U.S. (of Ukrainian descent)

U.S. (of Ukrainian descent)

Traditional Post-Conflict Grant

Joseph Sywenkyj, 2022 Winner

An intimate study of Ukrainian activists and soldiers who were severely injured during the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014 and Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, begun in 2014. Sywenkyj, an American photographer of Ukrainian descent, has documented the severe challenges endured by these Ukrainians – but also their stories of revitalization and recovery.

"A prosthetic was ready for me in December 2014, but I did not stand on it for almost half a year. I was simply lethargic. My attitude was: I had a leg, and now I do not have a leg. I did not even want to wear it. I stayed home and did not want to do anything. In August 2015 I went for rehabilitation in Austria and in four days began to walk on the prosthetic. At home there was no motivation, but there [in Austria] I did not want to let down the doctors or my parents. The doctors there put me on my feet and showed me exercises. I lifted myself up and began to walk, began to travel in Ukraine, began exercising, appeared in magazines and began meeting new people. It is important not to be idle."

 

 

Ukrainian army veteran Andrij Zabihailo, 28, of Kryvyi Rih, takes part in a new fitness program for wounded soldiers at a gym in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The aim of the program is to give wounded veterans a place to work out and to show them that life doesn’t end after being wounded in war. In May 2014 Andrij quit his job and joined the army where he served in the 17th Tank Brigade as a commander of a BMP-2. He was severely wounded while carrying out his duties when an RPG hit his brigade’s position. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 26, 2016

“If I was not a patriot, I would not have joined the army.” Taras Moklyak, 23, a grenade launcher operator from Ivano-Frankivsk, is comforted by Natalia, a close friend, at the Kyiv Military Hospital shortly before traveling to Germany for further medical treatment. Taras was mobilized in May 2014, and was wounded in the village of Starodubne. He has severe abdominal and pelvic injuries. Kyiv, Ukraine, March 19, 2015

The funeral procession for Serhey Korchinsky, a 35-year-old Ukrainian soldier killed in the war, makes its way to the cemetery. Serhey died several weeks after suffering severe burns near the front line of the Russian and separatist occupied areas of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Novodnistrovsk, Ukraine, November 24, 2015

Valentya Ivanivna grieves over the casket of her son Serhey Korchinsky, a 35-year-oldUkrainian soldier. Serhey died several weeks after suffering severe burns near the front line of the Russian and separatist occupied areas of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Novodnistrovsk, Ukraine, November 24, 2015

Vadym Ushakov, a 26-year-old Ukrainian soldier, was severely wounded in Avdiivka in April 2016 and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Vadym cannot talk, but he comprehends everything. He is currently undergoing intensive physical therapy at a private clinic. Brovary, Ukraine, June 27, 2019

“Our life has changed completely,” said Svitlana Kapusta, 29. Svitlana wipes the brow of her husband, Sgt. Sergey Masan, a Ukrainian paratrooper from the southern Ukrainian region of Mykolaiv, as he recovers in a hospital in Dnipropetrovsk. Sgt. Masan sustained burns to 70% of his body and lost several fingers in a grad rocket attack in the village of Dyakovo in Luhansk Oblast near the Russian border. He spent approximately three months in the war zone and asserted that his brigade was frequently fired upon with grad rockets launched from the Russian Federation into Ukraine. Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, September 29, 2014

“I am just very thankful that I already have children.”

Artem Zapototsky, 34, undergoes physical therapy in a pool in Truskavets. Artem was severely wounded while taking part in the Euromaidan Revolution on February 20, 2014, when he was shot in the back as he stood unarmed on a footbridge. The bullet damaged his spine before being embedded near his left shoulder blade, where it remains today. Married and a father of two children, Artem is a lawyer from Lutsk. Dedicated and motivated, he aspires to regain the use of his legs and trains for approximately 6 hours a day while also continuing his work as a lawyer. Truskavets, Ukraine, September 6, 2014

“I went to the Maidan on February 1st. I could not sit and watch the disorder [from afar] -- the beating of children, students as well as their parents at the hands of the Berkut [riot police]. I could not wait and watch…. My heart was being torn apart by what was happening in the State.”

