give scale without obscuring the object. It is also important as a time-stamp capturing the state of decay of the building, now that it no longer has the life it was built for”. 

For Serhii Plakhotniuk it is not his first contest: in 2014 his photos of a wooden windmill in the village Heisykha became the best photo of Kyiv Oblast; in 2021 he won second and third places in the special category “Video”. Serhii explained his motivation for participating in the special category “Jewish heritage”:

I decided that there should also be artifacts of Jewish Stavisht heritage on Wikipedia.

(…) In 2017 I translated and published the book “STAVISHT: Memorial Book”, which consists of stories that were compiled by Stavisht Jews from all over the world about the town of Stavisht from Tarashchany district at the edge of the 19th and 20th centuries. I am afraid that in half a century no one will remember that Jews were the half of the Stavisht population in the beginning of 20th century. In fact, by translating the book, I brought all this back to Stavisht and multiplied the knowledge about the past of my hometown. 

[By the way] in Stavisht’s satellite village of Rozkishna there is still a Jewish cemetery; its renovation was funded in 2016 by U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, its representative professor Richard Weisberg even came to the opening of the memorial plate on the cemetery fence (his ancestors came from Stavisht)”.

Serhii shot a video about the red house as well. 

The second place in this category went to Vadym Posternak and his photo of Jewish community house in Chernivtsi. It is an architectural monument of local significance.

Photo by Vadym Posternak (Вадим Постернак), CC BY-SA 4.0

Serhii Khomiak commented on this work: “It is a beautiful monument and it is well presented by the author. From a technical standpoint, the branches could be dragged out of the shadows a little bit more on the right. I would love to see more such photos in the contest”. Myroslav Pereimybida noted: “There are a little too many details, but the shot is perfectly composed, the soft side light doesn’t block the excess of nude colors of the building and emphasizes the relief”. 

The jury awarded the third place in this category to the photo of the well of Baal Shem Tov in the village Trebukhivka, Khmelnytskyi Oblast, a suburb of the city Medzhybizh. The image was taken by Ihor Zapadenko. This site is not protected by the state as well.

Photo by Ihor Zapadenko (Ігор Западенко), CC BY-SA 4.0

The most active participants

The list of participants who have uploaded the most of photos for the special category in 2023 is:

  • Vadym Posternak (photos of 27 objects)
  • Zhanna Oleksiienko (photos of 11 objects)
  • Oleksandr Malon (photos of 7 objects)
  • Petro Hrushko (photos of 7 objects)
  • Volodymyr Shevchuk (photos of 6 objects)
  • Serhii Onkov (photos of 6 objects)
  • Yevhenii Levinzon (photos of 6 objects)
  • Serhii Plakhotniuk (photos of 6 objects)
  • Olena Machulenko (photos of 6 objects)
  • Mykhailo Titarenko (photos of 5 objects)

The winners and nominees received diplomas and souvenirs from the Ukrainian office of the Canadian NGO Ukrainian Jewish Encounter (UJE), NGO Wikimedia Ukraine and the project “Wiki Loves Monuments”.

Winners of the special category at the Awards Ceremony. Photo by Vika Ivankiv, CC0
Photo by Vika Ivankiv, CC0

For reference:Ukrainian Jewish Encounter” (UJE) is a private, multinational initiative set up in 2008 as a collaborative project of Ukrainians who represent Jewish and Christian traditions and other participants from Ukraine, Israel and other diasporas. UJE involves scholars, public leaders, artists, government and general public representatives in its activities to strengthen solidarity and mutual understanding between Ukrainians and Jews.

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