Ukrainians have seen ‘unimaginable’ horror. Photographers share their stories

A woman is comforted inside a van during the evacuation of Irpin, Ukraine, in March 2022. Irpin, a suburb of capital city Kyiv, was under attack by Russian artillery. It saw weeks of fighting in the early days of the war. (Fabio Bucciarelli)

When Russia invaded two years ago, many Ukrainian civilians were faced with a choice.

Some took up weapons to join the fight. Some volunteered in other ways, such as building body armor, repairing equipment or contributing financially.

Mykhaylo Palinchak went in a different direction.

“For me, the only option was to take my camera in hand and to do I what know best, witnessing and documenting,” the photojournalist says in the book “Ukraine: A War Crime,” which features powerful images from him and more than 90 of his peers.

Telling Ukrainians’ stories, providing a visual record of the horrors they face every day, has become an important part of the war effort and shaped public perceptions around the world. Many of these photojournalists — some Ukrainian, some foreign — were among the first to enter liberated cities and collect evidence of atrocities that had taken place.

Ukrainian soldiers are seen after an attack at the Vasylkiv Air Base near Kyiv, two days after Russia invaded. This photo was taken by Maks Levin, a Ukrainian photojournalist who was killed by Russian forces in March 2022, according to the office of Ukraine’s attorney general. “Every Ukrainian photographer dreams of taking the photo that will stop the war,” Levin said. (Maks Levin)

“I hope our work stands as a testament and witness to the victims and their families,” wrote Daniel Berehulak, who documented the destruction in Bucha, where hundreds of civilians were found dead and Russia has been accused of war crimes.

It isn’t easy, of course, taking photos in a war zone, but it has been especially difficult for the Ukrainians who are living in it every day and worry about the safety of their families.

“It Is one thing when you’re home and your loved ones are safe and you can dedicate yourself to photographing unfolding events, and it is absolutely another situation when they are not,” said Oksana Parafeniuk, a photographer based in Kyiv.

But the cause is too important to stop or slow down.

“This is my country,” Maxim Dondyuk said, “and I feel that it is my duty as a documentary photographer and as a Ukrainian to capture this historical moment for the present and the future.”

Editor’s note: Some of these images are graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.

A wounded Ukrainian soldier rests at a hospital in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

In August 2022, photographer Paula Bronstein received exclusive access to a Ukrainian military hospital in the Donetsk region.

She spent 12-hour days there, working alongside doctors as soldiers would come in the front lines. This was usually the second stop for wounded soldiers after they had been stabilized in the field.

“A lot of what I saw were, unfortunately, soldiers going into the operating room for some kind of amputation,” Bronstein said. “Mine injuries were common, (as were) severe burn injuries.”

She wasn’t sure what eventually happened to the man in the photo above. He had suffered injuries to his head and eye. Most soldiers’ next stop was a hospital in Dnipro.

Bronstein is still working in Ukraine as the conflict has become a war of attrition.

“Right now, things are not going very well. It’s been well-publicized,” she said. “And it’s a shame, you know — leading up to the anniversary, you wish things were going better.”

Ukrainians jostle for food handouts in Kherson. (Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

People in Kherson, Ukraine, watch a burning oil depot that local residents said had been hit by a Russian mortar barrage in November 2022. (Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

When the Ukrainian city of Kherson was liberated after months of being occupied by Russia, there were jubilant scenes. But there were also deep scars.

“As Ukrainian forces entered the city, the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis, including a lack of water and electricity, became apparent,” photographer Finbarr O’Reilly reported. “Kherson, an urban hub with a prewar population in the hundreds of thousands, was mostly without heat, water, electricity, medicines or mobile phone service.

“Russian forces remained just on the other side of the Dnipro River and were fortifying their positions. The first humanitarian air convos arrived in Kherson within days, distributing food to thousands of residents. Then the shelling began.”

Couples Alina and Victor, left, and Victoria and Yuri say goodbye as the men prepare to leave Lviv, Ukraine, to fight against Russians on the front lines. (John Stanmeyer/VII)

Shortly after the war started, photographer John Stanmeyer traveled from Poland to Ukraine on a near-empty train. And when he arrived in Lviv, he was struck by how many Ukrainians were moving through the same station, going the other way.