 

Volodymyr Honcharovsky is prepared for an X-ray at a hospital in Truskavetz, where he is undergoing physical therapy. Truskavetz, Ukraine, September 6, 2014

 

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euromaidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

“I taught myself how to give injections, so I don’t wake up my son, wife or mother in the middle of the night.” Volodomyr Honcharovsky administers a dose of Nalbuphine, a powerful opioid painkiller, as his son Nazar sleeps. A daily dose consists of 1 or 2 injections. At times Volodomyr administers up to six injections in a day. Teofipol, Ukraine, February 6, 2015

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euromaidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

Volodymyr Honcharovsky sits in church after his son’s christening. Teofipol, Ukraine, November 16, 2014

 

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euromaidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

Volodymyr Honcharovsky is assisted down a set of stairs after his son’s Christening. Proper infrastructure for the physically disabled barely exists in Ukrainian cities, towns and villages. Teofipol, Ukraine, November 16, 2014

 

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euromaidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

Volodymyr Honcharovsky’s mother Ljudmyla massages her son’s back in their home. Svyatets, Ukraine, January 26, 2015

 

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euro Maidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

Volodomyr Honcharovsky, an activist who took an active role in the Euromaidan Revolution views videos from the protest movement on his laptop. Teofipol, Ukraine, December 8, 2014

 

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euromaidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

Volodomyr Honcharovsky propels himself in his wheelchair outside his village home. Svyatets, Ukraine, December 9, 2014

 

Mr. Honcharovsky was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euromaidan Revolution. He underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage.

Leonid Khmelkov, a wounded Ukrainian war veteran, lays in bed with his girlfriend Alina. A bullet and shrapnel severely wounded Leonid on January 22, 2015, the day when Ukraine celebrates Unity Day. Leonid was a contract soldier who served in the 95th Zhytomyr Airborne Assault Brigade. He was wounded during the long and grueling battle over the Donetsk International Airport. Kyiv, Ukraine, May, 22, 2016

Vadym Dovhoryk, 23, a Ukrainian Special Forces soldier, lies in the intensive care ward at the Kyiv City Burn Center. He was near Debaltsevo when his unit was shelled on the second day of the armistice commonly referred to as Minsk II. Mr. Dovhoryk was wounded in the attack and also suffered severe frostbite after spending three days in a forest before being detained by Russian controlled forces. He is now a triple amputee.

 

“We were ambushed. I was informed yesterday about all the guys. Two others and I went missing. One of them was buried yesterday. Another is in a morgue in Dnipropetrovsk, but his parents have not yet recovered his remains. They recognized him but are still waiting for the DNA test results. He was our commander.” Kyiv, Ukraine, March 25, 2015

Vadym Dovhoryk, a Ukrainian Special Forces combat veteran from Kirovohrad, celebrates his 24th birthday with friends and volunteers in a park near the Kyiv City Burn center where he is undergoing treatment. Kyiv, Ukraine, June 21, 2015

 

Vadym was near Debaltsevo when his unit was shelled on the second day of the armistice commonly referred to as Minsk II. He was wounded in the attack and also suffered severe frostbite after spending three days in a forest before being detained by Russian controlled forces. He is a triple amputee.

Vadym Dovhoryk, 24, a Ukrainian Special Forces soldier, is pushed in his wheelchair out of the Kyiv City Burn Center by a friend and volunteer. Kyiv, Ukraine, June 28, 2015

 

Vadym was near Debaltsevo when his unit was shelled on the second day of the armistice commonly referred to as a Minsk II. He was wounded in the attack and also suffered severe frostbite after spending three days in a forest before being detained by Russian controlled forces. He is a triple amputee.

Oleksandr, 29, from Kirovohrad Oblast, has served in the Ukrainian military since 2011. Here he shows the scars he carries after being beaten and tortured with a knife while in captivity. Oleksandr was shot three times during a battle and was then taken prisoner by Russian controlled forces where he was physically and psychologically tortured by armed men. Kirovohrad, Ukraine, December 2, 2015

Artur Haltsov, 24, from Dnipropetrovsk, is fed through a tube that injects food through his nose directly into his stomach at Nodus, a neurological rehabilitation center. Artur attempted suicide due to PTSD shortly after witnessing his friend be torn to pieces in front of him during a battle with Russian controlled forces. Brovary, Ukraine, July 29, 2015

