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"Ways of recording the war". Battles for the capital in the photographs of Oleksandr Ratushniak

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


On February 24, 2022, a large-scale invasion of Russian troops began in several directions: near the demarcation line in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, from the temporarily occupied Crimea and from Belarus to Sumy, Chernihiv and Kyiv. Russian troops planned to capture the capital in two to three days, but their plan failed. Kyiv held out, but the Russians occupied part of the region and came close to the capital. Fierce fighting took place near Kyiv.


Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes materials by photographers Oleksandr Ratushniak, Roman Pylypiy, and journalist Marian Kushnir, where they talk about their work in the first month of the war, when chaos was raging around them and Kyiv was defending itself with all its might.


In the first days of the full-scale war, the Russian military advanced toward Kyiv. They passed through Ivankiv, Obukhovychi, Katyuzhanka, and other settlements north of the capital. However, the key points were the towns of Borodyanka, Bucha, and Irpin. Borodyanka was shelled by Russians from the ground and from the air - it is one of the most destroyed settlements in Kyiv region. Serious fighting took place in Vasylkiv, Russian troops shelled Irpin with grenades, and fighting continued near the Antonov airport. In late February, Russian troops captured Vorzel and Nemishayeve. A convoy of Russian vehicles entered Bucha on Vokzalna Street. The column was broken by the Ukrainian military. After a failed attempt to enter Bucha, the Russians shelled the town. In March, Russian troops attacked Irpin. On March 5, Bucha was completely occupied. In mid-March, the Ukrainian side agreed with the Russians to create "green" corridors to evacuate people. Before that, residents of the occupied territories of Kyiv region were evacuated by volunteers. People were taken away near the almost destroyed Romanivskyi Bridge in Irpin. Many people walked, some drove by car. Many broken cars, even those with the inscription "Children", remained on the Zhytomyr highway - they were shot by the Russian military.


On March 21, the Ukrainian military liberated the village of Makariv. At the end of the month, the Ukrainian Armed Forces surrounded Irpin, Gostomel, and Bucha. Russian troops began to withdraw from the occupied territories of Kyiv region. Irpin was liberated from the Russian occupiers on March 28, and Bucha on March 31.


Destroyed houses and military equipment in Irpin. March 2022, photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak says that he decided to stay in Kyiv until the very end, and that the only critical moment he considered was the Russians' explosion of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The photographer explains that from the first day of the war he held on to his friends who had joined a volunteer unit.


"On February 24, I came to my friends who had joined a unit based in Kyiv. I decided that I would take pictures of their work, and it would be obvious. Since the guys did not have heavy equipment, and for specific missions they traveled by car with a limited number of seats, they did not need an extra person. Then I realized that I had to look for some other ways to record the war," says Ratushniak.

The crash site of a Ukrainian SU-25 aircraft in Kyiv. The plane was shot down by the Defense Forces by mistake. February 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


A convoy of military vehicles was shot at on Beresteysky Avenue. This was also a "friendly fire". February 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


I used to ride a bicycle, a scooter, or the subway to get to the shooting

Oleksandr Ratushniak had only a scooter and a bicycle as his own transportation, so he used them to get to different parts of the city and the region:


"I often rode a bike or took the subway to save fuel and went to various "arrivals" in Kyiv. I had to dress up and ride my scooter to Irpin, Bucha, or Stoyanka. That was when the evacuations took place. Everyone was leaving, and I was the only one going that way," the photographer recalls.

Evacuation from Irpin due to the blown Romanivskyi Bridge. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Civilians killed by a Russian mine near Irpin. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Oleksandr explains that he received his accreditation from the Ministry of Defense only on March 11, and before that he worked at his own risk. He says that once he almost got "in trouble" near a supermarket because he was filming a line of people in the store.


"The video was deleted from my phone. It's good that they didn't beat me up. To be honest, even after that, the accreditation didn't help much, because the checkpoints hadn't heard of such a document. Everyone was focused on the passport and residence permit," says the photographer.

Volunteers evacuate a man. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Oleksandr Ratushniak explains that he was able to film most of the stories thanks to his contacts with people. For example, volunteers who delivered aid or evacuated civilians.