“The first few weeks of the war in Ukraine had caused nearly three million people, primarily women and children, to leave everything behind,” Stanmeyer said. “Their fathers and sons remained to fight against Russia’s war against its neighbor. At the railway station in Lviv, I saw war’s pain through the windows of railway cars.”

Instead of traveling to Kyiv as he had originally planned, Stanmeyer stayed in Lviv to document the tearful goodbyes at the train station.

“For many days I did nothing other than feel the trauma of the travelers,” he said. “What was happening also occurred to my mother 70 years earlier in Austria. Quiet, meditating, I began to see myself in the faces of everyone through train windows.”

Mykhailo “Misha” Varvarych exercises inside a gym at a hospital in Truskavets, Ukraine. (David Guttenfelder)

Mykhailo “Misha” Varvarych, a Ukrainian soldier, lost both of his legs after he was struck by a blast of shrapnel. But he did not lose his spirit.

When photographer David Guttenfelder met him, Varvarych was working out inside a small hospital gym as he waited for his prosthetic legs. He was staying fit, practicing dips and pushups on parallel bars.

“He was clearly a determined and strong young man,” Guttenfelder said. “I think I was seeing him struggle with not only his terrible injuries but also his identity, having just come from the front line where his bravery and fighting skills had earned him the nickname ‘Savage.’ ”

After seeing his workouts in the gym, Varvarych’s fellow soldiers came up with a new nickname for him: “Acrobat.”

“We don’t know the number of soldiers and civilians who have suffered amputations over the past two years, but we’ve estimated that it’s tens of thousands — numbers seen only in the aftermath of the field artillery bombardments of the first World War,” Guttenfelder said. “My interest and hope in photographing wounded Ukrainians soldiers, like Misha, is to show both the unimaginable scale of suffering and the inspiring bravery I witnessed here in Ukraine.”

A scorched home in Borodianka, Ukraine. (Carol Guzy/NPR/Zuma)

A burned-out clock remains after an attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine. (Carol Guzy/NPR/Zuma)

A kitchen table shows food left uneaten in Borodianka. (Carol Guzy/NPR/Zuma)

Carol Guzy’s eerie still-life photos show what was left behind after Russian attacks in Borodianka, Irpin and Kharkiv.

“Remnants of everyday life, frozen in a macabre stillness the moment time stopped,” Guzy wrote in the book.

The images offer more questions than answers: Who lived there, and what happened to them? Where were they when the attacks took place? What were they cooking on that last day of normal?

“Broken glass becomes a metaphor for shattered lives,” Guzy wrote. “Survivors visit in bittersweet homecomings to pick through the pieces of their former reality, saved from the bombardment by fickle destiny. Others will never return.”

Two men walk through the rubble of their house, which was destroyed by a Russian missile in Kharkiv. (Giulio Piscitelli)

A pillow, showing a portrait of a married couple, is found in a bomb-damaged apartment in Severodonetsk, Ukraine. (Giulio Piscitelli)

Amid the ruins of destroyed homes, it’s not uncommon to find family photos.

Photographer Giulio Piscitelli is always struck by them and the memories that may have been lost for good: a birthday, a new car, a picnic.

“Lives torn from their normal existence leave behind memories that are lost. These photos, these fragments of lives destroyed by violence, attract me and I look for them, because it seems to me that they can tell what was and now no longer is,” Piscitelli said.

He wants people to see these photos. He wants these memories to live on, even if the people in them have not.

“The thousands of images I have taken of these family and personal photographs found in the rubble are for me a way of preserving the lost memory of these people,” he said. “A way to remember that another world was possible.”

Volunteers make flak jackets in Odesa, Ukraine, for those who were taking up arms against the Russians. (Laetitia Vançon)

Laetitia Vançon was walking through the streets of Odesa, Ukraine, when she came across an 8-year-old boy wearing a bulletproof vest.

She asked his parents about his unusual outfit, she said, and that is when she was introduced to a group of volunteers who were making flak jackets. They called themselves the Bulletproof Gang.

“I saw not only skilled craftsmen but also the guardians of a collective commitment to protecting the lives and well-being of their fellow countrymen,” Vançon said. “Their story, woven into the fabric of Ukraine’s history, is a poignant reminder of the resilience that emerges when a community remains united in the face of the ravages of war.”

The body of a woman lies or the street after Russian forces left the previously occupied city of Bucha. (Svet Jacqueline)

A body is prepared for transport after being found decomposing on a street in Bucha. (Svet Jacqueline)

Svet Jacqueline spent over six months traveling across Ukraine, photographing different aspects of the war.

