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Air strikes on Borodyanka in the photos by Max Levin

The photographer Max Levin and his colleague Marian Kushnir were among the first to get to Borodyanka, right after the air strikes on the town. At that time, Levin's photos were published by Reuters and spread across the world's leading media.

Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers is publishing photos by Max Levin and memoirs by Marian Kushnir and Levin's girlfriend Zoryana about these events.

High-rise buildings in Borodyanka are on fire. The city has just been hit by devastating air strikes. Photo by Max Levin

In early March 2022, Russian troops tried to break through to Kyiv. The town of Borodyanka was on their main route to the capital.

Russian forces conducted a series of devastating air strikes on Borodyanka on March 1 and 2. Eight multi-storey buildings housing at least 600 families were bombed. Small private houses on neighboring streets were also damaged. The buildings were located on Warsaw Highway and Central Street, which crosses the entire city. Since February 25, these roads have been the scene of intense fighting and convoys of Russian vehicles.

More than 40 residents died under the rubble of the high-rise buildings. People were trying to hide from the shelling in the basements of their houses. However, the air strikes were too powerful and destroyed entire sections of the buildings. In addition to air strikes, the upper floors of many buildings were shelled by Russian artillery. During the subsequent evacuation, Russian troops did not allow dismantling the rubble and shot civilians with firearms. "An airplane is circling over Borodyanka. We don't know how many more such strikes will be carried out on our city. Civilians are being shot from the planes."

— Heorhiy Yerko, acting head of the Borodyansky village council, said in a telegram.

Ukrainian photographer Max Levin documented the aftermath of the strikes on the town of Borodyanka. He has been filming the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine since day one. His photos from Bucha, Borodyanka, and Irpin showed what was happening a few dozen kilometers north of Kyiv. On March 13, contact with the photojournalist was cut off - he was killed in March in the Vyshgorod district of Kyiv region.

Max Levin's photographs still tell the world about Russian war crimes.

“On February 24, Max was in the east, spending the night with medics in Karlivka. He didn't get in touch when rockets were already flying in Kyiv at five in the morning,” recalls Zoryana, Levin's girlfriend. “He called back at about half past nine, asked how he was doing, and a few minutes later wrote that he was leaving for Kyiv.

Zoryana and Max started talking about a possible Russian invasion in late November 2021. In January, they prepared food supplies and withdrew money from their cards. "Maks wrote in his chats (and in the Fathers' Club as well) that the men should gather at the training grounds and get ready. Instead, people laughed at him and said he was causing panic. In the end, he managed to get a few men to the shooting ranges in February," Zoryana recalls.

Max Levin had been documenting the war since 2014 and knew the nuances of such filming. He often complained that he had to explain the importance of the journalist's work at every checkpoint. “We were constantly in touch. At the time, I was living in Boyarka, doing volunteer work and helping Max's mom. He would come, sometimes stay for a couple of hours, and then leave again,” says Zoryana. Max often stayed overnight with the military. Once he wrote to Zoryana that he had arrived at the Vasylkiv airport. At that moment, she heard an “arrival” and saw fire from Vasylkiv. “Max did not get in touch. He wrote back about half an hour later that the plane had hit an oil depot not far from them,” Zoryana says about her communication with Max.

Ukrainian military on the territory of the airfield in Vasylkiv. February 2022. Photo by Max Levin

Zoryana's relatives stayed in Borodyanka, including her cousin with a two-year-old child. They survived until the moment when columns of tanks entered the town and began shelling it. Zoryana's family stayed in the basement all the time, it was dangerous to leave. Max Levin went to Borodyanka to pick up the girl's family.

“We went to Borodyanka at our own risk. We did not know whether there were Russians there or not. First of all, Max wanted to take out his girlfriend Zoryana's relatives,” says journalist and photographer Marian Kushnir. On the eve of the full-scale war, Marian met with Max in Marinka, as Donetsk is not far from there, and the guys wanted to film the fighting. “The next time we met was in Kharkiv. We went to film the damaged vehicles on the outskirts of the city. We spent the night in the car on the highway at the entrance to Northern Saltovka. The first shelling took place there," Kushnir says. “But Max really wanted to go to Kyiv. Eventually, Marian and Max went to the capital.

Journalist Marian Kushnir at the Vasylkiv airfield, photographed by Max Levin. February 2022. Photo by Max Levin

The photographers shot a lot in the suburbs of Kyiv. "We were traveling everywhere for luck, we were groping for where and what was happening. In the first days of the war, Zaluzhnyi reported that our military had shot down an IL-76 with Russian troops near Vasylkiv. "We arrived at the Vasylkiv airfield, and there was a small arms battle going on," says Marian. "In the morning, with the permission of the leadership, we were allowed to enter the airfield. That night, a rocket hit the fuel storage facility. We traveled a lot near Kyiv. Max and I had previous experience working in the frontline areas," says Marian Kushnir.

An oil depot near the Vasylkiv airfield is on fire. February 2022. Photo by Max Levin

The journalists decided to go to Borodyanka on March 2. It took them almost two days to get there. According to Kushnir, it was difficult to get to Borodyanka. All the bridges over the Irpin River had already been destroyed, and the bridge in Bilohorodka, which could be used to get to the Zhytomyr highway, was closed to traffic.

“We took a detour, through Fastiv, crossed the Zhytomyr highway and drove in the direction of Malyn. The last checkpoint was on the Warsaw highway, before Borodyanka. The soldier said that most likely there were no Ukrainian soldiers left in Borodyanka. "We were driving slowly and watching for traffic on the road," says Kushnir. "Before Borodianka, we saw a massive fire. After the town was liberated, I learned that it was a Russian plane that had been shot down.”

Military equipment is on fire at the entrance to Borodyanka. March 2022. Photo by Max Levin

The photojournalists hid their car at the entrance to Borodyanka. Airplanes were bombing the town just forty minutes before they arrived. One of those planes went down. Everything was on fire around them - Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers. The guys took a few pictures and went to pick up Zoryana's family. "My family managed to escape to the village of Halynky and Max went there. We spent the night, and in the morning Max took them out. He came back, took pictures of the broken vehicles and drove on towards the Zhytomyr highway," Zoryana explains.

A destroyed high-rise building in Borodyanka. March 2022. Photo by Max Levin

Marian and Max returned to Borodyanka. "The first place we went to was the hospital. There was information that Russian soldiers were wounded there. When we arrived, there were no Russians there. Instead, there were wounded locals," says Marian. Then the guys went to film the center of Borodyanka. They took pictures of the broken equipment and the aftermath of the shelling. They returned to the car and drove to another location, where Max picked up a drone and flew over the destroyed city.

"A local resident told me that half an hour ago a column of Russian vehicles passed through here. We were on the edge of our seats and realized that Borodyanka was occupied," says Kushnir.

Consequences of air strikes on the city. March 2022. Photo by Max Levin

"Max has always been very clear and confident. During my trip to Kyiv region with him, he was very careful," says Marian. "In the end, he decided to stay and work with one unit. I went to shoot other news."

"In the first days of the full-scale invasion, Max knew and understood what he had to do - cover the war. The last time he was home was on March 11," says Zoryana. "He lost his drone and said he had to pick it up. Finally, on March 13, he went to get the drone..."

A convoy of Russian military equipment is broken. March 2022. Photo by Max Levin


Max Levin is a Ukrainian photojournalist and documentary photographer. For more than ten years he worked, later for Hromadske, and collaborated with Reuters, BBC, and Associated Press. His photographs were published by the Wall Street Journal, TIME, Radio Liberty and other world media. He covered the events of the Maidan in Kyiv and the war in eastern Ukraine for eight years. The Georgiy Gongadze Prize awarded Max Levin a special honor for his outstanding contribution to the development of Ukrainian photography, dedication to the profession and courage. Max Levin is a holder of the Order of Merit III class (2015), Chevalier of the Order "For Courage" III class (2022, posthumously).

We remind you that the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers has launched a series of materials dedicated to key events of the Russian war against Ukraine where we publish memoirs and photographs by Ukrainian documentary photographers.

The project is being implemented thanks to the support of ЗМІN.


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