Irpin residents on bicycles. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


The aftermath of the fighting in Kyiv and its suburbs. February-March. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


"Toward the end of March, I got acquainted with the Carpathian Sich battalion, so I was able to shoot the fighting directly. But just like before, they didn't take me on missions because they didn't need an additional burden. After all, going out in the middle of the night with just a camera in hand was not a good idea," Oleksandr recalls.

Members of the Carpathian Sich battalion in one of Irpin's basements. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Main photo to the story: A family evacuates from a Kyiv suburb. March 2022. Photo by Roman Pylypiy


On the eve of the Russian army's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, photographer Roman Pylypiy was shooting the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Since 2016, the photographer has been living and working in China. It took him several days to get to Kyiv.


He spent several days traveling from China

"At the time, I was shooting the Olympics, and to return to Beijing, I had to go through quarantine. The war actually started while I was still in quarantine, so I couldn't go to Ukraine right away," the photographer recalls. - "For me, it was not a question of going to Ukraine or not, I immediately decided that I was going. I couldn't fly directly to Ukraine because the airspace was already closed."


Roman says that the journey to Kyiv was very long, with thousands of kilometers and several countries to cover.


"It was not easy to get to Kyiv at that time: I had to find a special flight and tickets. I flew to Paris, from there to Poland, and there I was lucky enough to find an evacuation train that was carrying people and was supposed to return to Kyiv. The train was empty, and there were only a few men who were also returning to Ukraine from Europe to join the army," the photographer explains.

The men return to Kyiv on an empty evacuation train. February 2022. Photo by Roman Pylypiy


Hundreds of people rush to evacuation trains to leave for the west. February 2022. Photo by Roman Pylypiy


Many people with weapons on the streets of Kyiv

"In fact, in the first days of the war, it was very difficult to work, to go out with a camera. Both the military and civilians were suspicious of people with cameras. Before filming, you had to explain your purpose and behave very carefully, because there were a lot of people with weapons on the streets of Kyiv, and in the first weeks everything was very chaotic," - Roman recalls his first emotions about Kyiv.

A policeman near a trolleybus damaged by Russian shelling in Kurenivka, Kyiv. March 2022. Photo by Roman Pylypiy


He adds that it was not easy to work, as there were many events happening at the same time - shelling of the city and active hostilities around it.


"My colleagues and I were driving around Kyiv in a car and just watching what was happening in the city. We tried to make small stories, went to the Kyiv region, to Irpin, and filmed the evacuation. Indeed, the first month was very chaotic, there was a lot of shelling and we worked from early morning until the curfew," says the photographer.

Evacuation from Irpin. March 2022; Photo by Roman Pylypiy


Arranged to shoot right at the checkpoint

"There were no agreements with press officers or requests at that time, we had to arrange it personally, have good contacts. Sometimes it was a chance meeting. That's how I met the guys from the terrorist defense who were standing near Brovary. We were passing a checkpoint where the military were stationed, and we just asked if we could stay with them," Roman recalls. - "At that time, they were expecting Russian assaults, no one knew exactly what to expect. We spent a few days with them, filming their life and work. Everything was based on such simple arrangements, when the military understood who you were and why you were here, what the work of a photographer was for. The military were even happy that we were showing their lives and how they defend Kyiv and our country."

Soldiers at a checkpoint near Brovary. March 2022. Photo by Roman Pylypiy


The photographer says that in the first month of the full-scale invasion, attention was focused on the besieged capital, and later he traveled to Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv.


"The first month I was shooting mostly in Kyiv and around the city, in Irpin, and traveled to Brovary. Toward the end of March, I went to Zaporizhzhia to film the evacuation from the besieged Mariupol: people broke through Russian posts to leave the broken city. There was an evacuation assembly point in Zaporizhzhia. I also filmed in Kharkiv and the region. When the Kyiv region was liberated, I immediately returned to Kyiv and filmed all the horrors that were happening there," the photographer explains.


A photo with a happy ending

Photographer Roman Pylypiy says that he has taken thousands of photos, and many of them are close to him, but there is one photo of the sisters from Bucha that is especially valuable to him. This photo was a finalist in the POY (Photographer of the year) contest, in the category "War in Ukraine: news".


