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"I knew that many people I knew would die. I might die too"

Photographer Andriy Dubchak tells about the first days of the full-scale invasion


Photographer Andriy Dubchak met the war on 24 February at the Mir Hotel in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region. He recalls that he woke up to a phone call from his wife Lisa, who informed him that the war had started.


"She was in Kharkiv at the time. "War! We are being shelled!" - she shouted into the phone. To be honest, I took the news too calmly. I knew the invasion was coming. I knew that intensification was inevitable. Because even at that time, the frontline had already changed and the JFO I knew no longer existed. During the week "before the invasion", I came under fire twice, the activity of which was off scale by the standards of those "before" times. The movement of Ukrainian equipment and units was observed everywhere," - says Dubchak.

Volunteer medics from the Hospitaller battalion pack an evacuation vehicle to go to the front, Pavlohrad, evening of 24 February 2023.


The photographer explains that he did not realise the scale of the invasion and did not believe that the Russian army would attack Kyiv from Belarus. He believed that Donbas, Kharkiv and Mariupol would be the main theatre of future hostilities.


"We first went to Kramatorsk to avoid the potential threat of cut-off roads and traffic jams in Sievierodonetsk. There, I already filmed the first queue at the military registration and enlistment office and confused soldiers. The first refugees. Then I received information about a convoy of Russian military equipment eighty kilometres long, moving towards Kyiv. Shock. My three cats, family and friends are in the capital," explains Andriy.

A queue of people and a guard at the Kramatorsk military registration and enlistment office, 24 February 2012


Andrii adds that at that moment he decided to go to Dnipro and from there to Kyiv.


"On the way, we stopped by the base to see the volunteer medics from the Hospitallers who were packing the evacs to go to the front. One of the medics, Yuriy Skrebets, answered my question about the forecasts: "We will win. And what about us? We will win. Only at what cost..." - Dubchak says and adds: "That moment moved me to tears."


"We spent the night in Dnipro, and on the afternoon of the 25th, in the heavy refugee traffic, we reached Kropyvnytskyi. From there, the road to Kyiv was free in our lane. But in the opposite direction, there was a complete traffic jam," the photographer continues his story.


Dubchak says it looked like a panicked flight: "And I was even a little gloating that everyone finally 'believed', and now people are finally calling everything that happened over the years in a concise and clear way - 'war'.

Now, finally, people are calling everything that happened over the years in a concise and clear way - "war".

As the photographer recalls, Kyiv greeted him with empty streets and nervous Territorial Defence soldiers, whom he immediately began to fear more than his enemies because of their not always adequate behaviour.

NGU checkpoint at the entrance to Kyiv from Ukrayinka, 25 February 2012


On the same day, 25 February, in Darnytsia district, a photographer took a photo of a woman looking out of a house destroyed by a rocket blast, as well as the remains of a downed plane, which turned out to be a Ukrainian aircraft. Its wreckage fell on private houses near the Dnipro River.

A woman looks out of an apartment destroyed by a Russian missile explosion on 7a Koshytsia Street in Desnianskyi district, Kyiv, 25 February 2022.


"I also photographed refugees at the railway station. Everyone and everything around me was not ready for war. I was very worried about my family and tried to 'drive' everyone out of the city. I analysed the news and rumours and was sure that the city had no chance of surviving. That Kyiv would soon be surrounded, and that it would be a "Stalingrad". I wanted to show this to the world. But it was really scary, because it was no longer the Joint Forces Operation in the east. It was the beginning of a truly "wild" war for the survival of my country. And I knew that many of those I knew would die. And I might die too..."

A group of soldiers in front of the board with the steering wheel and the timer on the central railway station of Kiev, 25 July 2022.


The project is support by ZMlN.


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