Caimi & Piccinni picture brave Ukrainians just weeks prior to the Russian invasion

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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.  

© Caimi & Piccinni.

© Caimi & Piccinni.

“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.  

Weekend warfare training in the Desnyans’kyi District is definitely run by the Kiev Territorial Defence Corps. These courses are aimed at ordinary citizens and take place in a remote wooded area on the outskirts of the capital. © Caimi & Piccinni.

A young woman trains in the bushes of Plesets’ke on the outskirts associated with Kyiv during the free weekend war workshop organized with a paramilitary group of soldiers. Students are ordinary people and are inquired to escape after an exploding market, which is simulated with a smoke grenade. A tunnel associated with tractor wires was set up as an escape path. © Caimi & Piccinni.

A ‘tactical medicine course’ takes place in the bushes associated with Plesets’ke, on the outskirts associated with Kiev. The students, almost all ordinary citizens with no knowledge, learn the basics of first-aid in war situations. Simulations of different challenging situations are staged by the students beneath the guidance of a veteran or perhaps a reservist soldier. © Caimi & Piccinni.

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” 

Weekend warfare training in the particular Desnyans’kyi District is operate by the Kiev Territorial Defence Corps. These courses are aimed at ordinary citizens plus take place in a remote wooded area on the outskirts of the capital. © Caimi & Piccinni.

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. ” 

One of the targets available at Liski Center Tactica Polygon with different subjects. This one bears the image of Putin and is one of the most well-known of the “fun” ones. Apprentices here are usually private entrepreneurs and people with good money, as polygons are usually very expensive. An 8 mm gun bullet costs on average one particular euro and many are used during an one-hour training session. © Caimi & Piccinni.

Liza Premiyak

Liza Premiyak is a London-based journalist. For the last 7 years, she’s been thinking about understanding, of all places, what it takes to live, create and demonstration in Eastern Europe. Until recently, she was Controlling Editor at The Calvert Record, where she looked after the online publication’s photo stories and ran the New East Image Prize, broadening perceptions of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asian countries.

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