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Life as a deadline: 10 years of war in the photographs of Oleksandr Klymenko

Ukrainian photojournalist Oleksandr Klymenko. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, February 10, 1994. Photo by Pavlo Pashchenko

Ukrainian photojournalist Oleksandr Klymenko. Ukraine, a helicopter landing site near Izyum. April 13, 2023. Photo by Oleh Petrasyuk

Oleksandr Klymenko is a photojournalist who started covering the main events in Ukraine before the beginning of independence. He has also covered armed conflicts around the world. However, in 2014, he had to put on a bulletproof vest and go with his camera to the war in his country. Spring 2024 marks 10 years since the Russians have been trying to destroy Ukraine. The main events and personalities of this decade of national liberation struggle are documented in the documentary photographs of war correspondent Oleksandr Klymenko.

1992-2012 - two decades in the war zones of Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kuwait, Congo, South Sudan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transnistria.

A library destroyed. Sarajevo. February 9, 1994. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

When exactly did you start your career as a military commissar?

It's common for journalists who film at war to be called military officers. But, frankly, I don't like it. We, civilian journalists, document not only the war. And military officers are those who are always at war: press officers of units, journalists of military media. But let it be. My first business trip to a military conflict zone took place on April 12, 1992, in Transnistria. Then I traveled to the countries of the former Yugoslavia from 1994 to 2008, then to Africa... I covered the events there. Of course, our revolutions of 2004 and 2014.

The famous Baba Paraska during the Orange Revolution in Kyiv. January 2005. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

At one point it seemed that there was nothing left to film on the Maidan, until the hot phase began. January 19, 2014 - the first battles on Hrushevskoho Street.

The Revolution of Dignity. The first battles on Hrushevsky Street. Kyiv. January 19, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

There I was wounded: someone from the police threw a stun grenade, it fell very close to my leg, exploded and pierced my calf, damaging the "flounder" muscle. That was almost the end of the Maidan for me. I was hospitalized and had surgery. And then the Russian-Ukrainian war.

A man walks his children home from school. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar. The destroyed Church Street. November 1997. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Ukrainian soldiers as part of the UN. Sarajevo airport. February 1994. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

A Ukrainian MI-8 helicopter of the UN forces over Vukovar. Croatia. July 1996. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Zvonko's husband, a war veteran, complains that he has been forgotten as a veteran. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar. Church Street. November 1997. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

The destroyed Church Street. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar. November 1997. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Children share bread. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo. February 1994. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

A Serbian volunteer walks to his position past a UN checkpoint with Ukrainian UN troops. Croatia. Republika Srpska. November 1994. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Ukrainian tankers as part of the UN forces. Eastern Slavonia. Marinovci farm. July 1996. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Were you a journalist or a photographer back then? What media outlet did you work for?

I graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at Shevchenko University, so I have always been a photojournalist. Immediately after graduation, in 1986, I worked for four and a half years at the then most widely circulated newspaper, the Village News. And then in the newspaper "Voice of Ukraine" since 1991, from the first to the last day of the publication's existence - 33 years and 3 months. On April 1, 2024, this parliamentary newspaper ceased to exist as a general political media outlet. Now it publishes only official information and laws. It was one of the last daily all-Ukrainian newspapers still in print. In 1991, the Voice of Ukraine had a daily circulation of up to a million copies against the backdrop of monotonous communist newspapers. I believe that my newspaper is the most accurate textbook of the modern history of Ukraine. I am proud of my work in this publication. Also in the early 90s, I was a freelance photojournalist in Ukraine for the authoritative German magazine Der Spiegel. I was also published in other foreign publications.

The parade after the military exercises. Countless military vehicles were driving, crawling, and flying across the field. It was all ours... A training ground in the Rivne region. March 23, 1994. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

The miners' strike in Donetsk. I think it was this great strike that started the collapse of the Soviet Union, for which the militants are now giving their lives. July 20, 1989. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Tanks are being cut at the Kyiv Armored Plant under the supervision of international observers in accordance with arms reduction treaties. October 31, 1995. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

You are a person who has seen and filmed many wars and conflicts in different countries. What was it like to cover the war at home?

I still can't believe that there is a war in my country. It is very bitter. The color of the nation is dying.

My comrades whom I knew from peacekeeping missions are dying.

