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At the begining of 2022, photography duo Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni travelled to Ukraine in order to document a nation getting yourself ready for war. What they didn’t find out then was that these everyone else would be putting their newly learned skills to the check just weeks later
It had been in 2014 that everyday Ukrainians – demanding democratic value and EU integration during the country’s uprising, called the Maidan Revolution – started to feel seriously concerned for safety. Several months prior, the particular then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yakukovynch reversed his decision to sign a historic business pact with the European Union. The public outcry that ensued rebuked the leader for acting on stress from the Kremlin in Russian federation, and led to student-led presentations in Kyiv’s Independence Square, calling for Yakukovynch’s resignation and an end Ukraine’s virus ridden political system. The government responded angrily to political displeasure and issued a series of repressive laws, essentially outlawing the ideal to protest. When that didn’t stop the swell of demonstrations, they sent the Berkut police unit to intervene and split up the masses by means of force — terrorising civilians with batons and opening gunfire onto the crowds. Protesters had to quickly become artists associated with self-defence, making makeshift bulletproof vests from stacks associated with magazines, donning ski goggles, motorcycle helmets and knee pads, and arming themselves with spades and football bats.
“People were passing away, and this was happening right in the centre of Kyiv, ” says Italian documentary photographer Jean-Marc Caimi. He recalls the events which ended in the series The Fighters of Maidan ], made with his longtime collaborator, Valentina Piccinni. Their words hang heavy, not only because the shock of law enforcement brutality at Euromaidan still hasn’t worn off, but since – after an eight-year separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine – the nation is usually under relentless and disastrous Russian attack. The world woke up on 24 February to learn that will Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered military procedures in the north, east and south of Ukraine, with multiple missiles and surroundings raids targeting the capital Kyiv plus cities including Kharkiv and Odesa. The Ukrainains had expected the invasion for some time, along with news of Russian troops amassing on the country’s border being reported as early as March 2021.
The Italian duo, known as Caimi & Piccinni, arrived in Kyiv at the start of 2022. It was their 3rd visit since completing The Fighters associated with Maidan and their follow-up projects, War Games plus War Scars about the volunteers and veterans of fighting with each other in eastern Ukraine. During this recent stay they created How To Survive a War , a photograph project documenting the warfare-training workshops taking place on freezing weekends in Kyiv plus beyond.
A t the time, Putin’s war was a threat without certainty. “There was a conjecture that the first missile strike would arrive in Kyiv upon 13 February, ” states Caimi. “When that didn’t happen, people felt tranquil, hoping it was all politics hot air. ” The professional photographers returned to Italy the day before the airstrikes began.
The land that we now know as Ukraine has a long history of occupation over the centuries – by Mongol warriors in the 13th one hundred year, by Polish and Lithuanian powers in the 16th century, falling to imperial Spain in the 18th century, then the Soviet Union – made Ukrainians hardy against attack.
“Ukrainians are delivered with resistance in the GENETICS, ” says Caimi. “If something like this ever occurred in Italy…” He laughs about the prospect of attack in his homeland. “We do not take warfare courses. All of us take the car and go to Switzerland. ” In Ukraine, however , Putin’s war has been all too real. “[After eight years] you’re going to expect citizens to say, ‘Let’s teach for war because it might be necessary to be prepared’. ”
Caimi & Piccinni say that their warfare-training reportage is about the mental preparation the workshops encourage. “The teaching gives you different skills. Initial, you learn the hows: methods to heal a wound, the way to hide, how to dodge an explosion, ” they explain. Second are lessons upon teamwork and support. “If your building gets attacked or you have to flee, you need to believe in that other people will help. It will help to know non-verbal cues. The training is intended to make you more articulate when you have to do something inside a critical situation. ”
As many Ukrainians are now experiencing firsthand, especially those fighting unarmed in Russia-occupied cities like Kherson (an important port city on the Black Sea in south Ukraine), survival is not only about practical skills. What helps enormously is thinking that, “you belong to some thing, that you are part of a group”.
“We cannot say for sure whether the training had a genuine impact on citizens, but it seems to have helped a lot. Even the Russians did not expect the Ukrainians to be so prepared”
One of the workshops’ participants told the photography duo that she took the course after feeling stressed of the news and planning to be around others, to actively build a network. Considering that Russia’s invasion, she has used shelter in one of the train carriages in the Kyiv metro. Whenever Caimi & Piccinni were finally able to contact the girl on the fourth day of the war, she sent over some photos. Remarkably, she was smiling in the images. “Watching the war taking place in real time and the extraordinary resistance of Ukrainian people, we all cannot say for sure whether the training had a real impact on citizens, but it seems to have assisted a lot, ” says Caimi. “Even the Russians did not expect the Ukrainians to become so prepared. ”