Capturing the forgotten communities of Belarus

Capturing the forgotten communities of Belarus

‘Heaven on earth’ — For his latest photo story, Siarhiej Leskiec returns home to shoot the forgotten ‘agro-towns’ of north western Belarus.

I left my village – a small ‘agro-town’ in north western Belarus – rather intuitively, like most of my peers. I moved to Minsk to go to university. For 10 years I had a desire to return, and when I passed by the train station and heard the sound of an outgoing train, my heart would freeze. I wanted to drop everything and go home on it – I felt like a traitor.

In Belarus, agro-town life is very politicised. These village’s collective farms are presented by the state media as the greatest achievement of President Lukashenka, as they have helped preserve rural communities. State TV depicts agro-towns as ‘heaven on earth’ – one of the finest legacies of the Soviet Union. However, they have come under fire from independent media outlets, who believe that they have killed the traditional village structure. But I grew up among these people, and many of my acquaintances chose this way of life for themselves. I wanted to tell their story.

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In these villages, the state gives you everything you need. You stay at home and work on the collective farms. You get a good house, working internet, hot water and asphalted roads. You end up staying for 10-20 years because, if you leave, you lose everything.

These photos are a visual and anthropological study of Belarusian identity. I’m interested in the way our society is a transition from the сollective (rural life) to the private (city life). Most of the pictures I took were in places where I grew up or where my relatives lived – in Malodzieczna, Smargon, Astraviec, Miadziel, and other regions.

My “escape” from the countryside introduced me to opportunities. It gave me self-confidence and knowledge that changed my life. I returned to take these pictures as a historian, photographer and anthropologist, who understood the processes that are taking place in the world, and in my country. It’s important to capture these moments – even if they don’t seem interesting now, they will be interesting later.

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See more of Siarhiej Leskiec’s work on his official website.

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