Artur Haltsov, 24, from Dnipropetrovsk, is strapped into a vertical position to help rehabilitate his feeling of space and balance at Nodus, a neurological rehabilitation center. Artur attempted suicide due to PTSD shortly after witnessing his friend be torn to pieces in front of him during a battle with Russian controlled forces. Brovary, Ukraine, July 29, 2015

Roman Kubishkin, a 41-year-old construction worker, is rolled into a hospital where he lives and undergoes therapy. Mr. Kubishkin joined a volunteer battalion and was based in Pisky, a village near the remains of the Donetsk International Airport. Shells fired by Russian controlled forces on January 22, 2015 nearly killed him; in fact, his fellow soldiers thought he was dead due to a severe head trauma during which Roman lost much of the right side of his brain. Brovary, Ukraine, July 28, 2015

A volunteer and a caretaker embrace next to Roman Kubishkin, a 41-year-old construction worker. Mr. Kubishkin joined a volunteer battalion and was based in Pisky, a village near the remains of the Donetsk International Airport. Shells fired by Russian controlled forces on January 22, 2015 nearly killed him; in fact, his fellow soldiers thought he was dead due to a severe head trauma during which Roman lost much of the right side of his brain. Brovary, Ukraine, July 28, 2015

Iryna Kubishkin prays next at the grave of her son, Roman Kubishkin, a volunteer Ukrainian soldier, who died 7 years after being severely wounded in Pisky, near the remains of the Donetsk International Airport. Throughout those 7 years, Roman could not move, feed himself or speak after losing almost 90% of the right side of his brain. Iryna believes he succumbed to complications due to Covid-19 infection. Dubno, Ukraine, July 28, 2021

Kateryna Panchenko (right), 20 years old and 7 months pregnant, cries over the body of her husband Edward, 22, at a morgue in Kyiv. Both are from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dniprodzerzhynsk. Mr. Panchenko, a soldier with the 93rd Brigade, was severely wounded in January during heavy fighting at the Donetsk International Airport. He died at the Kyiv Military Hospital in the early morning hours of February 8, 2015. Kyiv, Ukraine, February 10, 2015

Kateryna Panchenko, 20, cares for her son Andrij at home with the assistance of her mother. Kateryna’s husband, and Andrij’s father, Edward Panchenko, died at the Kyiv Military Hospital due to sepsis he contracted after being severely wounded during heavy fighting at the Donetsk International Airport. Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine, October 23, 2015

Volodymyr Kovalsky, a 32-year-old Ukrainian soldier and engineer, rises up onto his prosthetic legs during a visit with his pregnant wife Kateryna outside a maternity hospital in Kyiv. Volodymyr was severely injured when a mine exploded near the front line of the Russian and separatist occupied areas of the Donbas. He only recently began walking on prostheses. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 9, 2016

A physical therapist works with Junior Lieutenant Oleksandr Darmoros, 30, at the Kyiv Military Hospital as his wife Olena looks on. "At the moment, we are in the public eye," said Olena. "Everyone calls us and checks in on us. I tell him: Sasha, real life will begin when we get home and when it will be the three of us - me, you and our child. Then we will fully comprehend the changes that have occurred to us." A landmine explosion left Oleksandr completely blind and his left leg amputated below the knee. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 27, 2016

Junior Lieutenant Oleksandr Darmoros, 30, prays in front of icons at a monastery on the outskirts of Kyiv. A landmine explosion left Oleksandr completely blind and his left leg amputated below the knee. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 27, 2016

Photographer's Statement: 

This long-term project focuses intensely on individuals and their families who fought for justice, democracy and continued Ukrainian independence. It explores the consequences of war and the life-long process of healing.

 

Background

In February 2014, Ukraine’s president fled to Russia after security forces killed over 100

demonstrators during a mass protest movement in favor of a European future known as the

Euromaidan Revolution. Moscow then launched an invasion of Ukraine, illegally occupying

Crimea and eastern parts of the country. At this time Russia created a proxy force in the Donbas

that it arms and controls to this day using it to destabilize and pressure Ukraine. Over 14,000

people have been killed in the war thus far.