Nothing could prepare her for what she found in Bucha and Irpin, just outside Kyiv, after Russian forces withdrew.

“The feeling of death permeated the air and lined the streets,” she says in the book. “A family with two young children lay in a park, tortured and burned. Behind the Church of St. Andrew the Apostle in Bucha, hundreds of bodies were pulled from a mass grave. I watched through my lens as a new sinister reality of this war was unearthed.”

Volunteers worked for hours to help collect bodies in backyards, nursing homes, parks and residential buildings, Jacqueline said. Those bodies were placed “tenderly in bag after bag, numbered and recorded for investigation.”

A civilian is trained to throw Molotov cocktails to help defend the city of Zhytomyr, Ukraine. (Viacheslav Ratynskyi)

In the early days of the war, Ukrainian photographer Viacheslav Ratynskyi drove his family and friends from Kyiv to his hometown of Zhytomyr, where it was expected to be safer.

The morning after they arrived, the road from Kyiv to Zhytomyr was cut off by the Russians, he said. Then bombings took place in Zhytomyr.

“The situation in the city was anxious, but at the same time, the residents were determined to defend the city,” Ratynskyi said. “The men were constantly building barricades around the city and near the main buildings in the center, digging trenches and preparing Molotov cocktails.”

He came across people pouring gasoline into bottles and learned there would be a training session the next day for Molotov cocktails. It was held at an abandoned factory, and Ratynskyi estimated that more than 100 people showed up, including women and children. It lasted for several hours.

“We are tired,” Ratynskyi said. “Certainly not as tired as Ukrainian soldiers. But who knows, maybe we will have to replace them at the front soon.”

Cadets from Odesa’s Naval Lyceum use their phones to study during a power outage. (Pete Kiehart)

Since October 2022, Russian forces have launched thousands of missiles and drones at energy infrastructure in Ukraine, temporarily cutting off electricity, heat and water to millions.

Pete Kiehart photographed cadets from Odesa’s Naval Lyceum during one of these power outages.

This high school is tasked with preparing young Ukrainians for military service. They’ve had to relocate several times, Kiehart said, for security reasons.

“They regularly eat and study in darkness due to Russia’s frequent attacks on Ukraine’s power grid,” Kiehart said. “For the same reason, their theater is often frigid.”

Deputy Director Commander Serhiy Plekhun told Kiehart that the school’s newer students are a little bit different that the students who came before the war. “They don’t get ill, they don’t complain,” he said. “They all want to study here.”

Every year, the school usually sees several students drop out within the first few days. But that was before the war.

“This year we didn’t have such students,” Plekhun said.

Yurii Sikan and Darina Mikhailishina stand in what used to be the kitchen of their house in Irpin. (Sasha Maslov/Institute)

The Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel were, until recently, a haven tor middle-class Ukrainian families to buy a place and start a family, photographer Sasha Maslov said.

It has since become a sprawling crime scene.

“The bombing of apartment block houses and residential neighborhoods all over the country, as well as railway stations, public transport hubs and shopping malls, has revealed indiscriminate brutality of the invading Russian Army,” Maslov said.

Maslov photographed Yurii Sikan and Darina Mikhailishina as they returned to their home in Irpin. Or what was left of it, that is.

“It was a total devastation,” Maslov reported. “Yurii said he was just taking photos of everything, Darina was crying and felt lost.”

They had moved to the home to spend their retirement. They had a small garden and a greenhouse. All of it, gone.

“Their neighbor put a call out on Facebook, and someone donated a trailer where they stayed at the moment I came to visit,” Maslov said. “They were hoping to rebuild but didn’t have the means.”

Bloodstains are seen at a railway station in Kramatorsk that was hit by a missile strike in April 2022. (Juan Carlos)

An unexploded mortar on the streets of Kharkiv. (Juan Carlos)

“Where there was life, love, security, family, happiness and humanity, now there is only hate, tragedy, sorrow, orphans, ruins and loneliness,” photographer Juan Carlos wrote in the book. “Now death haunts the places where there used to be life.”

At the beginning of the war, Carlos experimented with still-life images, such as the ones above, to look deeper into the effects of the conflict. One shows bloodstains at a railway station that had just been attacked. Another shows an unexploded mortar.

