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"Ways of recording the war". Battles for the capital in the photographs of Oleksandr Ratushniak

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


On February 24, 2022, a large-scale invasion of Russian troops began in several directions: near the demarcation line in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, from the temporarily occupied Crimea and from Belarus to Sumy, Chernihiv and Kyiv. Russian troops planned to capture the capital in two to three days, but their plan failed. Kyiv held out, but the Russians occupied part of the region and came close to the capital. Fierce fighting took place near Kyiv.


Today, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes materials by photographers Oleksandr Ratushniak, Roman Pylypiy, and journalist Marian Kushnir, where they talk about their work in the first month of the war, when chaos was raging around them and Kyiv was defending itself with all its might.


In the first days of the full-scale war, the Russian military advanced toward Kyiv. They passed through Ivankiv, Obukhovychi, Katyuzhanka, and other settlements north of the capital. However, the key points were the towns of Borodyanka, Bucha, and Irpin. Borodyanka was shelled by Russians from the ground and from the air - it is one of the most destroyed settlements in Kyiv region. Serious fighting took place in Vasylkiv, Russian troops shelled Irpin with grenades, and fighting continued near the Antonov airport. In late February, Russian troops captured Vorzel and Nemishayeve. A convoy of Russian vehicles entered Bucha on Vokzalna Street. The column was broken by the Ukrainian military. After a failed attempt to enter Bucha, the Russians shelled the town. In March, Russian troops attacked Irpin. On March 5, Bucha was completely occupied. In mid-March, the Ukrainian side agreed with the Russians to create "green" corridors to evacuate people. Before that, residents of the occupied territories of Kyiv region were evacuated by volunteers. People were taken away near the almost destroyed Romanivskyi Bridge in Irpin. Many people walked, some drove by car. Many broken cars, even those with the inscription "Children", remained on the Zhytomyr highway - they were shot by the Russian military.


On March 21, the Ukrainian military liberated the village of Makariv. At the end of the month, the Ukrainian Armed Forces surrounded Irpin, Gostomel, and Bucha. Russian troops began to withdraw from the occupied territories of Kyiv region. Irpin was liberated from the Russian occupiers on March 28, and Bucha on March 31.


 

On February 24, 2022, a large-scale invasion of Russian troops began in several directions: near the demarcation line in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, from the temporarily occupied Crimea and from Belarus to Sumy, Chernihiv and Kyiv. Russian troops planned to capture the capital in two to three days, but their plan failed. Kyiv held out, but the Russians occupied part of the region and came close to the capital. Fierce fighting took place near Kyiv.


Destroyed houses and military equipment in Irpin. March 2022, photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Photographer Oleksandr Ratushniak says that he decided to stay in Kyiv until the very end, and that the only critical moment he considered was the Russians' explosion of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The photographer explains that from the first day of the war he held on to his friends who had joined a volunteer unit.


"On February 24, I came to my friends who had joined a unit based in Kyiv. I decided that I would take pictures of their work, and it would be obvious. Since the guys did not have heavy equipment, and for specific missions they traveled by car with a limited number of seats, they did not need an extra person. Then I realized that I had to look for some other ways to record the war," says Ratushniak.

The crash site of a Ukrainian SU-25 aircraft in Kyiv. The plane was shot down by the Defense Forces by mistake. February 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


A convoy of military vehicles was shot at on Beresteysky Avenue. This was also a "friendly fire". February 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


I used to ride a bicycle, a scooter, or the subway to get to the shooting

Oleksandr Ratushniak had only a scooter and a bicycle as his own transportation, so he used them to get to different parts of the city and the region:


"I often rode a bike or took the subway to save fuel and went to various "arrivals" in Kyiv. I had to dress up and ride my scooter to Irpin, Bucha, or Stoyanka. That was when the evacuations took place. Everyone was leaving, and I was the only one going that way," the photographer recalls.

Evacuation from Irpin due to the blown Romanivskyi Bridge. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Civilians killed by a Russian mine near Irpin. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Oleksandr explains that he received his accreditation from the Ministry of Defense only on March 11, and before that he worked at his own risk. He says that once he almost got "in trouble" near a supermarket because he was filming a line of people in the store.


"The video was deleted from my phone. It's good that they didn't beat me up. To be honest, even after that, the accreditation didn't help much, because the checkpoints hadn't heard of such a document. Everyone was focused on the passport and residence permit," says the photographer.

Volunteers evacuate a man. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


Oleksandr Ratushniak explains that he was able to film most of the stories thanks to his contacts with people. For example, volunteers who delivered aid or evacuated civilians.

Irpin residents on bicycles. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


The aftermath of the fighting in Kyiv and its suburbs. February-March. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


"Toward the end of March, I got acquainted with the Carpathian Sich battalion, so I was able to shoot the fighting directly. But just like before, they didn't take me on missions because they didn't need an additional burden. After all, going out in the middle of the night with just a camera in hand was not a good idea," Oleksandr recalls.

Members of the Carpathian Sich battalion in one of Irpin's basements. March 2022. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak


 

Oleksandr Ratushniak is a Ukrainian photojournalist. He is a holder of the Order of Merit III degree (2022). He worked in a bank and took photos in a studio. He collaborated with news agencies, including AFP and Reuters, and is now a freelance photographer. He photographed the events that took place on Euromaidan. He actively documents the Russian-Ukrainian war.


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 ЗМІN.

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