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Magnum - A Year in Ukraine


Destruction of the Saur Moglia memorial after intense fights between Ukrainian army and pro-Russian forces. November 26, 2014 © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos.

It’s everyday people that are the ones who lose everything in a matter of minutes.”


A woman inspects the damage to her apartment. Uglegorsk, August 13, 2014 © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos.

Following the Euromaidan protests and the so-called Revolution of Dignity in 2014 and the ousting of Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, Sessini traveled to eastern Ukraine to photograph Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the armed conflict that had erupted in the Donbas.

He says it was immediately obvious to him that there was a longer, more complex story for him to tell than his work as a visual journalist. And eventually, this work was made into a book, Inner Disorder, published by Editorial RM in 2022, which collects his personal accounts from a three-year period (2014-17) in Ukraine, alongside his personal recollections.

It doesn’t matter which side of the conflict I’m on,” he says. “It’s everyday people that are the ones who lose everything in a matter of minutes; the people who don’t have the means to leave the country.” These photographs are important for giving us a view into what war in Ukraine has been like for those who have been living with it since the very beginning, nine years ago.


Trench warfare. Ukrainian soldiers at second line of defense near front line. Kyiv region, April 1, 2022 © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos.

Larry Towell, a veteran of conflicts in Palestine, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Afghanistan, recalls the restrictions he faced while photographing in Maidan Square alongside Sessini. ​​“I’d never experienced a war like this before, where photos and satellites were used to target infrastructure,” laments Towell.

Today, photos can quickly be geo-located to reveal sensitive information, such as the location of military units, equipment and installations. Analysts can use features of the images, such as buildings, trees or other landmarks, to compare them with satellite imagery on platforms like Google Maps. This trend has gained popularity with the emergence of open-source intelligence (OSINT) and the accessibility of satellite imagery and social media platforms.

You were not allowed to photograph the military, and I was not about to photograph civilian installations. I couldn’t even photograph the Maidan caltrops that were set up to defend against tanks. It was a difficult environment to work in.”

Security concerns have magnified since Russia’s invasion, making military access near enough impossible for photojournalists. On his visit to Ukraine in March 2022, Towell spent 19 days documenting the conflict, including the former battlegrounds of the towns outside Kyiv, including Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, Vorzel and Borodyanka. “There was one time that I got to the frontline. The whole area was like an ant hill, joined together by trenches that soldiers walked [besides] so they could drop down at any moment.”

I had the camera down all the time because I had an agreement that I could only shoot down inside the trenches. [The military] were fine with that, even though they were still quite nervous about everything.” The photographer attempted to approach the frontline in the same way he approached the barricades at Maidan, sharing how people maintain and rebuild the infrastructure.”

Funeral for three Ukrainian soldiers. Lychakiv Cemetery. Lviv, March 31, 2022 © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos.

However, there are occasions when photographers are not just tolerated, they are welcome. “At public events such as military funerals, you’re expected to be there, so long as you’ve got your press card. And they’re glad that you are.”

A Magnum photographer from neighboring Poland, Rafał Milach, is driven by a sense of close proximity to the conflict. Yet his work on the war in Ukraine demonstrates that it is not always necessary to get close up to the conflict to show its fallout.

His work is a reminder that war is not as distant as it may seem - it can happen anywhere and encroach upon even the most ordinary settings. He started taking photographs on the day of the invasion, documenting the shell-shocked Ukrainians arriving at Poland’s border control. It was during his visit to western Ukraine that he redirected his focus away from human suffering onto spaces that are recognizable to us, found in our own neighborhoods.

A bomb shelter in the underground swimming pool of the Lviv Regional Children’s Specialized Hospital. Lviv, March 13, 2022 © Rafał Milach/Magnum Photos.

This could be your parking lot, your public swimming pool, your hospital.”


A trident, the coat of arms of Ukraine, drawn on the wall of a residential parking lot that was turned into a temporary bomb shelter. Lviv, April 9, 2022 © Rafał Milach/Magnum Photos.

When I [crossed the border to go] to Lviv in March 2022, I was interested in the spaces and the architecture and how they shifted during the war-time invasion.”

One of his vivid memories was visiting an underground swimming pool that had been converted into an oncological hospital. Suddenly, an alarm sounded, and patients - including children fighting for their lives - were forced to take cover in the basement. Milach was struck by the heartbreaking sight of mothers struggling to care for their sick children in cramped, uncomfortable conditions. But he purposefully left people out of his picture frame, instead relying on the familiarity of these spaces to spark empathy.

By focusing on the spaces and structures themselves, Milach’s images become a record of the impact of war, rather than the documentation of a particular event. “This could be your parking lot, your public swimming pool, your hospital,” he says.

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