"It's hard to single out one photo among thousands. But I really remember a moment in the first days of Bucha's liberation. On one of the streets I saw two women hugging each other and crying. I took a picture of them and asked them about their story," says the photographer. - "It turned out that the women were sisters who lived in Bucha during the occupation, but in different parts of the city and therefore could not meet. It was deadly to leave the house back then. This was their first meeting after the de-occupation. The women had not seen each other for 42 days. For me, this is a symbolic photo. This story has a happy ending."

Sisters from Bucha. April 2022. This photo was a finalist in the POY competition in the category "War in Ukraine: news". Photo by Roman Pylypiy


The consequences of the occupation of the Kyiv region. March-April 2022.


People walk past the Giraffe position in Irpin, one of the most dangerous places in March 2022. Photo by Roman Pylypiy


Main photo to the article:

Evacuation of the wounded during the battle in Rudnytske. March 10, 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


Radio Liberty journalist Marian Kushnir met the full-scale invasion in Donetsk region, where he often worked before. According to him, he went to Maryinka on the eve of the invasion. Expecting possible shelling of the city, he moved into an old dormitory with a view of Donetsk from the window. He expected shelling of the front line, but nothing happened.

"There is a broken dormitory in Mariinka where we settled, thinking that there would be shelling, some kind of fighting from Donetsk. We could see Donetsk from the window, they wanted to film the front line. We stayed there for a very long time, but nothing happened. It was around February 21-22, we realized that there would be some kind of movement," Kushnir recalls.


The journalist worked for two days in Kharkiv with Max Levin. In the early days, Russian troops tried to enter the city without expecting any resistance. The first clashes with the Ukrainian Defense Forces took place on February 24, 2022, at the Kharkiv District Police Station. According to Kushnir, together with Levin, they filmed the aftermath of the fighting on the ring road, the shelled Northern Saltivka, and spent the night in a car there. Then they went to Kyiv together.


They went everywhere for luck, took risks

"Max really wanted to go to Kyiv. And, in principle, I also thought that all the excitement was going on near Kyiv, and it was going on. We went to Kyiv and started working there. We were traveling everywhere for good luck, that is, we were probing where and what was going on," recalls Marian Kushnir. - "One night, we were looking for a downed IL-76 with Russian troops. Zaluzhnyi said the next day that our guys had shot down an airplane near Vasylkiv. We went to look for this Russian landing party, and stayed up until 3-4 am. How many times did our TrOshniks want to kill us then...".

Journalist Marian Kushnir at the Vasylkiv airfield, photographed by Max Levin. February 2022. Photo by Max Levin


Then the journalists saw a battle going on at the military airfield in Vasylkiv. They tried to get there, but it was a military facility, and no one was waiting for journalists there.


"In the morning, we were allowed to enter the airfield with the permission of the management. That night, a rocket hit the fuel storage facility. We traveled a lot near Kyiv. Max and I had previous experience working in the frontline areas," says Marian Kushnir.


Later, Kushnir and Levin went together to Borodyanka, which had just been shelled by air, several houses were destroyed, a downed plane was burning near the town, and there was a pile of Russian military equipment at the entrance to the town and on the main street.

Borodyanka after air strikes on the city. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


UAPF published Marian Kushnir's memories and photos of Max Levin about his trip to Borodyanka in a previous article: Air strikes on Borodyanka in the photos of Max Levin.


Marian Kushnir says that in those days, their many years of experience in the Joint Forces Operation area in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts came in handy, especially their experience of communicating with the military at checkpoints.


"Back then, you could film anything near Kyiv if you knew how to do it. First, it was experience. Secondly, it was luck, very good luck. And thirdly, it's chutzpah. We were going with Max where we wanted to go. Our experience of war and driving through checkpoints allowed us to work. In order to go where no one was, we had to cheat somewhere, argue somewhere, and shout somewhere. We went to Bucha and filmed the artillery that was working on Makarov. Later we went to Makariv, when it was liberated by the 14th Brigade together with paratroopers. We also filmed tankers, also near Makariv. We filmed a lot of things that Ukrainian journalists didn't film, because it was complete chaos, no one was allowed to go in," the journalist says about the first month of the invasion.

