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"The Road to Kyiv. Battles for the capital in the photographs of Roman Pilipey

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

Oleh, who remains in Irpin, passes his wife Yana and their son Maksym over the fence during the evacuation of women, children and the elderly. Irpin, 4 March 2022. Photo by Roman Pilipey

Photographer Roman Pilipey was shooting the Winter Olympics in Beijing on the eve of the Russian army's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since 2017, the photographer has been living and working in China. It took him several days to get to Kyiv.

It took me several days to get there from China

"At the time, I was shooting the Olympics, and I had to go through quarantine to return to Beijing. The war actually started when 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, he had to cover thousands of kilometres and several countries.

"It was not easy to get to Kyiv at that time: I had to find a special flight, 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, 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 Pilipey

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

Many people with weapons on the streets of Kyiv

"In fact, in the early 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 from Kyiv;

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

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 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 Pilipey

Arranged to shoot right at the checkpoint

"There were no agreements with press officers or requests at that time, we had to negotiate personally and have good contacts. Sometimes it was a chance meeting. That's how I met the guys from the terrorist defense unit who were standing near Brovary. We were passing a checkpoint where the military were standing, 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 Pilipey

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

"The first month I was filming mainly in and around Kyiv, in Irpin, and travelled to Brovary. Towards 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.

Photo with a happy ending

Photographer Roman Pylypiy says 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 particularly valuable to him;

This photo was a finalist in the POY (Photographer of the year) competition, in 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 the liberation of Bucha. 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. This is a symbolic photo for me. This is a story with 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 Pilipey

The consequences of the occupation of the Kyiv region. March-April 2022. Photo by Roman Pilipey

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


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

From 2017 to 2022, he lived and worked in Beijing, China.

For many years he worked with the EPA agency, then with Getty Images. Now Roman is working 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 in the POY competition.

Social networks of the photographer:

We would like to remind you that the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers has launched a series of materials dedicated to key events of the Russian war against Ukraine, where he publishes memoirs and photographs of Ukrainian documentary photographers..

The project is implemented with the support of ЗМІN.


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