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"Even the silence here reminds us of the shelling" - a visual essay about the city of Kherson and it

We continue to share the documentary projects of the finalists within the framework of the UAPР grant support for documentary photographers, implemented with the support of the International Press Institute.


Igor Ishchuk explores the topic of social inequality, parallel society and

the consequences of urbanization of the city's outskirts. Currently, he covers the war in Ukraine.


The acrid silence is broken by the crunch of glass underfoot.

I'm walking down Ushakov Avenue past the deserted Freedom Square. Today is exactly one year since Kherson was liberated. Exactly one year ago, the square was completely packed with people who came out to catch a connection in a city that was left without any communications. The humid air is tense, and the city seems to be frozen in anticipation. Since December 2022, after Russian troops withdrew to the left bank of the Dnipro, the city has been under constant chaotic shelling, but today the locals are expecting special greetings from the other side.



In the evening, I meet Vadym, my first character in the series, a thirteen-year-old boy from the outskirts of Kherson. "It's so strange, today after a day's sleep I went out to the balcony to smoke, and there's no one on the street, not a soul, only the old man who shot a cigarette at us yesterday. Everyone is worried about Liberation Day," the guy says.



Vadym introduced me to his company. They are fourteen-year-old Zhorik and Vanya and thirteen-year-old Ponchik. There are also Anya and Angelina, aged sixteen and fifteen. They live on the outskirts of the city in a residential neighborhood that has become a kind of refuge for them-no one has been coming here for quite some time. They all came together relatively recently. "If it weren't for the war, this company wouldn't even exist," Ponchyk tells me. "Each of them has friends who have moved away, some in Ukraine and some abroad.



"I remember when the class teacher came to us and said that we were switching to distance learning. Everyone was screaming with joy. No one realized that this was our last meeting," Zhorik recalls. After a short silence, he adds: "In general, it's a pity that everything happened like this, so many opportunities were taken away from us, and now I don't know what to do. I really want to see my friends who have left, I miss them very much."



I ask the boys what the war has changed for them in the first place, and all of them except Vanya answer that they started smoking because of anxiety. And after a short pause, Ponchik adds cautiously: "My family... My grandfather was wounded by a shrapnel, and we didn't have time to save him." With a deep, understanding look, Angelina says: "With the war came a certain loneliness. Everyone moved away, and my father was taken to the army. Everyone had a lot of experience."


They feel hard at the thought of eventually having to leave their hometown, but they regretfully admit that they do not see the future of Kherson anytime soon, as uncertainty hangs over it like a heavy veil. When the enemy is a dozen kilometers away, it seems impossible to make plans.



Life in Kherson is like a dream. Events are fragmented into a spiral of reality. I see children playing on the playground behind the anti-shrapnel barriers, I see a mother crossing the street with her young son in a bulletproof vest, I see a waitress in the basement of a café smoking a vape and nervously flipping through the news feed while shelling is going on down our street.


20 minutes later, I drive my car wheels over broken power lines, and across the street a man waits for a trolleybus at the bus stop.



Late at night, there is a powerful shelling in the center. The next morning, someone will be left without a home.



At the half-empty central market, a seller of funeral wreaths says that the locals are used to it, that he relies on chance. In Kherson, no one is one hundred percent sure that they will go to work tomorrow. Even the silence here reminds us of the shelling.


 

Igor Ishchuk has been engaged in photography since 2018. In 2020, he started studying documentary photography and in 2021, he shot his first documentary series, Baturynska 12, in which he explored the topic of social inequality, parallel societies and the effects of urbanization on the urban outskirts. Since 2022, he has been covering the consequences of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.


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