Opinion, Special projects, War in Donbas

Article by: Christine Chraibi
Zoya Shu’s photo series Integrity depicts the scars and wounds of war suffered by ordinary people who stood in defence of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The photos are stark black-and-white shadows, ominous and painful, faceless and yet personalized.

In 2014, Russia invaded and occupied Crimea and certain parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, thus breaching international law and several bilateral and multilateral agreements. Ukraine lost control over 7% of its territory and has been in a state of physical and hybrid war ever since.


Kyiv photographer Zoya Shu has spent over a year working on her photo project Integrity, which displays faceless photos of wounded warriors.

“This story is about each and every one of us. The wounds of war in our country are our wounds. It’s a collective trauma that will be with us for decades and we have a lot to repair” says Zoya Shu.



To illustrate her photo series, Shu chose a quote by Ukrainian dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil, leader of the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh), the man who led the Ukrainian independence movement and dominated Ukrainian politics for a decade. Chornovil died in a suspicious highway accident near Boryspil Airport on March 25, 1999:

“We [Ukrainians]are not composed of Banderites or Moscovites, western and eastern Ukrainians. We are all the people of Ukraine.”

Zoya Shu underlines that there is no logic in any kind of divide, whether it be geographical, social, ethnic or mental, especially in a country where war affects everyone, regardless of where they live and what political or ideological views they hold.


She maintains that her photo cycle is not only an anti-war statement, but also an artistic response to Russia’s ongoing hostile attacks against the country in which she lives.

“I wanted to illustrate the war by means of striking images and convey a strong anti-war message. No one anywhere wants war. Unfortunately, this war has been forced upon all of us. Everything that’s been happening in Ukraine since 2014 is unspeakable and gut-wrenching…”


Kyiv photographer Zoya Shu

The war has been costly in terms of damages and deaths.  The Donbas, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, was brutally torn away from the rest of the country and completely destroyed. Russia’s occupation of Crimea led to loss of control over the Kerch straight and basically, the Sea of Azov.

The war has resulted in a loss of over 40% of Ukraine’s total GDP… and thousands of lives. It has also led to wanton use of violence and numerous human rights violations in the occupied territories. Thousands of people have been illegally detained and tortured; hundreds are missing. In Crimea, Russia continues persecuting the Crimean Tatar community and resettling Russian citizens to the peninsula. This calls to mind the deportation and resettlement politics that were carried out in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s rule, when the entire Crimean Tatar population was deported from their homeland in 1944.


Integrity depicts the scars and wounds of war suffered by ordinary people who stood in defence of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The photos are stark black-and-white shadows, ominous and painful, faceless and yet personalized.

“I decided to depersonalize the men in these photos, as I wanted to emphasize that this war concerns us all. These are young people; most of them haven’t even reached thirty! Many were born after 1991, in an independent Ukraine. They all went to war because their country was in danger.

Each one has lived through dramatic situations. Fortunately, they survived… Since the beginning of 2021, despite the so-called “ceasefire” of July 2020, shelling and gunfire continue and Ukrainians are wounded and killed almost every day,” states Shu.

The battle scars are an allegory of a mutilated country. People from every region of Ukraine have been affected; men and women from all over the country have been maimed, injured and traumatized.


The servicemen depicted in the images suffered different wounds – mostly caused by mines, shrapnel or bullets. One of the men was wounded and severely burnt when his tank caught fire during enemy shelling; he was then taken prisoner and tortured by Russian mercenaries.

“But, I don’t want to distract the viewer with details of personal stories. This series is allegorical and symbolic. I draw a parallel between what our country is going through and the men’s suffering. My country, Ukraine, has fallen victim to gross violations of international law, aggression and occupation. I don’t like the word “victim”, but we’ve been forced into a situation where we must resist and defend ourselves.”

Surviving the “DNR/LNR”. Photo project reveals the horror of captivity

Zoya Shu maintains that the project is not just about war, but also about Ukraine, integrity and unity. But, integrity is both physical and mental. Ukraine is on the path to healing the wounds of imposed differences and artificially instilled fears, shaping a better future… and restoring Integrity.



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