2014-2015 - Oleksandr filmed the military in the ATO zone every month

Paratroopers of the 95th Brigade fire a maximum charge of two D-30 howitzers in response to enemy mortar fire near Kryvyi Rih. June 25, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Do you remember the moment when you realized there was a war in Ukraine?

The realization of the war came on January 19, 2014, on Hrushevskoho Street during the Revolution of Dignity, when I saw everything flying, shooting, burning. These were already urban battles... I covered Ukrainian peacekeeping missions in Africa several times. There I met a lot of our helicopter pilots.

MI-24 helicopter pilot Alexander Shirokopoyas patrols the Atlantic coast. Liberia. December 2008. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

So, in 2014, of course, I wanted to visit the helicopter pilots. While I was preparing the necessary permits from the General Staff to get to them, they had already flown from Konotop to the Chernihiv airfield. I arrived in Chernihiv on April 30, we talked, and I filmed. We agreed that I would come back on May 1 and film them during their flights. However, I did not manage to leave that day. On May 2, Russians shot down two MI-24 helicopters near Sloviansk. There were 3 people in each machine. The crew included a commander, a pilot-operator and a flight engineer. That is, there were 6 people in the two MI-24s: five were killed and only one survived. I knew all five of these guys. We met in Africa. That's it.

Now the story is different. I again wanted to visit the military, again took a long time to get the necessary permits, and again went to the helicopter pilots. It was June 4. The pilots of the 16th Separate "Brody" Army Aviation Brigade were then based at a civilian airfield in Dnipro. In the morning, we came to the checkpoint of the airfield, talked to the commander, and then his radio reported that two more of our MI-24s had been shot down. That was my understanding of the war. In the end, in the afternoon, I flew an MI-8. We were on Mount Karachun near Sloviansk. There was fighting there. Generally speaking, helicopter pilots are my pain. Perhaps because I talked to them a lot, I know many of them. They are courageous warriors. I think that it is more dangerous to fight in a helicopter than in a fighter jet, closer to the ground. But they are fighting. You hear that someone was shot down here or there, you find out who. Or you read about people being posthumously awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine, or about helicopter pilots being posthumously awarded the Order of the Army Aviation of the Land Forces... Sometimes I catch myself thinking that I don't want to know about their deaths, so that they will remain alive in my memory.

An Army MI-8 helicopter delivers cargo to paratroopers on Mount Karachun near Sloviansk. June 4, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

An army MI-24 helicopter flies on a combat mission from a field airfield in the village of Dovhenke, where the ATO headquarters was located at the time. June 4, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

How often and where did you travel to Donbas in 2014-2015? What events did you cover during this period of the Russian-Ukrainian war?

I tried to go to Donbas at least once a month. In June, I went to Karachun again with the 95th Brigade, but this time on the ground. Later, I was with them near the village of Kryva Luka. There were fierce battles on the occupied bridgehead, and on June 25, 2014, we went there in a convoy with paratroopers. The brigade commander, one of the first Heroes of Ukraine, Mykhailo Zabrodskyi, was in command there. It was like a movie from the Second World War. Everyone was running somewhere, someone was carrying a machine gun, shells, and somewhere else the guys were cooking over a fire. Later, the artillerymen of the 95th started working. Only the artillery commander was a staff member, all the others were mobilized.

Yaroslav Khodakivsky "Yara" and Mykhailo Kozachenko "Angel", fighters of the Right Sector, at the "Sky" position. The village of Pisky near Donetsk. November 21, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Paratroopers-artillerymen are preparing soup for themselves. The bridgehead near the village of Kryva Luka in the Sloviansk area, which has just been occupied by the 95th Brigade. June 25, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Then we were in Shchastia, near the village of Metalist in early July. There I met the (then) colonel of the 30th Brigade, later the commander of the 58th Brigade, and now General Serhiy Zabolotny. He is now the Chief of Staff - Deputy Chief of the National Defense University of Ukraine. I always remember calling him back then from Kyiv to make arrangements. I could hear explosions in the phone, and he answered me in a calm, intelligent voice: "Excuse me, please, I'm in the middle of a battle. Could you please call me back a little later?" This decent man and I are still friends to this day.