 

Proposal

The project centers on severely wounded men and their families. Their injuries range from intense burns, excruciating nerve damage and multiple amputations. Many battle post-traumatic stress disorder while some have become addicted to painkillers. Though there is much hardship and pain, this is a story about recovery. All of the individuals struggle to reclaim their lives while their loved ones and caretakers encourage and support the physical and emotional healing process.

 

Artur Haltzov, a 24-year-old Ukrainian soldier, attempted suicide by leaping from a hospital

window. He failed, but ended up with a debilitating brain injury. He was unresponsive and

malnourished with rigid arms and legs after he attempted to take his own life. His father recently informed me that after years of rehabilitation Artur can now get around

in a wheelchair, communicate in brief sentences and even got married. The family lives in eastern Ukraine and has invited me to continue photographing Artur’s recovery.

 

Artem Zapatotsky, 34, a husband, father and corporate lawyer at the time of the revolution, was shot in the back by riot police and paralyzed from the waist down. Today, Artem has moved his anti-corruption fervor into politics. As a member of the Volyn Regional

Council, similar to a state Senate in the United States, he is now working to improve his country through legislation. He recently agreed to be photographed in the council session hall and granted me access to document his new life in the western city of Lutsk.

 

Kateryna Panchenko was 20-years-old and 7 months pregnant when I met her and her husband

Eduard, a wounded Ukrainian soldier, in the Kyiv Military Hospital. Shortly thereafter, I

photographed her crying over Eduard’s body at a morgue. Eight months later I documented

Kateryna at home caring for her baby Andrij. My plan is to continue spending time with Kateryna and a handful of other mothers and wives that have been impacted by

this ongoing war as they continue the recovery process. Initially, mothers and wives have most

often been the main caretakers of the men I photograph. I believe it is crucial to document how

gender roles and stereotypes evolve over time.

 

These are three examples of those I have photographed with whom I am in regular contact. The

project will encompass numerous others included in my portfolio. This body of work reveals what are likely the most vulnerable and painful moments in the lives of

these men and women. It is imperative to update the project now to share more stories of

revitalization and recovery. This will give Ukrainians a renewed perspective of how those

wounded in war heal over time. Most importantly, this can guide and comfort those confronted

with similar situations.

 

Conclusion

At the time of this writing, Russia just declared an unprovoked war on Ukraine and launched a

large-scale assault on cities large and small throughout the entire country, including the capital

Kyiv where my wife and two young children are at the moment. Hundreds of people will likely die in the next 24 hours. It is probable that thousands will be killed and wounded in the coming days.

 

After eight years of war, Ukrainians know a lot about suffering. Therefore, it is imperative that

Ukrainians witness that healing and a brighter future is possible by demonstrating that those who have been severely wounded have healed and moved on. If individuals and families can heal, so can communities and the nation as a whole.

 

Most of the international community and media moved on as the pace of the war slowed in 2015. Only recently has the world begun to take notice of Ukraine again due to Moscow’s belligerence. Nevertheless, geopolitics and so-called great power competition is given prominence in the international media. Ukrainians who are most affected by acts of war are barely on the radar.

 

Russia is waging a war of choice on a nation that simply wants to be a European democracy. This is not about NATO. Russia fears a democratic and successful Ukraine serving as an example for Russians and the nations Moscow once occupied and oppressed through the Soviet Empire.

Moreover, Russia’s leaders deny that Ukraine is a country and that Ukrainians are a people. They simply hate us.

This war will not end quickly. It will continue in various forms and waves of intensity for many

years, if not decades, no matter what actions Russia takes in the near term.

 

Joseph Sywenkyj
joseph.sywenkyj's picture
Joseph
Sywenkyj

Joseph Sywenkyj is an American photographer of Ukrainian descent. Most recently, he was awarded the 2022 Aftermath Project Grant to continue and expand his work on severely wounded Ukrainian soldiers and activists. Among his many other awards, Joseph was the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography in 2014. He also received a Fulbright Scholar Award that concluded in 2016. Joseph’s photographs have appeared in many of the world’s most respected publications including The New York Times, Stern, Vanity Fair and GQ. His work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums including Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; Les Rencontres d’Arles in Arles, France; George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and the United Nations Visitor’s Lobby in New York City among many other venues. More info:

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