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Winter is on the front line. Olena Huseynova analyses the Photo of the Week

Konstantin Liberov's photo was taken in the Serebryansky Forest. "Winter at the Front" is the plain title of the picture and the whole set. There are no more than fifty meters between the Serebryansky Forest and the enemy positions. That is also what the description of the photo says. But even without the description, I understand how close the enemy is. It is because I can see the mortar. I see it the moment a mine is pushed out of the barrel when the body of the barrel transmits the recoil impulse to the ground. The moment the snow rises eerily reminds me of a snowball that has just been shaken. Looking past this snow glitter, I see that the caliber of the mortar is small and that the mortar itself is set to fire in an almost vertical trajectory. This meant the distance to the enemy positions would be no more than fifty meters. I know all this because I know what a mortar is all about. I know what mortars are. I know that they are fast-firing, lightweight, and easy to use. I know the power of the shot and the trajectory of the mines. I know that mortars hit closed enemy positions. Acoustic trauma is something I also know about. And when I look at the soldier's hands in the photo’s foreground, I wonder if he has a sense of silence. When I notice an empty can of energy drink lying on the snowy floor of the dugout, I remember: energy drinks do not freeze any longer than water at sub-zero temperatures because they contain too much sugar.

I am pretty sure I am not the only one who knows this. The people who made the camouflage netting that covers the shelter in the photo also know about mortars and how far they shoot. 

But more than 700 kilometres separate me from Serebryansky Forest. And over 10 hours drive. And my knowledge does not open the photo's frame. Everything I know I have heard from veterans. Read in war reports, soldiers' poems, seen in photos. It shows that what I see is real, especially in this one, where the moment is captured and held, and therefore doomed to be reproduced and experienced. It happens daily, in every moment. When enemy artillery is firing, when enemy drones are taking off when an enemy sniper is in aim. At nightfall, at dawn, when snow falls.

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Olena Huseynova is a Ukrainian writer, radio host, and radio producer. She has been working at Radio Kultura (Suspilne) since 2016. She is an editor-in-chief in the department responsible for radio theatre and literary programs. Since 26 February 2022, Olena has worked as a live presenter of a round-the-clock information radio marathon at Ukrainian Radio (Suspilne). She is the author of two books of poetry, Open Rider (2012) and Superheroes (2016). She also writes essays and short fiction.

Konstantin and Vlada Liberov are a couple of photographers from Odesa. They started their journey 4 years ago, initially focusing on creative and emotional stories. In a few years, they became the most recognized photographers in the field and moved on to active teaching, with thousands of grateful students around the world. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, they changed the vector of their work, focusing on artistic documentary: their photos from the hotspots of Ukraine went viral on social media, gaining hundreds of thousands of reposts and being published by influential media outlets such as BBC, Welt, Vogue, Forbes, as well as by the President of Ukraine and other high-ranking officials.

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