top of page

Dangerous "flowers". The work of artillerymen on the eve of the liberation of Kherson in the photographs of Viacheslav Ratynskyi

The Armed Forces of Ukraine recaptured the city of Kherson, districts of Kherson region and parts of Mykolaiv region in November 2022. The events were the result of Ukraine's southern counteroffensive, which took place thanks to the titanic work of the Ukrainian military.

Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes the photos of Viacheslav Ratynskyi, who photographed the artillerymen of the 43rd separate artillery brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine a few days before the liberation of Kherson.

The crew of the 2C7 Pion is heading to the mission. November 5, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.


A few days before the liberation of Kherson, I worked with the artillerymen of the 43rd separate artillery brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We did not realize that Kherson was about to be liberated. Together with my colleague, we spent 5 days in the village where the crews of two giant self-propelled artillery systems 2C7 "Peon" were based. They were stationed in the village of Novovoskresenske near the front line in the Kherson region, about 15-20 kilometers away. We slept together with the soldiers in a village hut, ate together, played backgammon and went on combat missions.

The commander with the call sign "Kapa" is playing backgammon. November 5, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

Soldiers play military shooters, tanks and other shooters on their phones. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

By the way, the 2S7 Peon self-propelled artillery system is the weapon that is described by the words "the most" and "even". It is the largest and most spectacular vehicle in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The crew of one vehicle consists of up to 9 people. The Piona projectile has the largest caliber among those available to the Ukrainian army - 203 mm, and weighs 110 kg. It takes four people to load such a projectile. The maximum range is up to 50 kilometers. The self-propelled artillery system itself is the size of a good village house. When you ride this monster, the ground shakes, villagers run out of their houses to watch, and the military you meet along the way jump up and down and wave like children. In short, it is an exceptional piece of equipment.

Soldiers greet the crew of a passing 2S7 Peon self-propelled artillery system. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

Turkeys stand next to a giant Peony. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

The horizon was burning 180 degrees around the village due to the active offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We did not know at the time that it was a breakthrough of the front line and that Kherson and the entire right bank of the Kherson region would be liberated in a matter of days. Some of the fighters assumed that such an active frontline was an artillery preparation by the enemy, the Ukrainian army was retreating, and some villages had already been taken by the Russians and they were about to launch a counteroffensive. There is always a pessimist in the team. However, it turned out to be quite the opposite.

The soldier is looking through a thermal imaging scope. At one point, he raises it to the mountain and says: "Oh, the birds are flying south." November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

On the first night, we talked to the military late into the night, listening to their stories. Then I had a long talk with Ryba (gunner Mykhailo Rybitskyi), he told us about his life, sports, his family, whom he misses terribly, and his work at the Anti-Corruption Court.

In a few months, Mykhailo and his colleagues would be killed while working in the Vuhledar area - a shell would hit their vehicle. Rest in peace to these wonderful people and brave soldiers.

Mykhailo Rybitskyi kicks a Uragan shell that is stuck in the ground. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

In the evening before we left, one fighter was describing the last mission to me, explaining that immediately after the shooting, cluster shells came at the place where they were working. If they hadn't had time to "make their way away," no one would have survived. I kept this story in my mind during combat missions.

Night combat work

On the first night we were woken up: "Combat mission, are you with us?". Of course, we went. We climbed on the armor with the whole crew. I got on one car, my colleague on another. It was dark outside, you could poke your eye out. Everything was somehow wrong that night. We were driving to the position for a long time, and when we finally got there and were waiting for the coordinates, an unknown car drove up and started shining its lights on our cars. It turned out that they were infantrymen from a nearby position. They were not happy to see us, because after the IPion fired, everything started flying at them. The worst thing is cluster shells.

Night work of the crew of the 2S7 Peony. November 6, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

It was a very dark night, and I couldn't figure out what settings to set on the camera to catch the flash of the shot in the right way. And suddenly - BANG! The first car shot and quickly drove away.