On July 8, when we got to the position of the "thirty", from which we could already see the outskirts of Luhansk, it was raining heavily. The BMP was standing in the ditch like a lake. The artillerymen were preparing for the battle, unloading the shells they had just brought. The tank stood on the edge of a field of wheat that no one could harvest. Aidar fighters were returning from reconnaissance in the rain, looking like ghosts. The fighters were using artillery powder (because it was wet) to make a fire to cook food. Another picture from the movies. But it is real.

On August 24, 2014, a military parade was held in Kyiv. The paratrooper column was led by Mykhailo Zabrodskyi. To continue the story, I just had to photograph it. The day before, Max Levin tells me that he is going to Ilovaisk by car and invites me. I told him about my plan to film the parade and said that I would leave by train on the evening of August 24 for Dnipro and then somehow join them. On August 25, I was already at the field control point near Kurakhove. On August 26, a convoy arrived from Ilovaisk. A tired, boiled-over colonel responded to my request to get to that town by saying: "Where are you going? We barely got out of there. The wounded were taken away. It is impossible to go there anymore". So I didn't get to Ilovaisk." (Well, you know how Max and his comrades miraculously escaped from Ilovaisk). And in continuation of this: you make a lot of efforts to get somewhere, you are nervous, you ask - and it doesn't work. One wise man told me: it means that God (or an Angel) does not want to let you go there, he knows something, so relax and go with the flow

Wounded volunteer of the 5th Battalion of the Volunteer Ukrainian Corps "Right Sector" during the storming of the village of Pisky near Donetsk. July 24, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the 30th Brigade at their positions near the village of Metalist in the suburbs of Luhansk. July 8, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Volunteers of the Dnipro-1 battalion are under fire during the liberation of the village of Pisky near Donetsk. July 24, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Another memorable event is the liberation of the village of Pisky near Donetsk on July 24, 2014. We got there by accident at that time. Journalistic luck. The morning started at 5 o'clock with an offensive with artillery preparation. Then the infantry on tanks and armored personnel carriers began to enter the settlement. It was all according to military textbooks. It was not every day that you were so lucky to witness the liberation of a village. There, by the way, I met the soldiers of the 93rd Brigade and later became friends with many of them: sniper Oleksandr Mamalui (now acting Chairman of the Supreme Court of Ukraine), tanker Yevhen Mezhevikin (Hero of Ukraine, commander of the Adam tactical group), and others. Even in the distant Congo in 2018, a soldier recognized my name, came up to me and said that he was in my photo when I took Pisky.

In addition to the newspaper, I made a post on Facebook about the incident. I mentioned that there, in Pervomaisk, near Pisky, our broken tank was lying on the road. And one man wrote to me that he could tell me a lot about this particular tank. It was Colonel (then lieutenant colonel, commander of the 93rd Tank Battalion) Dmytro Kashchenko. We met with him, and he told me about a heavy battle in which he was wounded eight times on July 21, 2014. I wrote a long text for the newspaper, which had many reactions. Dmytro Kashchenko was appointed commander of the 58th Brigade in September 2019. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion in 2022, the brigade has been fighting in the Chernihiv direction, and as we can see, successfully, because the enemy did not capture Chernihiv. On April 15, 2022, Dmytro Kashchenko was awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. We don't see him very often. The last time was at Da Vinci's funeral.

Soldiers of the 93rd Brigade are firing from an automatic grenade launcher at positions near the village of Bohdanivka. June 20, 2018. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

On the front line. The village of Pisky near Donetsk. April 10, 2021. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

A vehicle of the 51st Brigade was shot at near Krasnohorivka. August 26, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Did you have a feeling in 2014 that the war would end this year?

I celebrated the New Year 2015 together with the Right Sector in Pisky. I clearly remember my feeling that the war would definitely end in 2015. It seemed that there was going to be a victory. But you see...

Then there was the withdrawal from Debaltseve on February 18, 2015. I was in Bakhmut at the time and in the morning I saw tanks and other military equipment driving through the city with tired men sitting on them. I filmed it.

In the vicinity of Sloviansk, the convoy of the 95th Brigade is led by the famous Major Anatoliy Kozel "Kupol". June 20, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Then I went to the hospital. The wounded were brought there. I asked one National Guard officer where the dead were. "What do you mean where? In the morgue." So I went there. On the street there were wooden coffins made of unhewn boards. There were soldiers in them. Their arms and legs were peeking out through the cracks. In addition to the coffins, there were black plastic bags with bodies. It was a terrible picture and very bitter emotions.

Bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed during the exit from Debaltseve. The morgue in Bakhmut. February 18, 2015. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Two killed soldiers are evacuated from the front line. Shchastya, Luhansk region. July 8, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Artillerymen of the 93rd Brigade are preparing for work. The outskirts of the village of Pisky. July 22, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

A checkpoint of the 51st Brigade on the outskirts of Pokrovsk (then Krasnoarmiysk). June 5, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Artillery preparations for the liberation of Pisky near Donetsk are carried out by the 93rd Brigade at 6 am. July 24, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Avdiivka. The "King's Hunt" position. October 12, 2019. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Marinka. March 1, 2019. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Donetsk airport. View from the Zenit position. May 22, 2017. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Avdiivka. Industrial zone. Paratroopers of the 25th Brigade. December 17, 2021. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

A sniper walks through a field near the village of Travneve, which was recently liberated by the 54th Brigade and the Azov Regiment. November 23, 2017. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Snipers in the damaged building "hit the keys" after their "work". We were coming down from the top floor and saw this piano. Quickly, laughing, we approached the instrument. Of course, you have to play, even if you are not a musician. The village of Pisky. February 4, 2019.

This photo at World Press Photo reached the verification stage. A jury member wrote to Oleksandr: "Dude, don't be upset, your photo is cool, it's already been through a lot of selection and a bunch of filters, and I voted for it. But... Well, keep working and one day you will be the winner."

Positions of long-range artillery. Mount Karachun near Sloviansk. June 21, 2014. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Was it as dangerous for journalists to work during the ATO/JFO as it is now? Did you take safety into account while filming?

It is always dangerous at war. You don't know what awaits you in a second. A mine, a shell, a sniper can hit you, you can get into an accident... There are many other things. Every journalist who has been there can tell you this. When you go there, you are already in danger. At the end of February 2015, Serhiy Nikolayev became the first Ukrainian photographer to be killed in the war while performing professional tasks. He and the soldier who accompanied him in the tank (whom I also knew and filmed) were walking through the Sands when a mine hit. But when you are in the heat of the moment, you somehow lose this sense of danger, your instinct for self-preservation. You want to do your job well. Every journalist will say the same thing. Otherwise, why go there? Stay in Kyiv and film reflections on the war. We are talking about the front. Where are you safe now? In Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and finally in Ukraine?

In 2021, your photo from the frontline was included in the Reuters' selection of the best photos. What do you know about the subject of this photo with puppies? Where did you shoot this moment?

Well, not only in 2021. Journalists in war are usually looking for war. Shots and shelling, attacks and battles. But people want to see something bright. And they notice a man with two dogs. On Reuters' Instagram, this photo immediately gained 30 thousand likes. The photo was included in three sections of the best Reuters photos of 2021. It is also the only photo from the Russian-Ukrainian war in Reuters' entire 2021 selection.

Volodymyr Seminko, a soldier with the 58th Brigade, is on duty at an observation post on the front line in Pisky. Two small dogs are walking in the trench, caressing Volodymyr. A few hours later, a Russian sniper wounded a Ukrainian soldier at this position. April 10, 2021. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

I understand this, of course, but I don't want to understand it. War is a horror, and it needs to be shown. Back then, in 2019, 2020, and 2021, few people filmed the war, and foreigners almost never came. It seems to me that no more than 10 photographers were shooting the war systematically and regularly. I love reportage photos, I love when a photo immediately hits you in the eyes, in the soul. When you look and "fall from this shot" of the reporter.

A few years ago, could anyone have imagined that Ukrainian reporters Yevhen Malolotka and Mstislav Chernov would win all the world's most prestigious journalism awards? I respect them very much, it's very cool, they did it. Their work, if not stopped the war, showed the world at the very beginning of the Russian aggression what horror was really happening. I would also like to mention Dmytro Kozatsky. The world saw his photo of Azov fighters from the besieged Azovstal. It's a miracle: a man surrounded, but thanks to the Internet, he managed to transmit those photos.

I respect all Ukrainian photojournalists who shoot the war, through whose eyes the world sees what is happening in Ukraine. They often do their job honestly at the risk of their lives. There are not many of them. There is video, newspaper journalism, but now we see how important photography is, the most effective and efficient means of communication with the world.

From February 24, 2022 to the present day, Oleksandr has been documenting Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In April 2023, the photographer sustained a concussion.

