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Kutia, prayer and a Christmas tree - heartbreaking Christmas photos from the frontline by Ukrainian photographers

Photojournalist Viacheslav Ratynskyi is shooting Christmas at the front for the first time. He spent Christmas Eve together with the artillerymen of the 4th Tank Brigade near Kupiansk, Kharkiv region.  

Soldiers pray during a liturgy in a church near Kupiansk. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi

Ukrainian soldiers in a church near Kupyansk before a battle on Christmas Eve. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi

"In the morning, the soldiers went to church for a Christmas service, then they worked on the 2C1 Gvozdika self-propelled artillery system, destroying an enemy radar station," the photographer says. After returning, they shared kutia, dumplings and a fur coat, funny and sad frontline stories at the table to the sound of exploding air bombs.

Soldiers eat kutia on Christmas Eve after a battle. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi

Viacheslav says that it still felt like a holiday and the mood was good. The commanders are only 22 years old, and they took charge of their units before they had time to graduate from the academy. Despite the alarming situation, they manage to unite their teams and create a good atmosphere.

Artillerymen of the 4th Separate Tank Brigade go into battle in the Kupyansk sector. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi

Artillerymen of the 4th Separate Tank Brigade send "Christmas greetings" from self-propelled artillery systems in the Kupyansk sector. Photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi

"I like the way these guys are fighting hard. Despite the fatigue, it is clear that they are passionate about their work, and this makes the ground under the feet of the Russians burn," he emphasized.

The enemy is trying to actively advance in the Kupyansk sector. Heavy fighting is currently taking place there, the town and surrounding villages are shelled daily with heavy artillery.

"A strange combination of a beautiful family holiday and war in the dark, snowy and cold Donbas," is how the Christmas Eve evening was described by

photojournalist Serhiy Korovainyi in the company of the boys and girls of the 72nd separate mechanized brigade named after the Black Cossacks.

A defender smiles near the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

A soldier lights a candle on Christmas Eve. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

A candle, kutia, a Christmas tree and an icon - all these attributes have been able to turn the dugouts, basements and abandoned houses where the military live into cozy homes.

Christmas tree decoration in the form of a cartridge. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

A soldier lights a candle in the corner. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

Soldiers eat 12 dishes at the Christmas table. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

"I understand that the guys have been fighting for a long time and have become a family. At that moment, it was both visible and tangible. I think this unity is the power of Christmas and winter holidays," says Serhiy.

The visit of Father Ivan, a chaplain, to whom two soldiers presented a hand-embroidered icon, added some magic to the day, says Valentyn Kuzan, a recently retired soldier and photographer.

Soldiers present the chaplain with a hand-embroidered icon. Photo by Valentyn Kuzan

Soldiers and a priest pray at the Christmas table. Photo by Valentyn Kuzan

This is also the second time Valentyn has documented Christmas during the great war for the soldiers of the 72nd Brigade:

"Everyone was busy doing their own thing, some came, some went, some had already eaten, some were getting ready. However, when the chaplain came with kutia, prayer and carols, everyone instantly gathered around the table. It immediately became so solemn and at the same time easy and relaxed. We joked and laughed."

Chevron of the "With God for Ukraine" fighter. Photo by Valentyn Kuzan

A soldier sits next to a Christmas table. Photo by Valentyn Kuzan

The defenders had dinner near the front line. They ate 12 dishes to the sound of artillery, Hymars and rockets.

"There are no holidays here, among the cold and mud," said photojournalist Kostyantyn Liberov, who witnessed the celebration of the birth of Christ by soldiers of the 28th Brigade named after the Knights of the Winter Campaign and the 53rd Brigade named after Prince Volodymyr Monomakh.

A soldier decorates a Christmas tree. Photo by Kostyantyn Liberov

Soldiers wearing Santa Claus hats sign a shell they prepared for the Russians. Photo by Kostyantyn Liberov

A soldier with shells enters a house with a festive Christmas tree. Photo by Kostyantyn Liberov

"They decorate Christmas trees, put on Christmas hats, and record Christmas videos not for themselves. No matter how hard it is for them here, they care about us, and they play Santa Clauses in the midst of utter despair to give us hope and celebration. After all, if they can celebrate, we can celebrate. But the contrast is too great," says Konstantin Liberov, adding that all soldiers dream of victory also because they want to be home for Christmas.

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