Our machine was still not firing, something was stuck in the mechanism, the soldiers were shouting at each other very loudly and pulling the rope to fire. This was repeated for quite some time. Next to me, the chargers were nervously smoking. At that moment, I remembered the story about the cluster shells. I began to look around the area, looking for a hole where I could dive in case of fire. But the guys could not fire. It went on forever. BANG! I didn't even have time to pick up the camera, and they were putting me back in the car. Everyone was driving gloomy and worried. I was too. I hadn't filmed the shot.

"It's the Lancet, fuck! I missed, bitch!"

During breakfast, everyone emotionally discussed the previous night, and then the guys went to look for the cause of the breakdown. My colleague and I went with them.

The guys are looking for the cause of the nighttime breakdown. It's a golden autumn outside. November 6, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

While the men were repairing the vehicle, a helicopter flew overhead, and I only had a 35mm lens. So I decided to go back to the house to get an extra lens. While we were at home, we heard a very loud explosion somewhere nearby. Suddenly, everyone jumped to their feet and ran outside. "It's the arrival, it's the arrival!" the military shouted, "It must be the car, the guys are there.

A short time later, Ryba and his fellow soldier, with whom they were repairing the self-propelled artillery system, came running. They were laughing loudly and repeating: "It's a lancet! It's a fucking lancet! It missed, bitch!".

The kamikaze drone stumbled in the trees and did not reach the vehicle. Shrapnel hit the fuel tank, but all the main instruments remained intact. The guys also survived. November 7, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

A soldier shows the remains of a Lancet. November 7, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

"From Nastia for Kherson"

"Kapa" was a commander who was known as an extremely experienced and talented artilleryman. He was a professional soldier, graduated from a military academy, and had been in the army almost since childhood. Kapa was also known as a womanizer and a collector of girls' hearts.

November 9 was the last day of our stay with the guys. Everyone was in a good mood then, waiting for a new task and target coordinates.

The commander on the hood of his command SUV. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

"Dock! Doc! Call Nastia!" Kapa said, sitting on the hood of his command SUV. The soldier with the call sign "Doc" lazily took his phone out of his pocket, dialed a number and handed it to Kapa.

"Hello, Nastya, do you want to shoot? Well, if you want to, then let's go shoot. Well, with what, with the Pion. Come and let's talk," - Kapa ended the dialog with Nastya.

A few minutes later, a young girl who serves in another unit also stationed in Novovoskresenske came. It didn't take long to convince her, and as soon as the coordinates came in, we jumped on Pions and rushed to the positions. Kapa, Nastya and Doc went in the commander's Nissan.

The guys acted as one well-coordinated mechanism, everyone knew what to do. All the work was accompanied by funny dialogues and jokes. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

Doc and Nastia before the shooting. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

A 110-kilogram shell with the inscription "From Nastia for Kherson". November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

And Nastia did shoot. Three times. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

After the shooting, we returned to the base, parked the Peony, and Kapa decided to initiate Nastia into the artillery. They smeared soot from the shell casing on the girl's face and hit her in a "soft" spot with the shell casing itself. In a good mood, we said goodbye to the guys and left.

Initiation into the artillery from Kapa. November 9, 2022. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi.

Two days later, news of the liberation of Kherson began to arrive. At the time, we were one of the few photojournalists working in this area. All the international news about the success of the Ukrainian army in this area, including the top The New York Times, Washington Post, The Times, and others, featured our photos, including one of Nastia shooting from a huge cannon.


Viacheslav Ratynskyi is a Ukrainian reporter and documentary photographer. He was born in Zhytomyr. For the last 9 years he has been living and working in Kyiv. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Journalism at the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. He has been published in many Ukrainian publications (Ukrainska Pravda, Hromadske, Novoe Vremya, Focus, Forbes, Ukrainian Week, Reporters and others), as well as in a number of foreign publications (Time, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Telegraph, Daily Mail, The New York Times, El Pais, Radio Freedom Europe, BBC, Reuters, Der Spiegel).

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 being implemented thanks to the support of ЗМІN.


bottom of page