Every Ukrainian photographer dreams of making a photo that will stop the war

Mstyslav Chernov

Today, the war in Ukraine is discussed daily at breakfast, read about in the news, and written about in newspapers and social media. Every European experiences war in its way, but some people also show it. Each of us has seen the frightening images of a mother crouching over the body of her dead child, of ruined buildings that were someone’s home only yesterday, and of people who lost everything in an instant. Still, not everyone knows who is behind the camera at these moments. Today we are talking about the photographers who created the most famous shots of Ukraine in flames, showing it to the world.

Photo: Yevhen Malolietka

The girl in the photo is Marina Yatsko. She is standing over her 18-month-old son, who died because of the shelling of Mariupol. A shot that tells about pain and injustice that shows the rottenness of the Russian occupier, who fights against ordinary Ukrainian people. Yevhen Malolietka, a Ukrainian photojournalist and Associated Press journalist, took the photo. He arrived in Mariupol with his colleague Mstyslav Chernov on February 24, an hour before the mass attacks. Thanks to their photographs, the world learned about all the crimes committed by Russians in the port Ukrainian city of Mariupol: the bombing of the maternity hospital, killing of children and women, civilians, destruction of the city, destruction of destinies.

Photo: Mstyslav Chernov

Malolietka and Chernov are true heroes and deserved this title long ago. In 2013–2014, Malolietka covered the protests in Kyiv that led to the ouster of President Yanukovych. On December 1, 2013, when he was filming on Bankova Street near the Presidential Administration building, Berkut officers broke his arm and smashed his camera.

Since 2014, Mstyslav Chernov has managed to show the world the events of the Revolution of Dignity, the annexation of Crimea, and the war in Donbas. He was one of the first people who documented the consequences of the crash of the Malaysian Boeing 777 flight MH17, as well as events in Syria and Iraq, protests in Hong Kong, and Catalonia. In 2022, when the photographers were working in Mariupol, the Russian army began a real hunt for them. They were not satisfied that the world would see the whole truth. But the persecution of journalists was not successful: Chernov and Malolietka left Mariupol on March 15 as part of the convoy after the opening of the humanitarian corridor.

Photo: Pavlo Dorogoy

In the photo, you can see the destroyed centre of Kharkiv, the city that every resident loves with all his heart, which today is shelled by Russian missiles every day. Kharkiv resident Pavlo Dorogoy, the author of the photo, before the war, was engaged in archival photography and often photographed the architecture of his native city. Today he also takes pictures of Kharkiv, but it is entirely different…

‘I realised that I found myself in documentary photography. It is what I can do best. I mean telling stories. I remember a story from Izium that struck me: in a multi-storey building, about 60 people died in the basement. And in one family, only a man was left because he went somewhere during the shelling, and when he returned, his wife and children were no longer alive. For me, losing loved ones is the worst and hardest thing,’ Pavlo told us.

In his Instagram, he not only shows shots of the war but also the stories of people who experience it every day. Thus, under one of the posts, we see the story of Kharkiv resident Oleh Koval, who showed Pavlo the places where he is unlikely to want to return. ‘Today, I came to Saltivka (Kharkiv district) with him and his wife, Yulia, to evacuate the family. Together with him, I ran to the sports club near the house to get an energy bar, which she loved so much. Today I came under fire with him and tried to get out of the rubble. Together with him, I saw with horror that there was no more car, no more club, no more Yulia… Today I am Oleh Koval. All of us are Oleh Koval…,’ Dorogoy signed the photos.

Oleh Koval by Pavel Dorogoy
Maks Levin

Everyone who believes that the war is talked about too much, often and loudly, who is tired of it, who no longer wants to hear about Ukraine and see pictures of destruction, should understand only one simple thing: war is death. And to hear about it, to see it, to read about it, to finally end it, someone dies. Max Levin is one of the few who has been shooting the war in Ukraine for all eight years. ‘Probably every Ukrainian photographer dreams of taking a photo that will stop the war,’ is perhaps Levin’s most famous quote, which fully describes his life, dreams, and approach to work. In the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Levin worked as a fixer for French war correspondent Patrick Chauvel. In March, he was filming with a drone, which later disappeared in the area of fighting in the Kyiv region. On March 13, 2022, Levin and one of the soldiers, former photographer Oleksii Chernyshov, went in search of the drone. At 11:23 a.m. on the same day, Levin sent the last message from his phone, after which he did not get in touch and did not appear online. The whereabouts of Levin and his companions remained unknown for a long time. Later, the police found Levin’s burnt car and Chernyshov’s burnt body in the woods, and the body of Levin himself was found with a gunshot wound to the chest and two head wounds. The photographer was murdered even though he was unarmed and wearing a jacket with the inscription ‘Press,’ which once again proves a straightforward truth, Russia is a terrorist state, and the Russian military is a war criminal.

Maks Levin
Photo: Dmytro Kozatsky (Orest)

Every Ukrainian prayed for the heroes of Azov. They were followed, worried about them, and the whole country was waiting for the exchange of defenders. One of them was the author of the photo above. Although in life, the 26-year-old guy’s name is Dmytro Kozatsky, to Ukrainians, he is better known as Orest. Thank you for the shelter. ‘Azovstal is the place of my death and my life,’ the hero wrote before being captured by Russia. Thanks to his works, the whole world learned what happened within the walls of Azovstal, in what conditions the military was there, and how many civilians were there during the bombing of the plant. Dmytro learned photography entirely independently. Later he joined the National Guard and, even later, the Azov Regiment, where he became the commander of the press service. When you look into Orest’s smiling blue eyes, it’s hard to say that this young man has lived through an absolute hell on earth, but that’s probably why his most famous photo is called ‘Light will win.’ And we want to believe him. After all, good always wins over evil, and light overcomes darkness.

Today each of us has the opportunity to see the war thanks to those who risk their lives to shoot it. It is also important that even at such a time, the work of Ukrainian photographers remains of high quality, impressive and admirable. Each of them performs a critical mission not only for the present but also for the future to make sure that every descendant of ours sees today’s war and remembers all those forces our military is giving today for the sake of the future, where only history books and photos in them will remind us of the war.

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