To be a Ukrainian photographer while your Russian neighbor is invading your country, means first of all to face a new terrain, risky working conditions, images you might not have imagined taking close to home. It is above all a heartbreaking human story. These photographers have the same story as the civilians who flee Ukraine, or those who stay to defend it, with the difference that they wear a camera around their neck. How to be impartial, to deliver an honest message, when one is touched by such violent feelings?
Of course, the few images we are publishing today reflect only one side of the conflict. They were taken in different places, tell different stories. The looks of these photographers focused on their people, their children, the places where they flee, take refuge, the places where they are affected by the conflict.
Pavel Petrov, one of them, sent us in his stream of still images a small video playing on his computer, re-filmed in the dark with his cell phone. It shows a fireman putting out a fire. “This is a go-pro camera on my helmet. This is my work.” A silence and then he continues: “Dead bodies.”
We prefer not to show you this video, available on social networks. But the gesture of Pavel Petrov, sharing as much as possible with the rest of the world, testifies to the mission that Ukrainian photographers who cover “their” war have given themselves: to inform, even if they’re risking their lives.
Oksana Parafeniuk, 32 years old, writing on March 1st, 2022
The trauma is ongoing, It’s hard to put this devastating experience all Ukrainians are living through into words. My husband, my sister and I left our home and we switched 4 places to live in the last 5 days. I think it’s important to understand how much more difficult it is for local photographers to work here, while we are living the war ourselves, while we might be displaced leaving home with the bare minimum of things, or working in dangerous conditions, while our friends and relatives might have stayed in the cities under bombardment.
The night when the full-scale war started, I couldn’t sleep at all reading the news, just like many nights before that. Around 5 am I heard the first two explosions in Kyiv and woke up my husband. It was the moment I would never be able to forget. That and a lot of others. Each second of this war will stay in memory.
Sergey Korovayny, 27 years old, writing on March 2nd, 2022
I’m a Ukrainian photographer from the Donetsk region, which was occupied by Russia 8 years ago. When Russia openly invaded Ukraine, I woke up in Kharkiv from the sound of explosions. The next three days were a nightmare. From Kharkiv, I drove to Kyiv to join my wife. We spent hours in a shelter, saw one of the first Russian saboteur groups, and I had an awful feeling of deja vu, as if I went back to 2014 and my home town is captioned by Russians again. We left for Lviv, and for two days the road was full of despair, bad news, traffic jams, and gasoline shortage.
In Lviv, however, I succeeded to transform my despair into action: raising humanitarian aid and photographing everything around. Now I’m driving back towards Kyiv and ready to continue documenting the Russian invasion, until Ukrainian victory.
Pavel Petrov, 26 years old, writing on March 3rd, 2022
I want my country to be free and I am at war on my front, the one of photography. I wish other people in the world to never see at home what my homeland sees. It is very difficult to work in such conditions, but it seems to be necessary that I continue to document what is happening in Ukraine. For history and truth.
Oleksandr Chekmenov, 52 years old, writing on March 4th, 2022
In this wartime, I follow certain rules. First of all, the photographer must save children and women. Then save the negatives and the camera. Only then take care of himself.
My daughter Nastenka is 16 years old. She refused to be evacuated and said: “Dad, this is my land. This is my home. My two little brothers and my friends are here. I won’t leave them. I’m staying here.” So I asked her to make a documentary film. This year she will enter the operator faculty. This work will be her entrance ticket to the institute and immediately into adulthood as well.
While taking pictures of people, I try to talk to them. This woman in a photo with two children and a rabbit in a green bag… Her name is Alla Pushenko. She is 43 years old and she is lonely. Shocked and confused, she didn’t know where to go. I put away the camera and followed the first rule. Today she is safe in Slovakia.
Probably, I am very far from being a war photographer. But I will keep on working in Kyiv under military attacks. In the city that does not give up.
To support Ukrainian journalists currently covering the war, please visit the International Press Institute’s website.