Every third citizen of Belarus has fallen prey to the Second World War. Its bloodthirsty fire burnt down almost all towns and villages. For more than 70 years it has been the pivot around which the Belarusian nation is formed: annually an obscene amount of money is blown off on multicolored city decorations and entertaining military shows. Heavy tank tracks plow up the surface of main streets and wide avenues of Minsk city. When the opulent celebrations are over, more frail veterans and survivors of The Great Patriotic War pass away. Each following Victory Day parade for them is a milestone that must be reached to meet their few friends and feel solidarity for one more and probably the last time.
It has been going on for years, and the time will come when there will be no veterans left to join the parade and receive commemorative medals. Would it mean the end of parades then? Will the government keep spending millions on the armed show without the real heroes? What is more important: showing off and «playing tin soldiers» or really helping the officers in need? Shiny monuments and bright flags or pensions and cash benefits that the victims of fascism and militarism can happily live on, not survive? Many countries earlier involved in military conflicts had long abandoned holding annual armed processions. But some post-Soviet states are still rattling with modern combat tanks, armored vehicles and polished troopers’ boots are marching in response to their own question: «What if the war breaks tomorrow?»

I have been developing my personal documentary photography project «War Habits» since 2009. This black-and-white series of veterans portraits is deep and multilayered to me – a visual tale of patriots and survivors of battles and their lives in today’s Belarusian society. This photographic story is also my attempt to address, whether directly or indirectly, some issues of concern and to portray my attitude towards WW II through my contemporaries and explore how the government and young formation take care about former combatants.

Belarusian veterans portraits of WW 2 sitting in their flats in Minsk, documentary black-and-white photo project

Portraits of WW II Belarusian veterans from documentary photographic project «War Habits» © Alexander Kladov

One can run into the characters of my photographs during military parades and celebrations of Victory Day or Independence Day in Minsk. Many soldiers are almost disabled already, so I visited them at home to take a photo and have a talk. To me Belarusian veterans represent the living history and the touch-stone of society problems. It would be wrong to say that the new generation is totally ignorant of WW 2. Perhaps, the youth knows less about it than their forefathers or doesn’t entirely understand its roots. To draw conclusions from a historical event, one should perceive not only plain figures, but rather its root causes and the impact on the country and the world. I am not asking what message this documentary portraits of veterans may carry to my coevals. Most likely, it will be interesting and comprehensible to the extent that I will be able to find answers to my questions myself.
Several veterans portraits from the «War Habits» series were published in the book of modern Belarusian photographers «BY NOW» sponsored by Goether-Institut in Minsk. The book came out thanks to an idea of Andrei Lenkevich and was curated by Matthias Harder, a world renowned chief curator at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. The collection of modern photographers «BY NOW» was the result of great work of both the authors, sponsors and curators. In 2010 these documentary project of veterans portraits won the gold medal of the International Photographic Salon in Sevastopol. Though up to now, it hasn’t been finished yet – still evolving and featuring new heroes, circumstances and stories.