U.S. PHOTOGRAPHER INJURED BY TWO BERKUT GRENADES DURING 2014 EUROMAIDAN REVOLUTION SMUGGLED PAST GOVERNMENT FORCES IN KYIV TO SURGERY IN GERMANY
(COLOGNE, GERMANY) 19FEB2014 -- FedEx Airbus captain Mark Estabrook was lying in his hospital bed when his surgeon told him he couldn't guarantee he would get to keep his lower left leg. It was almost gangrene when he arrived at the hospital. Antibiotics were started through an IV drip immediately. The surgeon was more concerned about keeping his operating room sterile than he was about keeping Mark's leg intact. Estabrook was also hit with shrapnel in the right shoulder with only slight infection there.
"It's likely the Berkut contaminated the grenades before they threw them at you," the surgeon told Mark.
The first grenade ricocheted off his helmet and was immediately followed by the second which hit his lower left leg. The surplus U.S. Army helmet and bullet proof vest most likely saved his life, as a Euromaidan protester near him bled out on the spot after a grenade hit his carotid artery.
The surgery lasted almost three hours, and yes, Estabrook got to keep his leg. But how did a FedEx pilot end up in Kyiv photographing the Euromaidan Revolution? It's a long story that Mark is writing for a book about his experience.
Estabrook's fascination with photography crystallized when he was in high school. Annie Leibovitz's work was frequently published in Rolling Stone. This was during the height of the Rock Age in the early 1970s. Annie never published a photograph that Mark didn't like.
"I was so fascinated with her work. She knew what she was doing. The whole idea of capturing images of musicians doing their thing appealed to me at that age," Mark recalled. "Of course, she had the kind of access to the bands that one could only dream about. But she was the best."
Mark earned a nomination to the Air Force Academy his senior year of high school but turned it down at the last minute and applied to film school at the University of Texas.
"I soon learned you needed money to shoot 16-mm films. Since I didn't have any, I shot photography whenever I could. I decided to start shooting music for several newspapers in Austin."
He received his first legitimate press pass from the Daily Texan and a few more from some small gazettes in Austin after he shot Paul McCartney in Fort Worth in 1976 during his first concert in the U.S. since leaving the Beatles. Linda McCartney, a world renowned photographer herself, watched Estabrook shoot the show with an old Pentax. She shook her head "no" after spotting it.
"I smiled and hung my head down in embarrassment," he recounted. His efforts won him a new Nikkormat ELW in a radio station rock music photography competition in Dallas. For the next two years he gained access to many rock concerts around Texas in between classes and homework.
While at UT Mark studied Russian History under Professor Oliver Radke, who earned his doctorate from Harvard after spending his early years in St Petersburg and Moscow studying the Russian Revolution. Lenin's widow shared his deathbed diary with Radke, who copied it and translated it into his thesis before Stalin learned of it and directed the OGPU to seize it. Radke, in his late eighties by the time Estabrook met him, invited Mark to share lunch with him one day. After Estabrook shared his own experience of being arrested in Hungary in 1974, Radke instructed Estabrook which stack to go to at the Main Library in the Administration building to find and read his translation of Lenin's diary.
Estabrook was in Szolnok as a USPA photographer for a World Parachuting Championship. He went downtown to an empty grocery store looking for shaving cream as he wanted to shave his beard off. Outside of the store, Hungarian women waited in a long line that went down the street for a chance to walk up and down the empty aisles. There was not one item on any shelf. A communist party official who controlled access to the grocery store reported to the police that Estabrook was snapping photos of the women in line outside the store. Mark was arrested for visa violations at the air base several hours later and taken to the jail where he stayed until he was released at around 3 AM after he bribed his way out of jail. He gave them US $100 and the worn out Levi jeans he was wearing. In return he was freed and given a pair of oversized Bermuda shorts to wear back to the base.
According to Radke, Trotsky visited Lenin shortly before his death. The two previously experienced a falling out, but Trotsky wanted to visit his old friend before he died. Lenin, a murderous bastard in his own right, made Trotsky promise to oppose Stalin at the next Party Congress because he thought Stalin mentally unstable. Stalin learned Trotsky was planning on opposing him and adjusted the Party agenda accordingly. By the time Trotsky showed up at the Congress, it was too late. Stalin had already been elected. Besides arranging for Trotsky's expulsion from the Party, Stalin remained paranoid of Trotsky for decades and secured his assassination in Mexico in 1940. Shortly after The Wall and Soviet Union fell, Michail Gorbachev learned from declassified KGB files that Lenin had warned Trotsky of Stalin's mental instability. This fact was
withheld from generations of Soviets and could have changed the course of history.
