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The writing is on the wall. Photos by Danylo Pavlov from the liberated village of Yahidne in Chernih


"There is an inscription on the wall: on the right are ten names of those who died in the basement, on the left are the names of those killed by Russian soldiers." Photo by Danylo Pavlov


The Russian military evicted the residents of Yahidne from their homes by force and forced them into the basement of the local school. About 400 people were living in terrible crowding, with virtually no food or water. Among them were children and even babies. There was no ventilation, no toilet, and no way to cook. They slept sitting down. Several people died.


Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes photos by Danylo Pavlov taken after the liberation of Yahidne. He has been a member of the association since 2022.


30 days in occupation

Russian troops stayed in the village of Yahidne in the Chernihiv region for a month. They entered the village from the very first days of the full-scale war, on March 3. The houses along the road to Chernihiv were not damaged, but in the center of the village some houses were completely destroyed. Before the occupation, Russian troops shelled Yahidne with artillery. The Russians set up an ammunition depot near the local cultural center, of which only the outer walls remain.

The village of Yahidne after de-occupation, in April 22. Photo by Danylo Pavlov


The Russian military searched local residents for patriotic tattoos and military uniforms and took away their cell phones. People were evicted from their homes and forced into the basement of a local school. Almost four hundred people lived in terrible crowding, with virtually no food or water. Among them were children and even babies. There was no ventilation, no toilet, and no way to cook. They had to sleep sitting down, as each resident was allocated an average of half a square meter. Ten people died in the basement because of these living conditions. The military did not allow the dead to be buried, so they were stored in the school boiler room. The Russians allowed the dead to be buried only twice. They shelled one of the burials.

The liberation of Yahidne by the Ukrainian military began in late March. On April 3, the village was liberated from Russian troops. Journalists who came to the village after the occupation filmed the remains of Russian equipment on the streets of Yahidne, the buildings that had been destroyed, and the inscriptions on the walls of the school basement.


A morally challenging and exhausting shoot

Photographer Danylo Pavlov arrived in the village of Yahidne a few weeks after its liberation. He had already photographed de-occupied Bucha, Borodyanka, and Gostomel and talked to their residents.

"Despite what I had seen in the Kyiv region, the trip to Yahidne impressed me greatly,"- recalls Danylo Pavlov. - "People were tearfully telling us about their experiences and showing us their destroyed homes. It was a morally challenging and exhausting shoot."

People clean up the mess left by the Russians. Photo by Danylo Pavlov


Local residents tried to clean up the mess left behind by the Russian military. They walked around the houses and cleared the streets. "In fact, all the residents of Yahidne were driven into the cramped basement of the school. Their houses and apartments were occupied by Russians. People were not in their apartments, they did not know what was happening upstairs. Many houses were damaged, some burned down completely, and there is still burned Russian equipment on the streets," says Danylo Pavlov. According to residents, there were two units in the village that did not communicate well with each other. One of the units consisted of Buryats, whom even the Russian military did not want to join.


In Yahidne, Danylo met a man who, together with his fellow villagers, was burying people under fire from the Russian military. "They dug graves in the cemetery and lay down there during the shelling. My grandfather often cried and kept repeating: "Why?". His house was completely burnt down," Pavlov says. The photographer recalls a man with a bicycle who took him to the fresh graves in the cemetery. He also cried a lot and was often baptized. People were just on the verge of tears. Danylo also entered other homes. For example, he went to an apartment where a dress was hanging on a mannequin - a sad greeting from a past normal life. In another house, he saw a boy and a cat sitting in a cold room without a roof.

The man who led the photographer to the fresh graves in the cemetery cried a lot and said the sign of the cross often. Photo by Danylo Pavlov


Cramped basement

In Yahidne, Danylo Pavlov saw a large number of Russian newspapers scattered around the school. There was "Komsomolskaya Pravda" with a Russian agenda. "Not only were the locals sitting in the basement without contact with the outside world, but they were also being brought Russian newspapers. People were under constant pressure from the Russian military," Pavlov said.

Russian newspapers. Photo by Danylo Pavlov


A high school student opened the school basement where people were held for Danylo. They went down together. There is an inscription on the wall: on the right are ten names of those who died in the basement, and on the left are the names of those killed by Russian soldiers. "Local residents of Yahidne shared with me their grief, which overwhelmed them. In the basement, there is still the smell of people who were forced to stay there in a terrible stampede, and eerie feelings. When you read about the number of people who were locked in the basement and then see this very tiny room, you feel shocked," explains the photographer. He met an older man whose feet swelled from standing in one place for long periods of time during his imprisonment.

"The basement still smells of people who were forced to stay there in a terrible crush." Photo by Danylo Pavlov


Danylo walked through the classrooms of the school where the Russians lived. "There are still inscriptions on the walls of the school, everything is turned over and destroyed, and almost the entire floor is covered with shit. I have seen this many times in the territories liberated from Russian troops," says Danylo Pavlov. He emphasizes that it is necessary to preserve the memory of the events of the war, and photography is one of the best ways to do so.

 

Danylo Pavlov is a Ukrainian documentary photographer. He is a member of the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers. He has been published in numerous Ukrainian media and various foreign publications, including the Washington Post, The Times, Forbes.

He is a photo editor at Reporters.media and a photographer for The Ukrainians.


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 with the support of the ЗМІN.

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