Ukrainian tankers near Makariv. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


Ukrainian military near Kyiv. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


His work was greatly facilitated by the contacts he made during the war in eastern Ukraine. Thanks to these acquaintances, Kushnir had a unique opportunity to work throughout the Kyiv region.


"I worked a lot with the 10th Brigade before. My contacts allowed me to work with the brigade because it was defending Kyiv region. Two battalions were in the north, one was attached to Syrske and fought on the left bank, near Baryshivka, next to the 72nd and 128th or 14th brigades. These contacts allowed me to work a lot and move around where no one else could," the journalist explains.

An AFU soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


In fact, you are about to be killed, you are just waiting for it

Kushnir recalls with special emotion the first time he went on an assault with the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade. Back then, the soldiers were storming the village of Rudnytske, near Baryshivka.


"I still don't understand how I didn't get shot in the thigh. Everyone around me got shot in the hip," laughs Marian. - "These are people who have known me for a long time. The battalion commander called me himself: "Marian, come here, we're going to have a great time. You haven't filmed anything like this before. They trusted us because they were sure that we would not be a burden for them. We know how to act, where to stand, when to be there, so that they wouldn't have any problems, you know, not to get too far away. And, in fact, that's why they took us with them. And that was the first time after the first assault," he explains.

The 8th battalion of the 10th brigade of the separate mountain assault brigade during the storming of the village of Rudnytske. March 10, 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


Marian Kushnir recalls that after that time he vowed not to go with the military to assault again, but after a short time he went again, and then again...


"The thing is that the probability of being killed there is so high that... Well, in fact, you are going to be killed right now, you are just waiting to be killed. You have no place to hide, you have to navigate so quickly on the spot. You get such an adrenaline rush, it's indescribable. And you realize that you are virtually defenseless, you cannot do anything. If they are still fighting, doing some kind of work, then your task is only to shoot. And so, when they pinned me to the ground with a machine gun, when I was crawling on the ground, I didn't even really film. I turned on the camera, recorded it, but all that was recorded was the camera crawling in the snow. I rolled back into the depression because the bullets were right above my head, I could even feel them. And it was really tough. Not like the artillery there..." he emotionally recalls the events.

Evacuation of the wounded during the battle in Rudnytske. March 10, 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir


According to the journalist, all the fears and danger were justified - his video and photos went viral. The story of Ukraine kicking the Russians in the teeth has been documented. Kushnir is sure that after that, people started talking more about helping Ukraine.

A soldier is pulling an 80-year-old Valentyn from the village of Teterivske, the last resident of the village to be on the front line, in a wheelbarrow. Marian Kushnir and his colleagues evacuated the man to his family. March 2022. Photo by Marian Kushnir

 

Roman Pylypiy is a Ukrainian freelance photographer from Kyiv, Ukraine. He has been a member of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers since 2023.

From 2016 to 2022 he lived and worked in Beijing, China.

For many years he worked with the EPA agency, then with Getty Images. Now Roman works with AFP as a freelancer.

The photographer has received several significant awards: Photographer of the Year, POY Asia 2022, NPPA award winner, nominated for The Guardian Photographer of the Year in 2019 and 2022.

In 2023, his photo from Bucha became a finalist for POY.


Oleksandr Ratushniak is a Ukrainian photojournalist. He is a holder of the Order of Merit III degree (2022). He worked in a bank and took photos in a studio. He collaborated with news agencies, including AFP and Reuters, and is now a freelance photographer. He photographed the events that took place on Euromaidan. He actively documents the Russian-Ukrainian war.


Marian Kushnir (30 years old) is a Ukrainian journalist, videographer, and photographer who has been working at the Ukrainian edition of Radio Liberty since 2015. Since then, he has been traveling to the frontline to cover the fighting in Ukraine and preparing reports on mass actions. After Russia's open military attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he covered events from hot spots where active hostilities were taking place. On March 11, 2022, he received a concussion in the Kyiv region, in the village of Baryshivka.

He was awarded the Order of Merit III class (2022).


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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