Mateusz Sarello, 2023 Finalist

"WARscapes" is a documentary project in which I use the language of contemporary photography to talk about the changes in Ukraine as a result of the war with Russia. War landscapes provide an objective, capacious documentary picture of the struggle and everyday life of Ukrainians, showing a broader context than the news media. They are filled with universal symbolism that evokes emotions and leads to reflection. I study the changes that occur in the landscape and the concept of territoriality, starting from the moment after the fights in a given territory and periodically several weeks and months after it. I am looking for answers to the questions - how does war change the space of the country it affects? How does it change public spaces? How does the concept of territoriality translate into real changes in the landscape?

Tactical training for civilians at the city shooting range. Every weekend, the inhabitants of Lviv practice their shooting skills here, wanting to be ready for a possible attack byRussian troops on Lviv. Lviv, Ukraine, March 2022.

A housing estate and a playground destroyed as a result of battle in March 2022. Borodyanka is a town near Kyiv, which, next to Bucha, suffered the most as a result of the land offensive of the Russian army at the beginning of the war. Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Exhumation of bodies from the mass grave near the church of St. Andrew the Apostle. So far, at least 72 bodies of civilians murdered by Russian soldiers have been exhumed and identified. In total, over 360 bodies were found in Bucha, of which 250 people died as a result of gunshot wounds or during the bombings. Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Russian missile attack on railway infrastructure. Having suffered heavy losses on the Eastern Front, Russia is focusing on destroying Ukraine's transport and energy infrastructure, which mainly affects civilians. Lviv, April 2022.

Landscape after the battle. The effect of an ambush attack by Ukrainian troops on a Russian armored vehicles column. Kiev Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Residents of Lviv resting after leaving a shelter, right after the rocket alarm. Despite regular rocket attacks on Ukrainian cities, most residents got used to living in a sense of danger and only a few hid in shelters during rocket alerts. Lviv, Ukraine, March 2022.

The unit of Ukrainian sappers at work. It is estimated that almost 30% of Ukraine's territory may be mined. Removal of mines and unexploded ordnance will take several years. Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, May 2022.

A security guard protecting the ruins of the burnt Epicentrum supermarket. The supermarket building burned down as a result of rocket fire. The damage to the residential skyscraper in the background was caused by a Russian tank cannon shot at a Ukrainian civilian standing in the window of his apartment. The man died as a result of this shot. Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Private houses and properties damaged as a result of fighting. Several tanks and vehicles of the troops of the Russian Federation were stationed in the yard of a private house. They were all destroyed as a result of an attack by Ukrainian troops using, among other weaponry, Javelin anti-tank weapons. Velika Dymerka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Students of one of Lviv's ballet schools practice in traditional folk costumes in Franka Park. Since the outbreak of the war, all Ukrainians have taken advantage of every opportunity to publicly show their patriotism and attachment to the country. Wearing traditional Ukrainian clothes is one of them. Lviv, Ukraine, June 2022.

Consequences of fights in Borodyanka. The fire brigade is using heavy equipment to demolish fragments of residential buildings that are at risk of collapsing. The damage was caused by a Russian missile attack in March 2022. Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

A resident of a destroyed building visiting his home for the first time after the liberation of Horenka. Horenka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Cow tangled in telephone cables damaged during battle. The surrounding area, not seen in this photo, was a battlefield full of the wreckage of tanks and BTRs. The inhabitants of the nearby village and their farm animals returned to their "normal" lives after the Russian army had been driven out of the area. Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine, May 2022.

Young Ukrainians watching a destroyed Russian tank a month after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kyiv. Destroyed Russian tanks were left on the battlefields as "living monuments" and material evidence of the victory of Ukrainian troops. These young boys in the photo came specially from Kiev on bicycles to see for themselves the proof of triumph of Ukraine on the battlefield near Kyiv. Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, May 2022.

Bomb crater. Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 2022.

Firefighters removing the effects of a Russian rocket attack on the roof of an apartment building. Kharkiv, due to its very close proximity to the border with Russia, is constantly under fire from all kinds of weapons, including those of shorter-range artillery and mortars. Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 2022.

Funeral of Ukrainian soldiers at the Lychakiv Cementery. Lviv, Ukraine, March 2022.

A rural primary school in Cherkaska Lozova destroyed during fights. Schools and kindergartens are buildings that suffered in a special way as a result of the war. The reason is prosaic - they are usually the largest and most solid buildings in small towns and villages. And that's why Russian soldiers were stationed in schools. The damage was usually caused by fighting for positions, but also the buildings and interiors of schools were intentionally destroyed. Cherkaska Lozova, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, May 2022.

Couple on an evening walk. Lviv, Ukraine, April 2022.

Consequences of a Russian missile attack on the city center. In  the attack, 24 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. Fifty-five buildings and private houses, 40 cars and two trams were destroyed. Vinnytsia, Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine, September 2022.

Young Kievans looking at the city. Kyiv was deserted at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After a few months, however, refugees began to return to the capital despite the threat of attack and made attempts to return to normal life, despite the war raging right next to them. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 2022.

Landscape after a battle near the village of Andriyivka. Kiev Oblast, Ukraine, April 2022.

Photographer's Statement: 

I found myself in Ukraine for the first time at the beginning of March 2022. I came to Lviv from Medyka (Poland), where I worked on the Polish-Ukrainian border as a volunteer during the first three weeks of the war. For several years I have had not actively dealt with documentary photography. I was interested in telling my personal, intimate stories, which I publishedSarell in the form of photobooks - monographs "Swell" (2014) and "Garden" (2022). I was an editor of photo books, a juror in competitions and a curator of exhibitions. But in the face of such a great tragedy as a full-scale war right next to me, I decided to go back to documentary photography, move to Ukraine and document the war.


MateuszSarello's picture

Mateusz Sarello (born 1978, Warsaw, Poland). Photographer, curator, author and editor of photobooks. Previously associated with the Institute of Visual Culture in Warsaw. Juror of competitions, including Grand Press Photo. Curator of the ShowOff section of Krakow Photomonth. Resident of the Cite des Arts in Paris as part of the City of Paris Grant. The author of the book "Swell,” which: was a finalist for the Best Photography Book Award in the POYi; was nominated for the Photographic Publication of the Year at the Fotofestiwal in Lodz; won an award in the Best Photography Book from Central and Eastern Europe competition during the European Month of Photography in Bratislava; won the third prize at the International Photography Awards; and was also included in the prestigious "Best Books of 2013" list of Photo-Eye magazine. Sarello’s "Swell" also won the Grand Prize at Prix Photo La Quatrieme Image, Celeste Prize and Nera di Verzasca Award. His work has been recognized in many competitions, including: Center Santa Fe Awards, Lucie Foundation Scholarship, FotoVisura Grant, Photolucida Critical Mass, Hariban Award, PHMuseum Photography Grant, PDN Photo Annual, Kolga Tbilisi Photo Award, Allegro Prize, Lens Culture Exposure Awards, FotoWeekDC International Awards and International Photography Festival Organ Vida Prize. His work has been exhibited at many venues, including Cortona On The Move Festival, Copenhagen Photo Festival, La Quatrieme Image Photo Fair in Paris, Manifesto Festival in Toulouse, Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, Guernsey Photography Festival, Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography in Bangladesh, FotoWeekDC in Washington, Fotofestiwal in Lodz, Krakow Photomonth, International Photography Festival Organ Vida in Zagreb, Gowen Contemporary Gallery in Geneva, Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff, Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, GAF Gallery in Hanover, Leica Gallery in Warsaw, Gallery of Photography in Dublin, Gallery Nine in Belfast, and Splashlight Studios in New York.