Amadeusz Świerk

Photographer's portfolio

  • Youngsters hanging in front of a local soccer club spot. Zakaczawie is the origin of many Miedź Legnica ultras. The mural says "Adventure Seekers".

  • On Corpus Christi day, a catholic procession led by altar boys is hiding from the rain in one of the tenement house gates. Faith is an important aspect of life for Zakaczawie citizens. On Christmas Day in 2013, a local parish allegedly experienced a miracle – during a mass, a holy host turned red.

  • Teenagers after school are impatiently waiting for food in a local bar.

  • Grzegorz, a Zakaczawie native, plays in the garden with his son, Kuba. In the old days he was a professional thief. Later in life, he settled down and focused on the family, trying to gain more custody time with his sons from a past relationship.

  • Town council’s disinterest with investment in Zakaczawie can be very visible. Tenement houses are getting old and decrepit with no refreshment projects. Small initiatives, like this kids’ playground, are often quickly devastated by locals.

  • Malwina with her son Jamal – district's well known residents. They settled in an abandoned apartment, but got evicted some months later. They are still looking for a suitable place to live. Mixed families are a rare curiosity in Polish towns.

  • Brothers Dawid and Adrian playing together with their friend, Kaspian. Most children spend their free time playing outside in the old fashioned way. Their families usually cannot afford expensive entertainment such as vacations or video games.

  • Young girls spending lazy time in the backyard of one of many dilapidated tenement houses of Zakaczawie.

  • Staszek, a talented guitar player and an old thief who spent many years in various "nursing homes", as he calls prisons. Nowadays, he is doing small handyman jobs for a living.

  • Dawid and Marcel are playing cops and robbers in the abandoned building, which was the secret police station in the Communist era. Most of these kids’ colleagues will eventually leave the country looking for a better life abroad. Others will either choose a criminal path, or do the opposite – pursue careers in uniformed services. High crime rate on Zakaczawie streets is caused, among other factors, by the sore scarcity of police patrols.

  • In the 80’s, Krzysztof served in the Polish contingent during the Afghan-Soviet war. One day, the deadly bullet hit and killed his friend, who was just half a meter away. The memories from Afghanistan still haunt him.

  • Kajtek is well known in Zakaczawie (and the rest of Legnica for that matter), mostly for his entertaining nature and helping poor children of the district, despite him having a lead role in Legnica’s criminal underground of the 80’s and 90’s. He also spent many years in prison. Due to the cancer he has, the last 14 years he had to spend mostly at home.

  • Mike and his step brother Kuba playing video games in their family’s apartment in Zakaczawie.

  • Some Zakaczawie citizens decorate their apartments with old trinkets to keep the memories alive.

  • Kajtek is visiting his colleagues during his first outing to the town in many years. He is hugging his blind friend Sławek, who he hasn't seen for a long time. The guys meet in a basement workshop, where they often have some drinks and play music.

  • Dawid, Jamal and Kewin playing on the backyard’s carpet hanger. Jamal is probably the only black child in the whole district, however his friends do not pay attention… yet.

  • Old friends Basia, Krysia and Waldek lively gossiping in front of their tenement house.

  • The improvised puppy transport on Kartuska street.

  • Both born and raised in Zakaczawie, Gosia and Grzegorz were involved with the district's criminal underworld. When they recall their past, there’s more sentiment than shame. It was, after all, the time of their lives.

  • Gosia, Grzegorz and their friend, celebrating Gosia’s birthday party in the backyard.

  • Gosia is famous for crashing Grzegorz’s wedding with another woman. She unexpectedly appeared at the ceremony and shouted he shouldn't get wed. They live together now, raising children from their old relationships.

  • Small river Kaczawa marks the boundary between Zakaczawie and the rest of the world. Most citizens of Legnica categorize the district as dangerous and poor. Over twenty years ago, when the district's atmosphere was even more tense, the city theater staged a play about it.

  • Some private mementos in Kajtek’s apartment recall the old glory of the district and his colorful life.

  • Without much money and help from family members, being chronically ill can be a real burden.

  • Ms Władysława lives alone. Her relationship with her son is bad and no other family lives close. Instead, the neighbors help her with jobs around the house.

  • Paweł with his beloved amstaff. Most of the little money he earns fixing neighbors’ computers, he gives to his mother. He has a tough life, but enjoys walking Morda and taking photos.

  • Kids playing in the little snow Legnica got in winter of 2021. Zakaczawie bathes in the sun on the other bank of Kaczawa river.

  • Sisters Wiktoria and Lena stay close together at the Christmas event organized for poor kids of Zakaczawie. In some cases, their families couldn’t afford a proper Christmas celebration. The neighborly ties and grassroot initiatives can make up for it just a bit. This one event was created by soccer ultras.


The Miracle District (ongoing)

Thieves with hearts of gold. Ex-cons with souls full of artistry and music. Families trying to live a normal life. In an average small Polish town from behind the curtain, welcome to the Miracle District, where the poverty mingles with pride, painting a picture full of bitter charm.

I discovered Zakaczawie by coincidence. Gray, neglected tenement buildings full of people, high unemployment and crime rates, poverty. But there is something unique about this place and it is it’s legend. Such a social melting pot developed tough people with extraordinary biographies, and their community twenty years ago gave inspiration for a famous theatre play – „Ballad of Zakaczawie”. Despite bad stereotypes and grim appearances, it’s thriving social life quickly drawn me in. I started to discover these people, by simply approaching them without prejudices, trying to understand them as fully as possible.

Zakaczawie (eng. za-catch-a-vie; the name comes from the little river Kaczawa) is a district of Legnica, a hundred-thousand people city in southwestern Poland, some 100 kilometres from the German border. It should have been unremarkable, but after World War II it had the dubious pleasure of stationing some 60,000 Soviet soldiers, who dictated it’s life. During these difficult times, which ended very late in 1993, Zakaczawie became a refuge centre for Poles’ native life. Among the Polish families and strong Romani community relocated into the district by Communists, small businesses, cafes, pubs and cultural venues thrived, despite the dark shadow of the Soviet garrison.

When the Curtain fell and the Soviets finally went away, the town of Legnica finally breathed a sigh of relief. Zakaczawie district wasn’t especially lucky though – left out by dynamics of Polish capitalism fell into disrepair. The “Miracle District” nickname of Zakaczawie gained a bitter and ironic edge, but generations of its citizens still retain a strong sense of community. Contemporary Zakaczawie is a living witness of the winds of change, the whims of history putting the social microcosm of its citizens to new tests.

Almost every city has at least one similar place, where people suffer from social and economic exclusion. This project aims to show that among the very visual poverty and dilapidation of rough neighbourhoods, there are humans – families, friends, lovers – trying to live their best.

© 2024 Amadeusz Świerk