“With thousands of journalists covering the conflict and viewers bombarded with a massive number of images, day and night, what could I do to show the impact of this senseless war?” he wondered.

Alexander Alexandrou hugs Alina Shapran in Kyiv after explosions in the city. (Nikos Pilos)

Photographer Nikos Pilos has worked in war zones before, and he said he has a “special appreciation” for people who remain in their homes during bombings.

After the war began, he visited several apartment buildings and met people from all walks of life.

“For 15 days we lived together, during the bombing of Kyiv in the third and fourth week of war,” he recalled. “The photographs were taken inside these people’s homes during the overnight curfew and air-raid sirens. They shared their food, their home and their thoughts with me.”

While the news was focused on the front lines, major bombings and streams of refugees pouring out of the country, Pilos wanted to hear more about people’s lives inside Ukraine.

“I’m interested in understanding how war has turned their lives upside down, how they think, what they want, what they fear; to illuminate their collective and individual trauma,” he said.

The people pictured above were helping to maintain a monument, they told Pilos, when the explosions began. “We looked at each other and felt such a great union,” Alexandrou said. “This unity will be, I think, the feeling of the Ukrainian people.”

A man lays out a stretcher to collect the body of a civilian who was killed on a bridge in Irpin. (Nicole Tung/Harper’s Magazine)

This bridge in Irpin was being used to evacuate civilians around the start of the war, and it was purposefully destroyed by Ukraine to prevent Russian forces from moving on to the capital of Kyiv.

Photographer Nicole Tung wasn’t sure how this victim died, and the man collecting his body didn’t know either.

“The image to me speaks of the lonely deaths so many people in Ukraine have met,” Tung said. “Often their family or friends don’t find out they’ve lost a loved one until days or weeks later.

“It also speaks to the horror of this war that is seemingly without end and is meeting a grim new phase because of the faltering political will and support of other countries.”

A photo of Ukrainian Taras Didukh is carried by fellow soldiers during his funeral service in Lviv. (Oksana Parafeniuk)

Oksana Parafeniuk says she is still haunted by this photo she took during a funeral for Ukrainian soldier Taras Didukh at the Saints Peter and Paul Garrison Church in Lviv.

“I will never forget that moment when fellow men started bringing in coffins of soldiers, and the stillness of the church was penetrated by the weeping of their mothers,” Parafeniuk said. “The sound of their lamenting pierced me through the heart.”

Parafeniuk was six months pregnant at the time, and she felt her son Luka kicking inside of her.

With the war taking place in her home country, she found it difficult to fully immerse herself in her work, she said. It was hard when the focus was on “how to stay safe, how to keep your future child safe, while also being worried on a daily basis about the safety of all your loved ones. This is the reality all Ukrainian photographers found themselves in.”

These fragments were found on a street in Kyiv after shelling in March 2022. (Dmytro Kupriyan)

Dmytro Kupriyan has been collecting “fragments of war” since 2014, when Ukrainian forces were pro-Russia rebels. He took photos of these fragments, left behind from shelling, and eventually made a book out of the project, explaining where they came from and where they were found.

When Kupriyan was drafted into the Ukrainian military following the invasion in 2022, he resumed this practice. The fragments here came from a shelling in Kyiv — a BM-21 Grad rocket launcher, he said.

“For the first 10 months, I served in a military recruiting center,” Kupriyan said. “And one day near the office there was a shelling and several civilians were injured. These are the fragments that I found on the street.”

Kupriyan has lost several friends in the war, he said, and he himself has been wounded. He said Ukraine needs assistance if they want to keep withstanding Russia’s attacks.

“We need help, ammunition, armor, armaments,” he said.

Ukrainian soldier Andrev Kravchenko worked as a massage therapist before the war and had no training, photographer Edward Kaprov said. Kravchenko signed up to fight on the first day of the war. (Edward Kaprov)

Chaika, deputy commander of the 226th Separate Battalion, was an investigator before the war. (Edward Kaprov)

Edward Kaprov’s photos of Ukrainian soldiers look like they are from another era. That was done on purpose, to resemble images captured during the Crimean War over 150 years ago.

“Since the Crimean War, much has changed in weapons. communications and the media,” Kaprov wrote. “A simple person with a phone in his hands becomes an eyewitness. I decided to … catch the face of this war on fragile glass negatives as before. Because unfortunately, the essence of war will not change, ever.”

