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Harriman Magazine
Photo of burnt down and bombed buildings, as seen from a construction crane.
2024 Issue | Ukrainian Culture
The Smell of Mariupol
by Zoya Laktionova

Zoya Laktionova wrote this text in Barcelona, where she fled shortly after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and it was used in her short film, Remember the Smell of Mariupol, about the juxtaposition of living in safety while Russian troops decimated her hometown Mariupol. During her Harriman residency, Laktionova worked on a feature documentary, Ashes Settling in Layers on the Surface, about Mariupol families, including her own, and about the Azovstal plant, where many members of her family had worked. Laktionova, who continues work on it, says the film “centers on the value of freedom and human life itself over the nonsensical statements repeated by totalitarian regimes, as witnessed throughout the history of the Azovstal Plant.” She took these photos while filming in Kharkiv in November 2022.

It was as if someone hugged me and said that everything was going to be okay. I lacked it. The ease in my muscles. The feeling of my body senses coming back. Southern sun and tender air of the seashore city. It was in every pebble and a tree leaf. In every slow, lazy motion of passers-by. I suddenly felt that there was a mask on my face. From forehead to jaws, my muscles were stones.

For days, I had an image before my eyes. The photo of a Mariupol woman in a puffer with her hands in her pockets, sitting next to the apartment building. I have never seen anything more dreadful than this death next to the apartment building made of Mariupol’s limestone. Her hands are in her pockets. Her mouth is open. She sits there leaning on the wall. This image moved and something behind my numbed face muscles started coming back to life. Just as if the face of that dead woman opened wide and gave birth to me.

I didn’t die with her.

There are sun-bleached station signs moving behind the windows of the train moving away from Barcelona. The color of stones and gravel along the railroad tracks is the one that can only occur in the Southern seaside cities. I feel the smell of Mariupol’s asphalt and petroleum pitch boiled by the hot sun. But it is not from here. The wind is beating this Mariupol photo fixed by a thread to the last carriage of the train that brings me further away.

– March 2022, Barcelona ◆

Headshot of Zoya LaktionovaZoya Laktionova is an award-winning Ukrainian documentary filmmaker who was a 2022-23 Harriman Resident in Paris.


The works linked below are from the other three of Harriman’s four 2023 Ukrainian residents in Paris, who participated in Art in Time of War and then continued their artistic residencies at Reid Hall, Columbia Global Centers in Paris.

The Second Beginning

By Nikita Grigorov, who is a Ukrainian writer, journalist, and editor selected as the Harriman Institute’s 2022 Paul Klebnikov Fellow. Translated from the Russian by Masha Udensiva-Brenner. Read now >>


By Natalka Bilotserkivets, an award-winning Ukrainian poet. Translated from the Ukrainian by Ali Kinsella (MARS-REERS ’14) and Ukrainian-American poet and translator Dzvinia Orlowksy. Read now >>

To See Beauty Again

By Anna Stavychenko, Ukrainian musicologist, former executive director of the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, and mission head of the Philharmonie de Paris project that helps Ukrainian musicians exiled in France. Translated by Masha Udensiva-Brenner. Read now >>