The Strongest Bond

Shortlist 2021

Sergei Stroitelev

Sergei Stroitelev is an independent documentary photographer from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, who regularly works with National Geographic Russia, Vice UK/USA. He also works with RIA Novosti and Kommersant Photos as a stringer. Sergei worked as a human rights lawyer for three years before becoming a photographer. During that time, he dreamt of fieldwork instead of doing paperwork, and documentary photography happened to be the best tool for it. In 2013-2014, Sergei spent ten months in Asia cooperating with non-governmental structures and organizations such as Red Cross Nepal and Nepal Leprosy Trust. He focused on human rights issues in the country - children with HIV, discrimination of people suffering from leprosy, and drug addiction. At the moment, Stroitelev is interested in social issues such as gender/racial prejudice, discrimination of HIV-positive people, migration, the aftermath of conflicts and natural disasters, which he explores using various visual languages. Sergei prefers to work in regions vulnerable to human rights violations, including his home country and countries of Southeast Asia such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Stroitelev believes that a well-executed documentary project is the best instrument for raising awareness about social issues, which is missing in those regions.

The Conflict

The Strongest Bond

In 2015, young people from Chechnya and Dagestan began to leave for territories controlled by the Islamic State* searching for a better life, which recruiters promised them. Following the traditions, their families had to follow them. The year 2017 was marked by campaigns to clear the above territories from illegal gangs. Men were killed during bombings, whereas their wives with children who did not participate in the conflict received sentences ranging from 15 years to life. Some girls have gone missing and have not been in touch with their mothers for several years. Mothers are ready for anything to return their daughters and grandchildren home. There are dozens of WhatsApp groups in which these women cling to the smallest crumbs of information about their beloved ones. Love, hope and sleepless nights - that is all they have. I project photographs of the missing ones onto the figures of their mothers and grandmothers, showing that this eternal bond cannot be destroyed by war, distance and time.

*The organization is designated as terrorist according to the Law of the Russian Federation