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“Bullets were just over your head”. Battles for the capital in the photos of Marian Kushnir

Warning: The material contains sensitive information and the photographs contain scenes of violence that may shock you.

Evacuation of the wounded during the battle in Rudnytske. 10 March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

Radio Liberty journalist Marian Kushnir met a full-scale invasion in Donetsk region, where he often worked before. According to him, he went to Mariinka on the eve of the invasion. Expecting possible shelling of the city, he moved into an old dormitory with a view of Donetsk from the window. He expected shelling of the front line, but nothing happened:

“There is a broken-down dormitory in Mariinka, where we stayed, thinking that there would be shelling, fighting from the direction of Donetsk. We could see Donetsk from the window, they wanted to film the front line. We stayed there for a very long time, but nothing happened. It was around 21-22 February, we knew that there would be some kind of movement,” Kushnir recalls.

The journalist worked for two days in Kharkiv with Max Levin. In the early days, Russian troops tried to enter the city without expecting any resistance. The first clashes with the Ukrainian Defense Forces took place on 24 February 2022 at the Kharkiv District Police Station. According to Kushnir, together with Levin, they filmed the aftermath of the fighting on the ring road, the shelled Northern Saltovka, and spent the night in a car there. Then they went to Kyiv together.

We went everywhere for luck, took risks

“Max really wanted to go to Kyiv. And, in principle, I also thought that all the excitement was going on near Kyiv, it was going on. We went to Kyiv and started working there. We were travelling everywhere for good luck, that is, we were probing where and what was happening,” recalls Marian Kushnir. “— One night we were looking for a downed IL-76 with Russian troops. Zaluzhnyi said the next day that our guys had shot down a plane near Vasylkiv. We went to look for this Russian landing party and stayed up until 3-4 am. How many times did our "TDrOshniks" want to kill us then...”.

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

Then the journalists saw a battle going on at the military airfield in Vasylkiv. They tried to get there, but it was a military facility, and no one was waiting for journalists there.

"In the morning, we were allowed to go to the airfield with the permission of the management. That night, a rocket hit the fuel storage facility. We travelled a lot near Kyiv. Max and I had previous experience of working in the frontline areas," says Marian Kushnir.

Later, Kushnir and Levin went together to Borodianka, which had just been shelled by aircraft, several houses were destroyed, a downed plane was burning near the town, and there was a pile of Russian military equipment at the entrance to the town and on the main street.

Borodianka after air strikes on the city. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

The UAPF published Marian Kushnir's memories and Max Levin's photo of the trip to Borodyanka in a previous article: Airstrikes on Borodyanka in the photos of Max Levin.

Marian Kushnir says that in those days, their many years of experience in the Joint Forces Operation area in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts came in handy, especially their experience of communicating with the military at checkpoints.

"Back then, you could shoot anything near Kyiv if you knew how to do it. Firstly, it was experience. Secondly, it's luck, a lot of luck. And thirdly, it's chutzpah. We were going with Max where we wanted to go. Our experience of war and driving through checkpoints allowed us to work. In order to go where no one was, we had to lie somewhere, argue somewhere, and shout somewhere. We went to Bucha and filmed the artillery that was firing on Makarov. Later we went to Makariv, when it was liberated by the 14th Brigade together with paratroopers. We also filmed tankers, also near Makariv. We filmed a lot of things that Ukrainian journalists did not film, because it was complete chaos, no one was allowed to film," the journalist says about the first month of the invasion.

Ukrainian tankers near Makariv. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

Ukrainian military near Kyiv. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

His work was greatly assisted by the contacts he had made during the war in eastern Ukraine. Thanks to these contacts, Kushnir had a unique opportunity to work throughout the Kyiv region.

"I worked a lot with the 10th Brigade before. My contacts allowed me to work with the brigade because it was defending the Kyiv region. Two battalions were in the north, one -- was attached to Syrske and fought on the left bank, near Baryshivka, next to the 72nd and 128th or 14th brigades. These contacts allowed me to work a lot and move where no one else could," - explains the journalist.

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

In fact, you are about to be killed, you are just waiting for it

Kushnir recalls with special emotion the first time he went on an assault with the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade. At that time, the military stormed the village of Rudnytske, near Baryshivka;

"I still don't understand how I didn't get a bullet in the thigh. Everyone around me got a bullet in the thigh at the time,- laughs Marian. .

— These are people who have known me for a long time. The battalion commander called me himself: "Marian, come here, we're going to have a great time. You haven't filmed anything like this before." They trusted us because they were sure that we wouldn't be a burden to them. We know how to act, where to stand, when to be there, so that they don't have any problems, you know, just not to get too excited. And, in fact, that's why they took us with them. And that was the first time after the first assault," he explains.

The 8th Battalion of the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade during the storming of the village of Rudnytske. 10 March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

Marian Kushnir recalls that after that time he swore off going with the military to storm the city again, but a short time later he went again, and then again...

"The thing is that the probability of being killed there is so high that... Well, in fact, you're going to be killed right now, and you're just waiting for it. You have no place to hide, you have to navigate the place as quickly as possible. You get an adrenaline rush that is indescribable. And you realise that you are virtually defenceless and cannot do anything. If they are still fighting, doing some kind of work, then your task is only to shoot. And so, when they pinned me to the ground with a machine gun, when I was crawling on the ground, I didn't even really film. I switched on the camera and recorded it, but all that was recorded was the camera crawling through the snow. I was pumping myself into the hollows because the bullets were right above my head, I could even feel them. And it was really tough. Not like the artillery there...", - emotionally recalls the events Marian.

Evacuation of the wounded during the battle in Rudnytske. 10 March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

According to the journalist, all fears and dangers were justified-his video and photos went viral. The story of how Ukraine kicks the Russians in the teeth has been documented. Kushnir is confident that after that, people started talking more about helping Ukraine.

A soldier is pulling an 80-year-old Valentyn from the village of Teterivske, the last resident of the village to be on the front line, in a wheelbarrow. Marian Kushnir and his colleagues evacuated the man to his family. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir



Marian Kushnir  (30 years old)-Ukrainian journalist, videographer, photographer, since 2015 he has been working in the Ukrainian editorial office of Radio Liberty. Since then, he has been travelling to the frontline to cover the fighting in Ukraine and preparing reports on mass actions. After Russia's open military attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, he covered events from hotspots where active hostilities were taking place. On 11 March 2022, he sustained a concussion in the Kyiv region, in the village of Baryshivka.

Holder of the Order of Merit III class (2022).

Social networks of the photographer:

We would like to 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 he publishes memoirs and photographs of Ukrainian documentary photographers.

The project is implemented with the support of ZMIN Fondation.


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