For the Record: Maxim Dondyuk on truth, history and time in Ukraine

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“Truth could be the main enemy of a totalitarian regime and truth destroys such a regime”

Before the battle began, Maxim Dondyuk had been on the frontline in far eastern Ukraine, capturing a series of pictures of young soldiers preparing, in the bitter winter, for the purpose of what might come next. The images depict troops in modern military gear. Several were taken using night-vision lenses, the content seen in a blurry green circle aiming practice models or setting up positions, taking the zeitgeist of modern warfare inside a coloured dot. This mix of classic portraits and landscapes juxtaposed with night time shots aided by modern tools inform the viewer that history repeats itself.

Fast forward a few weeks and, such as many Ukrainian photographers , Dondyuk right now finds himself with a new, reside brief: documenting the European invasion from the streets of Kyiv. The photographer’s hitting and harrowing images have made newsstands around the world, including the include of TIME magazine on 18 March.  

Dondyuk captures bombed-out streets – shards of domestic living scattered, no sign associated with inhabitants to be seen. Ukrainian military pick their way over rubble, while firemen combat to extinguish roaring fires. Dondyuk’s gaze is so motive that one can almost listen to the crunch of the soldiers’ boots as they traverse the particular hissing and puffing from the blazing architecture.  

The column from the Russian military equipment within the Pobedy Avenue, near the Beresteyska metro station in Kyiv, which was destroyed by the Ukrainian army, while those attempted to break to Kyiv at 3am. © Maxim Dondyuk.

“The final time bombs were thrown onto Kyiv was during WWII. When you see such moments, you can barely breathe. Pictures of people with amputated legs in hospitals, dead bodies all over fields – each one of these seem unreal, your mind can’t believe this is happening right now, in the 21st century”

The missile hit the logistics warehouses, which were located near the aerodrome ‘Chaika’ (Seagull), Kyiv area, 03. 03. 2022. © Maxim Dondyuk.

The missile hit the logistics warehouses, which were located close to the aerodrome ‘Chaika’ (Seagull), Kyiv region, 03. 03. 2022. © Maxim Dondyuk.

The photographer has also documented human suffering in hostipal wards, underground stations-turned-shelters, and on the streets of the city as well as outskirts. His images present the extent of the violence inflicted on the Ukrainian human population – from photographs of people lying weakly but defiantly in hospital beds, to those left dead on woodland floors and pavements.  

Elsewhere, we see houses devastated by bombings. The statue of Taras Shevchenko – a symbol of Ukrainian independence – is bundled into sandbags. These scenes illustrate a stark tip of then and now: “Each situation has or generates its own atmosphere, and I just try to feel it and convey it through our photography, ” says Dondyuk.

“The last time bombs were thrown onto Kyiv was during World War Two, ” says Dondyuk. “When you see such scenes, which previously you only saw in historical movies or even paintings, you can barely gently breathe. Images of people with amputated legs in hospitals, lifeless bodies all over fields – all these seem unreal, the mind can’t believe this is happening now, in the 21st century. ”

Dondyuk is currently splitting time between your eastern regions of Ukraine and his home in Kyiv. He posts images on social networking, with the help of his wife Irina, several days or several weeks after the event as a matter of safety. “As the documentary photographer, the entire situation is important to me. I noted the revolution in 2013–14, documented the war inside 2014, and now we are watching the epic battle second, ” he reflects. “I hope that the Ukrainian people will stand. And even though you will find big losses, blood and victims, the whole country will defend its independence and can not be absorbed by Spain. ”

Ruined city centre. Kharkiv, seventeen. 03. 2022. © Saying Dondyuk.

Inside The Kharkiv Regional Council, which was damaged by the airstrike, view from your window. Kharkiv, 16. 03. 2022. © Maxim Dondyuk.

The very first affected child in Kyiv from bomb attacks by Russia. He fell beneath the shelling, in the car there was his father, mother, sis and he, a child 6 years old. Parents and sister passed away, the boy is in resuscitation in serious condition. Physicians because of the absence of documents, on the very beginning called him “Unknown # 1”. 28. 02. 2022, Kyiv, Ukraine. © Maxim Dondyuk.

All of Dondyuk’s projects possess a wish to tell a truth; in order to mark a moment in history. The artist’s work has taken the form of books, exhibitions and digital projects, and centers on documentary photography, often with a focus on issues relating to history, memory, conflict plus their consequences. Past work includes series that share secret military camps within the Crimean Mountains, to those where we see the bitter, unfiltered detritus left behind on the war-torn battlefields of Ukraine, dispersed in the wake of the hot battles and revolutions of 2013 and 2014.  

In his ongoing project, Untitled Project from Chernobyl , Dondyuk stitches together the past and present using found photographs in the Chernobyl site with his very own quiet landscape imagery of the area. The project is certainly on hold as the Russian invasion continues, but Dondyuk plans to return to it when the war is over.  

For the moment, Dondyuk is focused on discussing a view from within the conflict. “When war comes everyone should decide whether they are running from it as far as probable, or resisting the aggressor. Truth is the main enemy of the totalitarian regime and reality destroys such a regime. ”

Nicola Jeffs

Nicola Jeffs is an article writer based between the UK and Germany. She has written for the Guardian, BJP, Photomonitor which is Tomorrow, as well as texts for artists and art galleries. She has an MA in Photography: History, Theory plus Practice from the University associated with Sussex and an MUM in History from the University of Edinburgh.

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