In 2004, French photographer Guillaume Herbaut went to live in the forests of Ukraine with the Asgarda, a tribe of female warriors lead by Katerina Tarnouska. He called the resulting project "The Return of the Amazons."
Herbaut's photographs have been reproduced online at Planet magazine. The series of images show the women, some as young as 14, posing with their weapons, kneeling in prayer, and training with former Soviet karate master, Volodymyr Stepanovytch. They wear an interesting mix of modern clothes, traditional Ukrainian folk garb, and Xena-esque leather costumes. Their course of study blends modern and traditional practices as well. They idolize Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko, the leader of the "Fatherland" party and a key figure in the Orange Revolution. According to their website, the Asgarda has four aspects: folk art, health, sport, and science. The students learn everything from embroidery to anatomy, all under the guidance of Tarnouska.
Tarnouska founded the Asgarda school in part to revive the ancient tradition of the female warrior. The Asgarda see themselves as modern Amazons. In their secluded camp, they have recreated the tribal tradition of the Scythian Amazons as first documented by Herodotus. According to the Histories the Amazons were tribes of warriors in the East of Ukraine, in the Donesk area. Tarnouska decided to reclaim their history and started her own tribe in the Carpathian mountains. On their website, Tarnouska writes:
It is naturally that women-warriors had their own martial culture and taking into account from Greek's descriptions it was rather developed. After a while amazon's martial culture united with Ukrainian martial art and saturated Ukrainian national dances. It is very important that in the Eastern regions of Ukraine a lot of women with warrior features: pride, braveness, firmness, strength of beliefs, strong-will, etc were saved. The soul of ancient Amazonia is flying inside our nation.
Herbaut's beautiful pictures are the result of the two weeks he spent studying the Asgarda in 2004, in the midst of the Orange Revolution. Herbaut, who won the Kodak Critics Prize in 2001 for his photograph "Chernobyl: 20 Years After," is famous for his austere images that chronicle the suffering and strength of those living in areas that more or less forgotten by the modern world. On the website for his photographic agency, Oeil Public, Herbaut writes of his first meeting with the Asgarda's leader, before launching into a complete slide show of the images:
Katerina Tarnouska looks at me in the eyes. She is a thirty-year-old blonde with a ponytail, wearing a white dress. "Time has come to get seperated from the men," she says. She dreams of a walled world where women would live among themselves. A world like the one of the Amazon tribes.
She founded a movement called Asgarda. 150 women of all age get trained to fight and learn the Amazons' spirit. "Glory to you, Master, Glory to Asgarda, Glory to the Amazons!"