Kaprov said the soldiers respected his work and asked him why he would come from afar to risk his life for the project.

“I couldn’t find a clear answer for them,” he said. “I could only tell them, ‘I feel this way and I can’t stay away.’ They, for their part, trusted me and my strange camera and we were as one during those long seconds of exposure. They had a feeling that it was important for history.”

Irina and her brother Mykola pose for a portrait at their family’s home in Dovzhyk, Ukraine. (Adrienne Surprenant/MYOP/The Wall Street Journal)

The man in this photo, Mykola, and his three brothers were detained by the Russians and tortured for two days, photographer Adrienne Surprenant reported.

The Russians brought them to a distant location and shot them in the back of the head. Mykola survived as the bullet only went through his ear.

“What is done to understand, document and seek justice for what happened?” Surprenant wondered. “What happens with the collaborators, or the looters who took advantage during the occupation? And how do you reconstruct while the country is still at war? The underlying question that lingered in my mind through it all: How does a country cope with trauma?”

Emergency workers carry Iryna Kalinin, an injured pregnant woman, outside of a bombed hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine. She and her unborn baby later died. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Russian forces bombed a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, in March 2022.

“I had seen a lot of human suffering before Mariupol, but I had never seen so many children killed in one single place in such a short period of time,” said Evgeniy Maloletka, who photographed the scene for the Associated Press.

The most widely shown photo was of Iryna Kalinin, an injured pregnant woman, being carried on a stretcher. She and her unborn baby later died.

“They rushed to take her to the ambulance while passing by the debris of buildings, smashed cars, fallen trees and destruction,” he said. “The next day this picture was everywhere, and the whole world knew about the maternity hospital.”

This photo, taken with a drone, shows the wreckage of a Russian helicopter in Mala Rohan, Ukraine. (Maxim Dondyuk)

After the Ukrainian army liberated the village of Mala Rohan, photographer Maxim Dondyuk went in to explore the area. He used a drone to capture this image of a Russian helicopter that, according to locals, was mistakenly shot down by Russians.

Dondyuk said he never intended to be a war photographer and never will be. But he feels compelled to document his country’s struggle.

“In the first months of the war, I often experienced moments of hopelessness; there were many things that broke me down,” he said. “All this pain, all these emotions, they are very heavy, very destructive. So I channel my emotions into photography. Everything I experience — anger, fear, disappointment, pain, tears, joy — it all finds its way into my photographs. The more intensely you feel these emotions, the stronger your art becomes.”

A young boy waits at a refugee reception center in Korczowa, Poland, near the Ukrainian border. (Espen Rasmussen/VII/VG)

Anastazia fled from Kyiv with her two daughters, Anita and Arina. They moved to Poland, where thousands opened their homes to Ukrainian refugees. (Espen Rasmussen/VII/VG)

“I have covered many wars and refugee crises during my more than 20 years as a photojournalist, but this was the first time that almost all the refugees are women and children,” Espen Rasmussen said. “While most of the Ukrainian men had to stay in their homeland for military service and resistance, women with their children, old grandmothers, and young female students arrived by the tens of thousands in Poland.”

Rasmussen was at the border around the beginning of the war, watching the scene unfold.

“I witnessed tearful reunions, hopelessness, uncertainty and fear,” he said. “I also met people from all over Europe who came to the border to help.”

There was the French baker, Rasmussen said, who filled two trucks with bread and supplies and then drove for 14 hours to hand them out. A Norwegian rented a bus and picked up refugees who wanted to go to Norway. Many Polish people opened up their homes.

“To witness the collective efforts to help, gave a feeling of hope for many of the refugees,” Rasmussen said.

Volodymyr Zvarychuk returns to his late father’s home in Bucha to collect his vestments. Here, he breaks the news of his death to Pani Kateryna, an elderly woman his father was caring for during the occupation. (Christopher Occhicone)

Photographer Christopher Occhicone was in Bucha, working for the Wall Street Journal, when they came across the body of a man who had been fatally shot an an auto repair shop.

They later learned that the man, Myron Zvarychuk, was a priest who had been living in the city and caring for an elderly woman.

“While we were waiting for the autopsy to be completed, we went to inform her of Father Myron’s fate,” Occhicone recalled. “I watched the son, who had just found out his father was dead, give this woman a shoulder to cry on.”