"Here I was an undergraduate student at UT in the seventies with knowledge about Stalin that Gorbachev himself did not know," Estabrook said. "Radke influenced my view of world politics at a young age. He was the first one to speak of the Holodomor and Katyn forest to me."
Roosevelt and the New York Times did their best to hide Stalin's genocidal acts as most American Putin sympathizers rewrite history today.
While attending UT Mark was selected to study photography under world-famous street photographer Garry Winogrand in the Art Department, which made an impact on Mark's previous shooting genre and style. He quickly lost interest in shooting rock 'n' roll in favor of the street. Gone were the spotlights in dark theaters with cranky stage managers in favor of sunlight in the streets with people of the world as his canvas.
"Winogrand opened up the world to me," he said. "I transitioned from a vertical and tight shooting perspective to horizontal and wide."
When Gene Roddenberry, creator and producer of StarTrek, visited the UT Flying Club in 1977, Roddenberry encouraged Mark to pursue a flying career over film. Roddenberry was a former B-17 pilot in WWII and an airline pilot before starting a TV career in Los Angeles.
Shortly thereafter, Mark's roommate received his flight instructor rating from the FAA. He wanted to add flight hours to his logbook and was willing to forego his hourly instruction fee. Estabrook seized the opportunity and moved to Dallas to fabricate aluminum and rent airplanes for flying lessons. Estabrook had to choose between shooting a documentary about Stevie Ray Vaughan or flying lessons.
In a chance meeting with former CIA Director George H.W. Bush at the University of Dallas, Bush convinced Estabrook to join the Air Force, which he did in January 1981. Bush and Estabrook talked about Mark's father's experience as a pilot in Florida during the fall of Batista in Cuba.
"My dad flew doctors, lawyers and their families to Florida in a rented float plane at night."
During his Air Force service, Estabrook followed Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers around the northern tip of Norway across the north Atlantic on their way to Washington, DC and Cuba when he was the commander of an E-3A AWACS reconnaissance aircraft.
After separating from the Air Force, Mark joined FedEx as a pilot, and had jumpseat privileges around the world. While watching TV coverage of Ukraine during the Euromaidan Revolution, he realized how biased the Obama Administration was against the revolution. The American press just kept repeating Putin's propaganda that the protesters in Maidan were Nazis. Estabrook did not believe the former KGB officer's propaganda. Instinctively, Mark wanted to record world history as a photographer, and help the Ukrainian people at the same time.
Estabrook grabbed a Nikon D2X, with its incredibly slow memory writing speed, an old F5 35mm film camera and jumpseated to Europe. Technically, he was on a FedEx vacation during the revolution in Kyiv.
Mark soon learned the people who protested and fought in Maidan were good people. Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians grabbed the headlines. They were noted for their corrupt ways but the people who stood up to them were brave. Many people were wounded and killed. No matter what group or background they came from, they put their differences aside to snatch freedom from a corrupt regime with close ties to Moscow. In 2012, President Obama forgot his microphone was hot and told Russian President Medvedev he would have "more flexibility" to negotiate after the election. "I will tell Vladimir," Medvedev replied. True to form, the Obama administration ignored Ukrainian cries for military assistance and sent them blankets and night vision goggles instead.
Mark is creating an online "rough cut" here from more than 1,600 photos in Maidan for a "coffee table photography book" detailing his experience in Kyiv. There is still much work to be done before the selection, editing and layout is complete. He hopes to print and bind the hardcover first edition of the book in Ukraine. "I think I have more photos than a single volume can reasonably hold."
Estabrook is aware the book is not the complete picture of the revolution from anyone's perspective, even his. He wants everyone to know it was an American photographer's experience in Maidan as captured on two older cameras. The Nikon D2X was not exactly known as an action camera. The recording media could not quickly capture more than 4-5 shots before the camera would literally freeze.
"So when people ask me 'why did you go to Kyiv?' I tell them 'because I've rooted for the underdog my whole life."
THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. Each of the photos in the auto slideshow below advance after a 10-second pause. The collection is a rough cut. Color balancing and other editing chores have not been completed. This site will be updated when Mark finishes his large, coffee table photography book. Media queries and reprint permissions: