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An assault rifle and butterfly wings. Photographer Roman Zakrevskyi's memories of the first weeks of the full-scale war in Chernihiv

Hotel Ukraina in Chernihiv is destroyed by a Russian missile. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


The city of Chernihiv was one of the first places where Russian troops tried to break through on February 24, 2022. The city is located at the intersection of the borders of three countries - Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation - and it takes no more than two hours to get to Kyiv. Chernihiv was under siege until April, but it was never occupied.


The Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes photos by Roman Zakrevskyi, who was in Chernihiv from the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion and documented the events of the war.

Chernihiv is surrounded

Russian troops failed to occupy Chernihiv - the Armed Forces of Ukraine and local defenders did not allow them to break through the city's defenses. Instead, the Russian military systematically shelled Chernihiv, hitting infrastructure, residential buildings, schools and kindergartens. Chernihiv residents heard the first shots in the morning of February 24. On that day, Russian troops attacked the command post of the airfield of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Nizhyn. Three people were killed.

On February 25, the Ukrainian Armed Forces repelled an attack by Russian troops on the approach to the town. On February 27, in Koryukivka, local residents stopped a convoy of Russian vehicles. People came out on the road and did not allow the Russians to enter the village. Chernihiv suffered several air strikes that day. A missile hit a residential building in the city center. A fire broke out, and the two lower floors burned. In the evening, the center of Chernihiv suffered another rocket attack that destroyed the building of a former cinema.


A residential building in Chernihiv burns after a Russian shelling on March 3, 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


In the afternoon of March 3, the Russian military conducted an air strike on residential buildings in Chernihiv. Forty-seven people were killed. On the night of March 11, the Russian military bombed a stadium and a library, killing 2 people. A few hours later, they dropped three bombs on the city. In mid-March, Russian shelling killed people standing in line for bread. In late March, Russian troops destroyed a road bridge across the Desna River. Chernihiv lost its connection to Kyiv. The destruction of the bridge was critical for the residents of Chernihiv: it was the only way for people to leave the city and receive humanitarian aid. People were crossing the river in boats and bringing food in the same way.


A multi-storey building on Chornovil Street was damaged by a Russian air strike on March 3. According to various sources, Russian military aircraft dropped about 8 bombs on the city. As a result, 47 people were killed. March 3, 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


On April 1, 2022, the Russian army began retreating and withdrawing troops from Chernihiv region. By April 6, the Russian military had left the region.


Children in a shelter

Photographer Roman Zakrevskyi is from the city of Chernihiv. On February 24, 2022, he was in Chernihiv with his wife Yulia, daughter Vasylyna, and their pet dog Archie. At the time of the full-scale Russian invasion, Roman's daughter was only six months old. "My daughter learned to roll over and sit up in the basement," Roman says. From the second day of the war, he and his family and other residents of his street lived in the basement of the children's hospital.


Roman's wife Yulia and their little daughter Vasylyna in the basement of the children's hospital. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


On the morning of February 24, 2022, Roman was walking his dog when he saw a long line to the store. He learned from people that the war had started. "That day I went to work. I worked as a cameraman for Suspilne. We spent the first night at home. The next day I also had to go to the editorial office, but I didn't want to leave the girls alone. I met an old friend, Serhii Zosymenko, who was a volunteer at the hospital's children's cancer unit. I asked him if we could go down to their shelter. On February 25, we moved to the basement."


A machine gun stands next to a picture on the wall in a children's hospital in Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Children and adults in the basement of a children's hospital in Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Roman Zakrevskyi recalls that there were many people in the basement of the hospital. Children were playing and painting the walls. "I took a lot of pictures from the first days of the full-scale war. People had a great fear of cameras-they were afraid that the Nazis would come, find the photos, and learn something from them," Zakrevskyi shares his memories. "I took mostly portraits of people and children who lived in the shelter. I documented our everyday life, and there is even a moment when a child's baby tooth is pulled out. I took pictures of people who were engaged in security, were in the TRO or appeared in the basement, hiding from shelling. I tried to preserve these historic moments. Someone had a machine gun, and I had a camera and a video camera." Roman recalls that in his apartment, the windows were covered with a mattress. For him, it became a symbol of helplessness and a change in his life. "At first, it was good to sleep on the mattress, but now it has a different role - to protect us from the debris," - Roman says.


Mattress. February 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Roman made portraits of people in the basement. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi




A child's baby tooth is pulled out in the storage room of a children's hospital. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Children in a hospital shelter watching TV. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


A man with an assault rifle and a dog in the basement of a children's hospital. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


A territorial defense soldier hides from shelling in the basement of a children's hospital. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Roman Zakrevsky's wife and daughter were able to leave on March 9. An acquaintance of the photographer was in charge of the evacuation and took Yulia and Vasylyna by bus to Kyiv and transferred them to a train to Lviv. The girls stayed in Lviv for a short time and then moved to a friend's house in the town of Pechenizhyn in Ivano-Frankivsk region. Roman stayed in Chernihiv until March 17. "It was morning when we left Chernihiv. We were driving through a field, the so-called "road of life". The main road was under fire and it was dangerous to drive," - Roman says.


A destroyed house on Chornovil Street in Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Evacuation by the way of life. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Airplanes in the sky


The photographer documented the consequences of Russian air strikes on his hometown. On March 3, the Russian military dropped a bomb on a multi-story building in Chernihiv. The building is located just two hundred meters from the hospital where Zakrevskyi and his family were sheltering. "I saw the plane that dropped the bomb on the high-rise. The sound of that plane is the worst thing I think I've heard during this war," - says Roman. He adds that he has always been inspired by photographs from hot spots and dreamed of becoming a war correspondent. However, he never thought that his dream would come true in this way. "Behind this high-rise building is the house where I grew up and where my father and older brother and their family live now. These bombs fell very close to my home, the "Chinese wall". It is one of the longest houses in Chernihiv and the locals call it the "Chinese wall". I just took my camera and went to film," - says Zakrevsky. He didn't bring any documents with him, he only had the inscription "Press" on his jacket. Fortunately, no one asked for permission to film. Roman says that he is afraid for people who do not understand the importance of documentation and who the enemy really is.


Barricades made of car tires on the roads of Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


An APC is blocking a road in the city center, near the "Reikartz" hotel in Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Smoke is visible from the center of Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


"When I went to photograph the aftermath of the bombing, I didn't think about anything, only about the foreground and background, details, and composition. I didn't want anything unnecessary in the frame, I didn't want to disturb anyone. It feels like it's not real, like it's a movie," says Zakrevskyi. His photo of the aftermath of the air strike was published in The New York Times.


This photo by Roman Zakrevsky was acquired by Reuters and then published on the front page of The New York Times. March 3, 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevsky


The photographer does not even remember how much time he spent near that house. He remembers the guys standing against the background of a high-rise building with a hole in it and pointing to a severed hand with a ring. "I decided for myself that I would not take pictures of all kinds of 'black stuff'. However, I went up and took a picture of that hand and felt nothing," says the photographer. "There were no feelings at all, just dry documentary, just the correct composition - foreground, background, perspective, correct lines in the frame.


A mutilated tree

A few days later, when the weather was nice and sunny, Roman Zakrevskyi returned to the scene of the tragedy. He spent an hour or an hour and a half there. It was very cold and snowing, but there was good light. "An uncle with a machine gun approached me - there was a checkpoint nearby. I had an NFU certificate with me, which I found when I was packing my anxious suitcase. This piece of paper saved me from unnecessary questions. "My uncle 'blessed' me with the permission to film to show our neighbors from the north," Roman recalls. "When I returned to the shelter, I slept for six hours straight. The shooting took a lot of energy out of me."


March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Roman took a picture of an old linden tree that had been torn apart by an air strike. It was one of Roman's favorite trees that grew on the road between his father's house and his and his wife's apartment. "The linden tree had a beautiful cone-shaped crown. Now the linden tree is not so beautiful, but it is alive. This makes me very happy," Roman smiles. "The brick buildings were repaired by volunteers and foreign partners. The mutilated skyscraper was fenced off and stands as a reminder of all the horror and deaths of innocent people." Roman says that this day is like a whole piece of meat that has been torn away from the body. It is a symbol of the horror he and his family went through and the horror our entire country is still going through. Roman joined the Ukrainian army and is now transforming his experience into photographs at the front and videos for the Ukrainian Defense Forces in the east of the country.


Linden. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Roman took a lot of pictures in Chernihiv during the siege. He took a photo of the hotel where the Russian military dropped a bomb. They thought that special forces were stationed there, but there were no soldiers there. In the end, it was just like other residential buildings in Chernihiv that were hit by the Russian military.


Hotel "Ukraine" in Chernihiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Zakrevskyi


Postscript


"At the hospital, they gave us black plastic bags to keep us warm. I even have a photo of it. Now black bags evoke completely different associations for us," says Roman Zakrevsky.


 

Roman Zakrevskyi (37 years old) is a Ukrainian photographer and videographer. He is engaged in author's and reportage photography. The photographer has been exhibiting since 2006. His exhibitions have been held in Ukraine (Kyiv, Chernihiv, Lviv, Donetsk, Ostroh) and abroad (Austria). For the last four years, he has been working as a videographer for the Suspilne Chernihiv TV channel. He has been published in Ukrainian (The Ukrainians, The Reporters, Local Stories) and foreign publications (The New York Times, Wyborcza.pl).

He has made documentaries and feature films.


Social networks of the author:


The project is implemented thanks to the support of IWM Documenting Ukraine.

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