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Thirsty for Ukraine. Slobozhansk counteroffensive in the photos of Serhiy Korovainyi

A destroyed bridge over the Siverskyi Donets River in Izium, Kharkiv region. October 3, 2022. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

On September 6, 2022, the Armed Forces of Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region. On September 8, the Ukrainian military liberated twenty settlements, including Balakliia, Kupiansk, and Izium. In the second half of September, the Ukrainian Armed Forces broke through the Russian front line along the Oskil River and crossed to its left bank. As a result of the unexpected breakthrough of the Russian occupiers' positions, by September 12, the Ukrainian military had liberated a large part of the Kharkiv region.

Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers is publishing photos by Serhiy Korovainyi, who documented the liberated towns and villages of Kharkiv region from the Russian army.



On August 29, Ukraine announced an imminent counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. The announcement was part of a disinformation campaign aimed at distracting Russian troops from Kharkiv. Russia redeployed thousands of its troops, including elite units, to Kherson region, leaving its troops in Kharkiv significantly weakened and vulnerable to attack.

A mass grave in the forest on the outskirts of Izyum. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


The Slobozhansk counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Defense Forces began on September 6, 2022. Having concentrated the necessary forces north of Balakliya near Verbivka, Ukrainian troops launched an offensive in the directions of Balakliya - Volokhiv Yar - Shevchenkove - Kupiansk and east of Balakliya. The next day, on September 7, the Ukrainian Armed Forces advanced at least 20 kilometers into Russian-controlled territory and recaptured about 400 square kilometers of Kharkiv region.

Liberated Balkaria. October 6, 2022. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

The central square of liberated Izium. October 3, 2022. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

Liberated Kupiansk. 16 October 2022, photo by Serhii Korovainyi


The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (IWS) in its report of September 7 said: "Ukrainian forces may have used tactical surprise to advance at least 20 km into Russian-controlled territory in eastern Kharkiv region on September 7, gaining approximately 400 square kilometers of territory." General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, emphasized that Balakliya was an important communications hub in the south of Kharkiv region. Zaluzhnyi noted that the de-occupation of the city created favorable conditions for the development of the offensive on Kupyansk.

Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi




As a result of an unexpected breakthrough in the positions of the Russian occupiers, the Ukrainian military liberated a large part of the Kharkiv region. On September 8, the city of Balakliya was liberated. On September 10, Kupiansk and Izyum were recaptured by Ukrainian troops advancing toward Lyman. The New York Times emphasized that "the fall of the strategically important city of Izyum, in eastern Ukraine, is the most devastating blow to Russia since its humiliating retreat from Kyiv." When Ukrainian forces entered the towns of Balakliya and Izyum, they discovered numerous mass graves.

Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


On September 12, the Defense Forces liberated the villages of Velykyi Burluk and Dvorichna and entered Sviatohirsk in the northern Donetsk region. The Ukrainian Armed Forces liberated almost the entire Kharkiv region, except for a strip across the Oskil River. On September 13, Ukrainian troops established a bridgehead across the Oskil River near the village of Borova. By mid-September, Ukrainian troops broke through the Russian defense line along the Oskil River, and on September 17, the Ukrainian Armed Forces crossed to the left bank of the Oskil. On September 18, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the military governor of Luhansk Oblast, Serhiy Haidai, confirmed in their Telegram channels that Ukraine had crossed and was in control of the left bank of the Oskol. On September 30, Ukrainian troops liberated Yampil, a key village 8 km southeast of Lyman. According to Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's counteroffensive proves that the Ukrainian military can end the war faster with more Western weapons.

The Oskil River in Kuyansk. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


A view of the Siverskyi Donets River on the outskirts of Izium. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


Photographer Serhiy Korovainyi documented life in the Kharkiv region immediately after its liberation from the Russian military. "The thing I remember most was how much people in the de-occupied villages and towns were thirsty for the things that are common to Ukrainians - access to services like Nova Poshta, normal mobile communications, the Internet," recalls Korovainyi. "At the points where the starlink worked, there were always a lot of ladies with phones - they called their relatives, and it was very touching.

A line for bread in Balakliya. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

People charge their cell phones in Kupiansk. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

Local residents in Kupiansk. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

Residents in line for humanitarian aid in Izyum. Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


Serhiy Korovainyi documented the liberation of Kharkiv region together with a team from The Wall Street Journal. "At that time, the battles for Lyman were going on, the Kharkiv Offensive was ending, and I really wanted to go to the front. However, the publication had already formed teams that filmed the military. In such a situation, you need to be a team player and focus on the media's assignments. That's why I photographed humanitarian stories," explains Serhiy Korovainyi.

Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

The photographer remembers a huge number of Russian flags that the occupiers brought to Kharkiv region. "The Russian military painted their tricolor everywhere on the streets. The flags were in offices, in school classrooms, on the streets - it was as disgusting as possible," says Serhiy Korovainyi. "We worked a lot in schools - my journalist colleague was making a story about how Russians were implementing their education. There were their inscriptions on the blackboards and textbooks in the classrooms. It was very unpleasant to see it all."

Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi

Serhiy Korovainyi witnessed several times how the Ukrainian military removed Russian flags from the liberated settlements of Kharkiv region. "I remember how the military repainted the sign of the city of Kupyansk with a Ukrainian motif and added an apostrophe to the name," says the photographer. "A Ukrainian infantry fighting vehicle was hit at a checkpoint near Kupyansk. People brought flowers there, and it was also very touching."

Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


The photographer and his colleagues talked to people who had been in Russian captivity. Serhiy adds that working in the liberated territories is both joyful and very difficult, because the locals have gone through very difficult times. "It seemed that the people of the liberated Kharkiv region had left all the bad things behind. Instead, since then, I have come back several times and worked on stories from Izyum, Kupiansk, and small villages where the frontline was very close. People there still live in very difficult conditions, without electricity, water, in unrepaired houses. I would like to see these people's sufferings end as soon as possible," says Sergey Korovainy.

Photo by Serhiy Korovainyi


Sergiy Korovainy is a Ukrainian documentary photographer who actively covers the events of the Russian-Ukrainian war. He collaborates with international publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian, Financial Times, and others. In his projects, he focuses on the Russian-Ukrainian war, ecology, and various aspects of Ukrainian modernity. He studied in the United States at the Master's Program in Visual Storytelling as a Fulbright Scholar. In 2018, he joined The Gate, a leading Ukrainian photo agency. Sergiy's work has been exhibited at numerous solo and group exhibitions in Ukraine, the US and the EU.


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 being implemented thanks to the support of The Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. 


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