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Words pale before hatred, personal and all-encompassing. Olena Huseynova analyses the Photo of the Week


An SESU rescuer tries to enter a burnt-out house to search for victims, photo by Heorhiy Ivanchenko for Frontliner.

On the evening of 9 February, Russian attack drones from the Belgorod region targeted Kharkiv. Several of them hit the tanks of an oil depot in the Nemyshlyansky district. Fuel leaked out, mixed with snow, and spread across the street, causing a huge fire. Rescuers fought the fire and searched for victims throughout the night and into the next day.


Heorhiy Ivanchenko's photo was taken on that very street in Kharkiv on that very night. To describe this photo, I can't get rid of stereotypical phrases and rhetorical constructions: rivers of fire, the orange silhouette of a half-decayed house, the darkness of the night sky, thick smoke creeping out of the house and dancing in the air. Thus the photo I am looking at dissolves into simple metaphors and neutralises an experience I cannot comprehend. I bring myself back to the photo with the figures: the area affected by the fire is 3700 sq. m., almost 200 rescuers, seven are dead, two families, three children - 7 years old, 4 years old, and 10 months old. The tragedies that have already taken place are beyond our comprehension. And a desire for knowledge conflicts with a desire for not seeing.


A rescuer tries to enter a burnt-out house to find the victims. The yellow light of the smoldering house and the blue light of the rescuer's headlamp flatten the image and even cut it in two - warm and cold. This confrontation between life and death takes us back into the realm of the rhetorical. But this opposition is unstable: the fire that carries death proves warm and life-giving, and the rescuer's torch, which is supposed to extinguish it, is cold and deadly. This imaginary seam demonstrates the vulnerability of rhetoric. Even the efforts of 200 rescuers cannot save everyone. Words cower in the face of hatred, personal and universal. It cannot be explained to those who did not go down to the cellar when the air-raid alarm went off. It cannot be explained to those who did not see the orange fire rise to the level of the house, to those who cannot distinguish by ear between departure and arrival, to those who did not illuminate the scene of a war crime with their headlamp.


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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.


Heorhiy Ivanchenko is a Ukrainian photographer who has been working as a freelance documentary and journalistic photographer since February 2022. He has been working for the Associated Press and the European Pressphoto Agency since the first months of the invasion. Starting from Borodyansky district, where Heorhiy was born, he continued his journey along the front line: Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, and now his attention is focused on the Donetsk region. The turning point in his photography came when he spent almost a month in Bakhmut. In December and January, with a backpack and a sleeping bag, he documented the lives of the city's inhabitants, sharing his life with locals in basements, volunteers, medics, military, and firefighters. In April, while working on a story about Chasiv Yar in Donbas, his car was shot at and destroyed by a Russian shell. Now the author continues to reflect on the many situations he has encountered and is working on his first project, Way of War (working title).On the evening of 9 February, Russian attack drones from the Belgorod region targeted Kharkiv. Several of them hit the tanks of an oil depot in the Nemyshlyansky district. Fuel leaked out, mixed with snow, and spread across the street, causing a huge fire. Rescuers fought the fire and searched for victims throughout the night and into the next day.


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