Occhicone drove to the family’s village for the funeral.

“Over 100 people from the village came to pay their respects,” he remembered. “They sang traditional songs while raising loaves of bread over their heads to honor him. They marched in a procession several kilometers to the local church for another ceremony and then another long march to the cemetery for his burial.”

Tatiana Petrovna reacts in a garden where three bodies were found in Bucha. (Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times)

The shocking photos coming out of Bucha sparked international outrage and raised the urgency of ongoing investigations into alleged Russian war crimes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russian leaders to be held accountable for the actions of the nation’s military.

Daniel Berehulak was working for The New York Times when he captured this photo of Tatiana Petrovna reacting to three bodies in a backyard. It was just one of what he said were “countless mind-numbing scenes of horror.”

“We saw civilians who had been executed in their yards, streets, doorways or kitchens,” said Berehulak, who grew up in Australia as the son of Ukrainian immigrants. “We heard and documented testimonies of torture and rape.”

People, along with their pets, arrive at a destroyed bridge in Irpin as they try to flee the area in March 2022. (Byron Smith/VII Mentor Program)

Natalya mourns the death of her 40-year-old son, Alexander, in Irpin. (Byron Smith/VII Mentor Program)

Byron Smith met Natalya, a mother mourning her son, at a cemetery in Irpin, a couple of months after the invasion.

She told him that her son was killed trying to rescue her from an underground shelter as she hid from Russian troops. When volunteers found the body of the 40-year-old real estate agent, he showed signs of torture and had a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

Natalya was just one of the many people Smith met with a horrific story.

“Days before I arrived, a mother and two children were killed in a mortar attack right where several colleagues and I came under a barrage,” Smith recalled. “Downtown Irpin was eerie and surreal, where you saw there were some residents who decided to stay hunkered down in shelters, looters raiding local markets and shops, and a number of bodies strewn in parks and alleys.”

Smith spent about six months in the country, working in many different cities.

“What truly surprises me and sticks with me is how, with anyone I met in an unfortunate circumstance, they still brought me in and offered me what little they had,” he said. “That’s why sometimes I leave a seemingly hopeless situation with a bit more hope.”

Newly married couple Yaryna Arieva and Sviatoslav Fursin pose for a photo in Kyiv after they joined the Territorial Defense Forces. (Mykhaylo Palinchak)

Just hours after Russia invaded their country, Ukrainians Yaryna Arieva and Sviatoslav Fursin got married.

They spent their first day as a married couple collecting their rifles and getting ready to defend Ukraine, CNN reported. They were supposed to get married in May, but they moved up the date because they weren’t sure what the future held.

“The situation is hard. We are going to fight for our land,” Arieva said. “We maybe can die, and we just wanted to be together before all of that.”

Photographer Mykhaylo Palinchak was there to document the marriage.

“I never thought of being a war photographer,” he said. “I prefer to shoot the calm daily life of my country doing street photography. But when war came to my country, to my hometown and even to the streets where I live as a citizen and as a photographer, I had no other option than to document what was going on around me.”

A man stands in a ray of light that shined into the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works plant, where the last Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol were under siege in May 2022. (Dmytro Kozatski)

Dmytro Kozatskyi was one of the Ukrainian soldiers holed up at the Azovstal steel plant, defending Mariupol under “nonstop” Russian bombardment in May 2022.

“I’d seen this ray of light a couple of times. As a photographer, it caught my attention,” he said. “It shone down between the bunker that we stayed in and the bunker with all the wounded people.”

On the day he shared this photo, Kozatskyi and many of his fellow soldiers were captured by the Russians. He would eventually return home after four months, part of a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia.

“A few or the interrogators recognized me and told me about my photos getting awards in photo competitions,” he recalled. “At that moment, my interest in the photos was nonexistent. In captivity, you don’t think about photo awards or what got published. My mind was filled with thoughts about home, my family, my close friends. In captivity, I dreamt about a future, about traveling, about delicious food, and sometimes about any food at all. All of our dreams were so simple.”

Kozatskyi titled this photo “The light will win.”

“The ray in my photograph represents light winning over darkness,” he said. “I am grateful that the Ukrainian people use this photo to symbolize hope tor a better future.”

The book “Ukraine: A War Crime,” published by FotoEvidence, is available for purchase.

Maria Lewis

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