"You have seen the formation of the Ukrainian army right before your eyes. The army grew and became stronger. Commanders grew up before your eyes. Can you recall a few names that you remember?

I have already told you a little about the worthy people I met during the war. I will continue this topic. I was well acquainted with Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, known as "Da Vinci". We first met in June 2015 at the Butovka mine. Back then, he looked like a young man, as he always does. But at the same time, he was a confident warrior: "Let's go! I'll show you this, that, and the other!" and in the evening he clearly commanded the battle. I was wearing some strange Serbian army or airsoft helmet, Da Vinci said: "Take it off, it's too weak" and gave me a sturdy, but no less strange, sand-colored helmet for that evening (more like a child's color..., you get the idea).

Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, a 20-year-old commander from the DUK PS, "Da Vinci" at the Butovka mine. June 7, 2015. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Then in 2016 and 2017, we saw each other, the last time in 2021 at the base of his unit in Avdiivka. He showed us a video of how they are fighting, despite the so-called "ceasefire." I gave him my book, in which he is also featured. "Da Vinci" fought constantly, his guys have their own armory, their own mortars. He would get on a tank of the 24th Brigade and go shooting. The brigade commanders respected him very much, they were his friends and trusted him. After the invasion, when he became a brigade commander, I did not have a chance to see him.

Dmytro Kotsyubailo "Da Vinci" smokes after the fight. Butovka mine. June 7, 2015. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Also, since 2017, I have known Oleksandr Vdovychenko, a Full Knight of the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky. His call sign is "Slovian," and at the time we met, he was a battalion commander. And when the full-scale invasion began, the 72nd Black Cossacks Brigade was defending Kyiv under his command.

Oleksandr Vdovychenko's "Slavs" in Avdiivka, at the memorial to fallen soldiers. It was made by soldiers of the 72nd Brigade. January 29, 2020. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

The first days after the liberation of Borodyanka. Gas workers are trying to plug a gas leak. April 6, 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Consequences of the Russian shelling of Solomianka with a "Shahed". Kyiv. December 22, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Kyiv residents killed by Russians as they tried to escape the city. Zhytomyr highway near the village of Myla, "Grandma's Garden". April 2, 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

I have also mentioned Dmytro Kashchenko, his call sign is "Kashchei". In 2019, 'Kashchei' was appointed commander of the 58th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade. In the spring of 2021, he and I met near the place in Pisky where we met. It was another story for my newspaper.

Dmitry Kashchenko with Alina Mikhailova, the lover of the deceased Da Vinci, at the farewell. Independence Square. Kyiv. March 10, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

In January 2022, I was in Avdiivka in the Industrial Zone and met a young company commander of the 72nd Brigade, Yaroslav. He is a very professional commander, although not a career officer. Somehow we hit it off right away.

Tankers leave a closed position near Kostiantynivka. April 10, 2023 Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Already during the full-scale invasion on March 31, 2022, I was in Gostomel with journalists. On that day, the Russians began to flee. We were waiting for a long time for some military man to come and tell us everything. And then my friend Yaroslav came. It was such a super, super warm meeting. We were happy about this accident! Yaroslav was wounded, got some treatment and escaped from the hospital to his company. I have already mentioned that sometimes I am afraid to find out about the fate of people I know.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi says goodbye to Dmytro Kotsiubailo. Kyiv. March 10, 2023. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Tell us about your books.

My first book was published in 2001, it was dedicated to Independence. In 2004, I published a book about peacekeepers. In 2009, I published a book with a telling title "Through Fire and Tears": it is an overview of everything I have filmed and where I have been. It includes Africa and Yugoslavia. In 2014, I started thinking about preparing a book about the Russian-Ukrainian war. It was published in 2016. To tell the truth, it was difficult to choose only 150-200 main photos. I had no editors. But even if you do, you are still the author.

Oleksandr Klymenko with Dmytro Kotsiubailo, call sign "Da Vinci," who is holding Oleksandr's book with his photo. Kyiv. October 13, 2018.

You inspire many young photographers. Which photographers have inspired you?

