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The explosion during the farewell. The aftermath of the missile attack on Pervomaisk in the photos of Oleksandr Magula

People flee after a rocket attack on the town of Pervomaisky, Kharkiv region. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

On July 4, 2023, the Russian army struck the center of Pervomaiskyi, Kharkiv region. According to Ukraine's prosecutor's office, the Russian military launched an Iskander missile at a residential area of the city. Several multi-story buildings were damaged, and 43 people were injured, including 12 children. The explosion occurred during a funeral ceremony for Ukrainian reconnaissance platoon commander Oleh Fadeenko.

A view of the flaming cars from the window of a house. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

The Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes photographs by Oleksandr Magula, who documented the aftermath of the Russian missile attack on Pervomaisk.

«An ordinary editorial task»

On July 4, 2023, people gathered on the central square of Pervomaisk to say goodbye to the fallen defender Oleh Fadeenko. The soldier with the call sign "Malysh" died in hospital on July 2. He was seriously injured during an artillery attack near Bakhmut. While people were waiting for the funeral service to begin, at about 13:35, the Russian military fired a missile.

The missile strike injured 43 people, including 12 children. Among the wounded children were two infants. A ten-month-old boy was taken to intensive care, but his condition was stabilized. Other children received light shrapnel wounds, bruises and scratches. According to Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, the Russian military struck with an Iskander missile system. He emphasized that only residential buildings were located at the site of the strike.

The missile strike injured 43 people, including 12 children. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

Photographer Oleksandr Magula and his colleagues came to shoot the funeral ceremony for soldier Oleh Fadeenko. "Like many of my fellow photographers, I have photographed many burials during this full-scale war. It was an ordinary, so to speak, editorial assignment, and I didn't even think anything could happen," says Oleksandr Magula. He was waiting on the square for the funeral to begin, but the organizers announced that the ceremony would be postponed for half an hour. "It was a very hot day, so I went to the shade of the trees with other journalists. I heard a characteristic rustling in the sky, followed by an explosion and panic," - the photographer recalls.

A rescuer runs past a car on fire. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

The only photographers at the event

People were running in different directions from the central square. "The first thing I saw was a family, a mother and two girls, running, frightened, right at me. At that moment I took the first shots," Oleksandr recalls. The Ukrainian military began shouting for people to leave the square, as there was a threat of a second strike. The arrival took place 800 meters from the central square of the city, and a fire truck immediately went there. Oleksandr and his colleagues jumped on it and drove to the scene of the tragedy.

Consequences of the attack on Pervomaiske in Kharkiv region. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

"I saw that it hit the parking lot right next to a residential building. All the windows were smashed, car alarms were going off, everything was on fire," says Magula. "We ran to the yard where the victims were in a terrible state. When one of the women saw that my colleagues and I were carrying cameras, she started shouting at the whole yard that we were gunners." After the woman's accusations, military and police officers started running toward the photographers from all sides. She was saved by her accreditation certificate from the Armed Forces.

A man carries a wounded baby after a rocket attack on Pervomaiske. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

Then Oleksandr and his colleagues decided to enter one of the affected buildings. He was climbing the stairs and saw a victim being brought down. The woman was covered in blood, and a man was following her, carrying a baby, also covered in blood. "I immediately started filming, and the man and the child seemed to freeze for a second. He didn't understand why I was taking pictures of him and ran downstairs," says Magula. He went into several more apartments that were destroyed. People kept looking for the wounded, and Oleksandr and other photographers kept taking pictures. There were even more people on the street and even more wounded.

A man in a heavily damaged apartment in Pervomaisk. July 4, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Magula

"My colleagues and I decided it was time to go and send the photos. At that moment, we realized that the three of us were the only photographers at the event and we needed to send the pictures to the editorial office as soon as possible," says Oleksandr. "The Russians are launching a powerful information attack. It has happened more than once that they have posted photos in their publics with captions that Ukrainians struck out on their own." Oleksandr Magula's photo of the aftermath of the missile attack on the town of Pervomaisky was included in Time magazine's selection of the 100 Best Photos of 2023.


Oleksandr Magula is a Ukrainian documentary photographer and photojournalist. He works in the editorial office of Suspilne. News. One of his photos was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best photos of 2023. He actively documents the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war.

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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