“Why am I here? Don’t you see what’s happening in Ukraine?” Seven portraits of Ukrainian fighters on the front lines

Article by: Olha Omelianchuk, journalist; Serhiy Korovayny, photojournalist, visual storyteller
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

Destination – a small village in Luhansk Oblast inhabited by 200 civilians. Only random lights flicker in the windows of the village houses. It’s dark, quiet and still. A peaceful scene that instills a false sense of security and lulls you to sleep.

Locals do not linger in the streets. They go to bed early and get up early. They know that, for the time being, it’s safe and they are well protected by the Ukrainian army.

It’s here that the King Danylo 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade stands guard

Radio Donbas.Realii met with the Ukrainian soldiers to create these stark, but telling black-and-white portraits. An improvised photo studio with windows covered with sandbags. The story of one unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and yet, the daily reality for an entire generation of people, old and young.

Most of these soldiers weren’t even 18 years old when Russia occupied Crimea and launched a war in the Donbas.

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Ivan, 20 years old, senior soldier. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“The war started when I was 13 years old. My godfather was on the front lines, and I remember how we collected stuff and assisted his unit. I didn’t really understand what war was really like. But, older people told me about it and that’s how I finally arrived at the conclusion that we must defend Ukraine. After school, I tried to enter university, and I got into the Faculty of Law. But, I realized I had to be here. I interrupted my studies and signed a contract with the Armed Forces. I’ve been serving since the age of 18.” Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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Vsevolod, 23 years old, lieutenant. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“I’m a career soldier. This year, I graduated from the Academy of the Ground Forces in Lviv. In 2014, I was 16 years old. I was studying IT technologies and didn’t at all dream of building a career in the army. But, after the occupation of Crimea, everything changed. I decided to leave my college and enroll in a military academy. My parents refused to support me and told me to think it over. So, I continued my studies and joined a volunteer organization. When I graduated, I enrolled at the military academy. Here I am!” Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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Vitaliy Kharaustenko, 26 years old, soldier. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“Why did I join the army? So that the war doesn’t reach my home, the place where I live. So that war doesn’t spread to the peaceful part of Ukraine. Have you seen the ruined homes here, in this village? Have you seen how people live? It hurts to look at this. I don’t want to see that near my home or anywhere else.” Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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Oleksandr, 20 years old, senior soldier. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“My father and I both serve in the Armed Forces. Only he’s in another unit. In fact, our whole family is in the army. My grandfather’s a colonel. My mother’s a senior ensign. My father’s a captain. I’ve been serving for two years, but I’ve never been here before. I was with the Military Law Enforcement Service. I asked to be transferred because I felt I’d be more effective here. ” Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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Yuriy, 19 years old, senior soldier. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“Don’t you see what’s happening in Ukraine? How can you just sit on the sidelines? I don’t know. I’ve been serving for almost a year. I signed a contract immediately after I finished school, at the age of 18”. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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Oleksandr, 37 years old, soldier. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“I have three children. Why did I join the army? Because I want to protect them and their future. I don’t even want to think about them being caught up in the war! It’s scary for anyone to be under fire, but especially for children.” Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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Petro, 39 years old, soldier. Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

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“I’ve been serving since 2015. Why? And why are you here? Probably because it matters, right? Each and every one of us defends Ukraine in his own way. I’m here to protect what’s mine.
You know, I met people with different attitudes in the Donbas, but I’ll never forget an elderly lady from Krymske, who knelt down and literally prayed for us. She cried with happiness and was ready to do anything to help as long as those Russian-backed militants didn’t return. And the children… also in Luhansk region. They asked for food for their grandmothers. And I’d say: “Aren’t you hungry?” Of course they were. We always shared and continue sharing everything we have.” Photo: Serhiy Korovayny, (RFE/RL)

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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