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Kharkiv is under attack. Photos by Mstyslav Chernov from the city that Russians could not swallow

Warning: The material contains sensitive information and photographs of scenes of violence that may shock you.

A car is on fire in the middle of the road. Kharkiv in the spring of 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov.

The Russian army began attacking the city of Kharkiv on the first day of the full-scale invasion. Russian troops failed to capture the city, so they began systematically shelling it every day. In addition to shelling residential neighborhoods, which hit Kharkiv's residential areas the hardest, the Russian military deliberately destroyed the city's civilian infrastructure.

Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers is publishing photographs by Mstyslav Chernov taken in the spring of 2022 in Kharkiv. Mstyslav was born and raised in this city, so his photographs are not only documentation of the liberation of the land, but also the liberation of memory and family history.

Life under fire

Kharkiv's entrance stele destroyed by shelling. April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Russian troops began shelling the city of Kharkiv at five in the morning on February 24, 2022. The next night, Russian military equipment approached the city but was destroyed by the Ukrainian military. Subsequent attempts to occupy the city failed, as the Russian army suffered significant losses of both equipment and personnel as a result of the fighting. February 27 can be considered a turning point in the city's defense. On that day, Russian special forces broke through to the city in Tiger armored vehicles and were immediately eliminated by the Ukrainian military. After that, the Russian army never entered the city again. Instead, it began a ruthless shelling of the entire city of Kharkiv.

Russian troops shelled the city systematically, every day. By mid-March, about 600 residential buildings, 50 schools, and a hospital had been destroyed.

April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

In March and April, the Russian military actively shelled residential residential areas of Kharkiv, especially Northern Saltivka. By mid-March, according to the Kharkiv city council, about 600 residential buildings were destroyed due to constant shelling, 50 schools and a number of hospitals, including maternity hospitals, were bombed. "According to confirmed data alone, since the beginning of the war in Kharkiv, the invaders have cynically killed more than 500 civilians, 88 of whom rescuers had to pull out from the rubble," reported the Main Directorate of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kharkiv region. The Ukrainian Armed Forces repelled another attempt by the Russian army to break through to Kharkiv.

More than 500 civilians were killed by the occupiers in the first months alone. April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

In April, the shelling of residential areas of the city and critical infrastructure did not stop. For example, on April 3, about 50 attacks were recorded during the night, and during the day on April 4, the Russian military launched 54 strikes with various types of long-range weapons on the city and the region: artillery strikes, mortar and tank attacks, and attacks with MLRS. The Russian army shelled enterprises, schools, kindergartens, and architectural monuments of the city. However, utility companies promptly cleaned up the aftermath of the shelling and the city continued to live.

"For the first time since the beginning of the full-scale war unleashed by Russia, Russian shells are not flying at Kharkiv," Mayor Igor Terekhov said on May 10. On May 14, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggested that Ukraine had won the battle for Kharkiv. After a two-week lull, Kharkiv residents began to return home en masse.

A terrible deja vu

"After we broke out of the siege of Mariupol, I went to Bucha, where they were searching for the bodies of civilians killed by Russian troops," recalls photographer and videographer Mstislav Chernov. "Almost immediately after that, I asked my editors to send me to Kharkiv, the city where I was born and raised, and where I had not been since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

At the time, Russian troops were almost at the very edge of the city, and Kharkiv was suffering from heavy artillery and MLRS attacks. Mstislav Chernov spent the next three months in the city filming the aftermath of these attacks. "It was a terrible déjà vu - I saw civilians killed by Russian shells, medics risking their lives trying to save the wounded, burning cars and destroyed houses," Chernov says.

Doctors, rescuers, police and volunteers helped civilians every day. April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

One day, when he arrived at the address of the shelling, Mstyslav saw dead people lying in front of the entrance of the house where he lived for several years as a student. "It was like a nightmare from which it is impossible to wake up. The memories of the city of my childhood and youth are superimposed on the absurdity of these senseless attacks and murders," the journalist says. In those months, he took several important pictures. In them, he tried to capture these feelings and show what the Russians were doing to Kharkiv, which they failed to occupy and therefore shelled mercilessly.

Bodies near the house where the photographer once lived. April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Over the following months, Ukrainian troops began to gradually push the Russians back from the city. The shelling almost stopped, but other terrible pictures emerged: liberated but destroyed villages, burned equipment, and the bodies of Russian soldiers on the roads. "All of this was happening in the places where I spent my childhood," says Mstislav Chernov. "It was not just the liberation of land, but the liberation of memory and family history.

Ukrainian soldiers during the defense of the city and the counteroffensive. April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Bodies of Russian soldiers on the roads. April 2022. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov


Mstyslav Chernov is a Ukrainian photographer, Associated Press journalist, filmmaker, war correspondent, President of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers, honorary member of PEN Ukraine and writer. He covered the Revolutions of Dignity, the War in Eastern Ukraine, the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, the Syrian Civil War, the Battle of Mosul in Iraq, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, including the Siege of Mariupol (for this work he received the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award, the Giorgi Gongadze Prize, Knight International Journalism Awards, Biagio Agnes Award, Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award, Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, Free Media Awards, and was included in the 2022 People of NV 2022 in the Year of War and 14 Songs, Photos, and Art Objects that Became Symbols of Ukrainian Resistance rankings by Forbes Ukraine, while video footage from Mariupol became the basis for the film 20 Days in Mariupol.

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.


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