Well, there are a lot of them. You constantly look at the Internet, the best photos of the best reporters. But I'd like to mention James Nachtwey separately, he's a very cool photojournalist. He filmed the war in Yugoslavia. He documented the genocide in Rwanda. I named him because in 1995, in the town of L'Aquila near Rome, I accidentally came across his book "The Peace of the 80s (La pace degli anni `80)" in a bookstore among the rubble. It contains photos from Northern Ireland, Lebanon, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other countries. I was impressed by these photos, well printed and comprehensively collected in a book. Then Nachtwey published the photo book Inferno. I consider it a timeless masterpiece. He also came to document the war in Ukraine. He is now 76 years old. We even met him in Bucha and took a picture. I went up to him and said: "Thank you! You inspired me to do this kind of photojournalism!" But then there was no time for long conversations, because everyone was focused on filming the exhumation of the mass grave. Still, I'm glad I had the chance to see it and say thank you!

I always wanted to shoot something very important. The Faculty of Journalism at Kyiv University taught me how to do it. When Ukraine became independent in 1991, I filmed it.

People rally near the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the day of the adoption of the Act of Independence. Kyiv. August 24, 1991. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Members of Parliament bring a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag into the Verkhovna Rada after the adoption of the Independence Act. Kyiv. August 24, 1991. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

Miners' strike in Donetsk. July 20, 1989. Photo by Oleksandr Klymenko

At the time, I was sure that I was living in such a happy time for a photojournalist, and the processes in Ukraine in the late 80s and early 90s, and the eventual independence, were the most important historical event. And I filmed it, I witnessed history. I used to think that filming war was very cool. It's a drive, adrenaline, hard rock! In fact, over the years, you realize that war is all about pain and death, even if it is not visually depicted. When you are young, everything is for you for the first time, and that's why you shoot so emotionally. I have seen a lot in my professional career, and it seems that everything goes in circles. Maybe I'm not as motivated as younger photographers.

I remember the morning of the invasion. It seemed that in one moment, at 5 a.m. in 2022, everything I had seen in my life in conflicts and wars fell on me: devastation, hungry children, death... Even though the war has been going on since 2014, I felt (more than others) at the same moment with the first explosions in Kyiv at 5 a.m. the universal horror, the apocalypse that was coming to Ukraine.

For more than two years, we have been getting used to it and sometimes take it for granted. And I am getting used to it. It's not good.

For a certain period of time, I had a feeling that this war was happening somewhere else, but not in our country. At that time, I didn't want to take pictures, I didn't want to pick up a camera. I took pictures rather by inertia, out of habit.

All of life is a deadline. At university, you have to pass coursework, exams, and a thesis. In a newspaper and in journalism in general, there are always deadlines. In the room, in the room... With books, too - it's so hard to choose your photos, and again - hurry, hurry

And now, it seemed, you could calm down and write books, quietly recall your life. But in our case, not again.

In April 2023, I got a concussion, but I will work as long as I have to. But I won't be able to shoot any music festivals (although it's important) or photo models. I want to be in the thick of things, together with people who make history and do important things. I feel good with them. My soul is there. And the warmest meetings are with old acquaintances. I am grateful to the people I have met on my life's journey, and there are many of them.


Oleksandr Klymenko was born in Chernihiv region. He graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. From 1991 to 2024, he was a photojournalist for the Voice of Ukraine newspaper. In 1992, he documented the events in Transnistria, then in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, as well as in Lebanon, Kuwait, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Revolution of Dignity, Oleksandr was wounded in the midst of the events. Since the beginning of the Russian military aggression in the East in 2014, he has been photographing the events at the front. Oleksandr is the author of several photo albums, including: "Ukraine. 10 Years of Progress" (2001), "Peacekeeping Activities of the Ukrainian Army. The First Decade" (2004), "Through Fire and Tears" (2009), "Frontline Album" (2016). "The Modern History of Ukrainian Journalism. From Maidan to Maidan" co-authored with Yuriy Nesteriak and Yulia Nesteriak (2022). He has had personal photo exhibitions at the UN Headquarters in New York (2012), NATO Headquarters in Brussels (2012, 2013, 2014), Lithuania (2015), Poland (2015, 2016, 2023), Luxembourg (2015), Norway (2023), Latvia (2022), and participated in collective exhibitions about the war in Ukraine in the parliaments of Great Britain (2015) and Denmark (2014).

We worked on the material:

Literary editor: Yulia Futey

Website manager: Vladislav Kukhar

We worked on the text: Vira Labych, Oleksandr Klymenko


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