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See«The Road Through Hell». Liberation of Andriivka village in the photos of Mstyslav Chernov

On September 15, 2023, the Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated the village of Andriivka from Russian occupation during a counteroffensive in the Bakhmut direction. The village was an important strategic point for further battles for Bakhmut, and its de-occupation allowed for the establishment of fire control over the railroad.

The Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes photographs by Mstyslav Chernov, who documented the counteroffensive of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Andriivka.

Dead forest

The village of Andriivka, Bakhmut district, Donetsk region, was occupied by Russian troops in late November 2022. With the launch of a counteroffensive in the summer of 2023, the Ukrainian Defense Forces approached Andriivka. On September 15, the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine confirmed the liberation of Andriivka. During the offensive in the south of Bakhmut and in the battles for Andriivka, the Ukrainian Armed Forces killed the leadership and personnel of the 72nd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the Russian Army. However, the liberation of the villages around Bakhmut from the Russian army came at a great cost to the Ukrainian military.

According to the deputy commander of the 3rd separate assault brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Rodion Kudryashov, the liberation of the villages around Bakhmut took place in two stages. At first, the Ukrainian Armed Forces prepared a bridgehead on the banks of the Siverskyi Donets Canal and advanced in the direction of Andriivka, Klishchiyivka, and Kurdyumivka. During August and September 2023, the military conducted daily assaults, raids, and gained a foothold at certain heights and, eventually, in Andriivka.

Ukrainian photographer and videographer Mstyslav Chernov documented the counteroffensive of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine against Andriivka. To approach the village, the Ukrainian military first had to go through hell and survive in the forest destroyed by explosions and shell fragments. "This forest is taking our friends, and that's the worst thing," a soldier with the call sign "Courier" told Mstyslav Chernov. "When I think about how far we still have to go... most likely someday I will be one of those who will stay in this forest, and my friends will just go forward”.

Wounded and killed

The 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is composed entirely of volunteers and is considered one of the best and most experienced units. The brigade has been fighting in eastern Ukraine almost continuously. In August 2023, the Third Assault Brigade took part in a counteroffensive against Bakhmut. "This section of dead forest - a few dozen mangled trees that stretch for two kilometers to the equally dead village of Andriivka - has acquired great symbolic significance for the Ukrainian counteroffensive. A lot depends on the success of the military on this section of the road to Bakhmut," says Mstislav Chernov. For example, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when he represented the country at the Congress in Washington, could prove the effectiveness of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and receive funds for weapons.

A study conducted in the summer by the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, found that Ukrainian troops advance an average of 700-1200 meters every five days. This time frame allows Russian troops to reinforce and mine the territory they are retreating from. "Over the past month, the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade managed to advance only two kilometers, overcoming mined trenches, dodging artillery and Russian troops within shooting distance," adds Mstyslav Chernov.

"The fighter with the call sign 'Pastukh' who was wounded in the morning and waited for hours to be evacuated was a mask of pain. So was Chapa. The shell hit the Spaniard's helmet and the head injury left him helpless. Gary had no visible injuries, but due to the concussion he could barely participate in a conversation," says Mstislav Chernov. The forest near Andriivka "demanded" death.

The flag over Andriivka

The decisive assault on the approaches to the village of Andriivka began on September 14. Mstyslav Chernov recalls the words of one of the brigade's sergeants, Fedya: "How many more lives do we have to give up? How many more forests?". Fedir is only 24 years old, and for him war is a science that needs to be mastered and studied. "The smarter you are, the better qualified you are, the more chances you have to come back alive," says Fedya. Three months after receiving the order, the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade was able to liberate Andriivka.

On September 14, 2023, the Ukrainian military entered the small town of Andriivka. The last hundred meters were a mixture of blood, metal, debris, spent shell casings, and torn armor. On both sides of the road, the bodies of Russian soldiers lay face down on the ground. Even after the liberation, the Russian army shelled Andriivka with drones. On the morning of September 16, Fedya brought a Ukrainian flag to raise it over Andriivka.

"Look at these fields, this forest. Everything is growing again," said Fedya. "The cities we will take back, we will rebuild... We will clean up everything that is left of the Soviet Union. A war may be the best thing that can happen to start all over again."


Mstislav 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 has covered the Revolution of Dignity, the War in Eastern Ukraine, the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, the Syrian Civil War, the battles of Mosul in Iraq, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, including the blockade of Mariupol. For this work, he received the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award, the Giorgi Gongadze Prize, the Knight International Journalism Awards, the Biagio Agnes Award, the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy Award, the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award, and the Free Media Awards, In 2022, he was included in the ratings "People of NV 2022 in the Year of War" and "14 Songs, Photos and Art Objects that Became Symbols of Ukrainian Resistance" by Forbes Ukraine, and 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 implemented thanks to the support of IWM Documenting Ukraine.


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