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Da Vinci's last assault. Memories of Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov about Dmytro Kotsiubailo

July 7, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


The commander of the Da Vinci Wolves special forces unit, Dmytro Kotsiubailo, with the call sign Da Vinci, died in the battle for Bakhmut on March 7, 2023. Dmytro was only 27 years old and had been fighting since he was 18. After the Revolution of Dignity, he volunteered to go to eastern Ukraine. During the full-scale Russian invasion, Da Vinci fought in different areas, but died in Donetsk region, which he called his "second home."


The Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes photos by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov, who filmed the work of the Da Vinci Wolves special forces in the last days of their commander Dmytro Kotsiubailo's life.


Da Vinci's mortar unit during combat operations. September 23, 2022. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


Evacuation of a wounded soldier from Da Vinci's unit. November 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


March 5


In December 2021, Dmytro Kotsiubailo received the highest state award, the title of Hero of Ukraine. He was a volunteer who joined the resistance forces against the Russian invasion in 2014. Later, he was seriously wounded, but after a long rehabilitation he returned to the war. Dmytro became the commander of the Da Vinci Wolves battalion and was in charge of several hundred men. Dmytro Kotsiubailo's unit worked in different areas since the full-scale Russian invasion and performed complex tasks. Dmytro Kotsiubailo died on March 7, 2023, in a battle near Bakhmut.


September 22, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


"It so happened that we became friends and became closer during the last days of Dmytro's life. We worked with him from March 5 to 7, including the day he died. Those three days, which we still remember, were special," says photographer Vlada Liberova. Kostyantyn and Vlada Liberova photographed Da Vinci and his unit as they worked in different areas, including during the Kharkiv campaign. Kostyantyn even managed to make Dmytro and his beloved Alina a lav-story-like photo shoot, but on a tank.


August 12, 2022. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


"On March 5, Dmytro called Kostya and said: "Come here!". It was the period when the fiercest battles for Bakhmut were beginning. The Russians were trying to cut off the last road to the city," Vlada recalls. "The Da Vinci battalion was solving the most urgent issues and the most difficult tasks. And this was just one of those tasks. "Da Vinci's Wolves had to knock the Russians out of a certain position in order to further strengthen our defense. They went to attack." Kostyantyn and Da Vinci got on a tank and drove to the enemy's position. The proximity to the enemy was minimal. They jumped from the tank into a trench dug by the 110th Brigade. "The trench had just been dug, it was still knee-deep in water. The guys entered through this trench and cleared everything. The assault lasted a little over an hour. Dmytro and his fighters stayed with the 110th Brigade until the evening to make sure everything was fine," Vlada Liberova says about the last assault on Da Vinci.


March 5, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


Da Vinci on a tank during combat operations. March 5, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


Day two


The next day, March 6, was also eventful. Dmytro Kotsiubaylo had a favorite trophy tank that he had captured while working in the Kharkiv sector. The tank with full ammunition was hit in Chasovyi Yar and caught fire. No one dared to put the tank out, let alone come close to it. "Da Vinci took a jar of water, climbed on top of the tank and put it out with his own hands. Dmytro was not afraid of anything, and you could feel it," says the photographer.


March 5, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


Da Vinci extinguishes his favorite tank. March 7, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


On March 7, Konstantin and Vlada Liberov planned to shoot the work of the trophy Soncepiok, "Da Vinci's favorite toy." "We were about to leave, but heavy shelling started. We managed to get into the shelter, Da Vinci's colleagues did, but he did not. He was always the last one to enter the shelter to make sure his comrades were safe," says Vlada Liberova. A mortar shell exploded near Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, and one of the fragments hit him in the neck. Unfortunately, nothing could be done. "We are in a lot of pain and Kostya and I, to be honest, have not yet accepted this loss," says Vlada. "Of course, our friends and acquaintances are always dying. It's always painful, but it gets a little easier over time. It hasn't gotten any easier since Da Vinci's death."


March 6, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


March 6, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


Eternity


The authorities add that not every commander, let alone one of Da Vinci's caliber, is ready to just get on a tank and go on an assault. "A tank is a very visible target, there are a lot of anti-tank weapons, and of course, it's a big risk. Dmytro knew how to lead people. He cared very much about his personnel, he cared more about his men than about himself. He thought first about the great goal and his comrades, and only then about himself. For this, he was greatly loved and appreciated," Vlada summarizes.

Kostyantyn and Vlada Liberov filmed how the trophy Soncepko works. It happened exactly six months after Da Vinci's death. "Everyone present during the Soncepiok's shots felt as if Da Vinci was also there. It was a shot at the enemy with one hundred percent hit," says Vlada Liberova. "It seemed as if Da Vinci was also seeing it and smiling.


Operation of the trophy TOS-1A "Solntsepek". July 7, 2023. Photo by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov


On March 10, thousands of soldiers and civilians came to Kyiv's Independence Square to pay their last respects to Da Vinci. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy handed over the Cross of Military Merit award, which Dmytro was posthumously awarded, to the mother of the fallen soldier, Oksana Kotsiubailo.


Thousands of people came to say goodbye to Dmytro Da Vinci Kotsiubailo, including the highest military and political leadership of the state. March 10, 2023. Photo by Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov


 

Konstantin Liberov is a Ukrainian photographer and photojournalist. He is a holder of the Order of Merit III degree (2023).

One of his photographs was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best photos of 2022.

During the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, together with his wife Vlada Liberova, he photographed the aftermath of the war in Kharkiv, Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Sviatohirsk, Mykolaiv, Bucha, Irpin, Kyiv and other cities.

Kostyantyn's photographs were published by The Kyiv Independent, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Insider, and The Independent.

 

Social networks of the photographer:

 

As a reminder, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers has launched a series of materials dedicated to the key events of the Russian war against Ukraine, where it publishes memoirs and photographs of Ukrainian documentary photographers.


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

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