Winner of the 2022 Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Visa d'or Award
5.30am, Moscow, February 24, 2022. Vladimir Putin was seated at his desk and announced the start of a special military operation in Ukraine. The first strikes hit the country, and President Volodymyr Zelensky called on his people to take up arms. The life of millions of Ukrainians changed in a matter of moments.
In a hospital in Kyiv, a mother is at her son’s bedside; she has been there for three months; he was wounded in shellfire and his leg was amputated. In what remains of Borodyanka, an elderly woman is asking for directions; she is lost in her own home town. In Lviv, the curator of a museum is contemplating the empty walls. And a mother weeps for her son, her second to die in combat.
Here it is not just land that is lost; it is an entire country, its identity, heritage, and economy. Some people have had no other choice than to flee; others have chosen to remain. Life is now in underground shelters, in trains and tunnels, to the sound of sirens as death comes from the sky, and the trauma of war permeates every thought. “I saw a video showing Russian soldiers engulfed in flames, and I laughed. For a moment there I didn’t know who I was; everything had changed. I would never have thought I could behave like that.” Alina, who lives in Kyiv, was telling her story.
The pictures here were done on assignment between March and May for the daily newspaper Le Monde. They are my endeavor to show the everyday experience of war, to show the impact it has on the people, presenting a documentary record of their life which, while torn apart, still continues. We realize that war is more than just weapons and destruction, that it has an impact on the lives of millions, some of them trapped in their homes, their cities, their country. At a time when news reporting has been exploited, distorted and instrumentalized, it is essential to show the real experience of war.
In the field are people doing their jobs: the fixers, doctors, volunteers and soldiers, and when we leave they remain, still working there. There is waiting, even boredom, there is fear, doubt, a sense of absurdity; there is life and death. These pictures can only convey a split second of everyday life out there where war is present, all the time, relentlessly so.