Ukraine’s Shock Will Last for Generations

Photographs by Jędrzej Nowicki

The Kremlin planned to take Kyiv in three days, the rest of Ukraine in six weeks. As Russian troops poured across the border on February 24, 2022, one Russian columnist declared early victory. “Ukraine,” he wrote, “will no longer exist.” Instead, Kyiv was not taken, the column was retracted, and, two years later, Ukraine still exists. The 24 months of fighting have nevertheless exacted an extraordinary toll on Ukrainians, creating a physical and psychological shock that will last for generations. Ordinary landscapes have become extraordinary. Cities have been pockmarked by war damage, villages reduced to rubble, wide areas of the countryside depopulated. Ordinary life has changed too. Ukrainians have reorganized their lives, fled their homes, learned to live with deep insecurity, and been forced to make extraordinary choices. Words that people took for granted in the past, or never thought much about—bravery, cowardice, patriotism—have acquired new significance. Look at these photographs with an eye to that history: They are an attempt to capture in images a transformation that sometimes defies description.

Diptych: black smoke from an explosion; a trian in the depot at night
Left: A factory burns on the outskirts of Kyiv in March 2022. Right: A train bound for the Polish border stands on a railway platform in Lviv, Ukraine, on the first day of the war, in February 2022.
people hug goodbye
Goodbyes in front of Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi train station on the second day of the war, in February 2022

Snow falls on people trying to cross the detritus of a  bombed out bridge
After an explosion damaged the bridge from Irpin to Kyiv, refugees crossed what remained of the structure, in March 2022.
Diptych: people wait for food with plastic bowls; a man sleeps in a mess of furniture and other things.
Left: Residents of Biskvitne wait for food from volunteers. In late March 2022, Ukrainian forces reclaimed the village from the Russian army after a month of occupation. Right: A man takes shelter in Heroiv Pratsi metro station in Kharkiv’s Saltivka district in March 2022.
 a burning car
A farm burns on the outskirts of Balakliia in October 2022.
Diptych: Soldiers in a hospital; sunflowers in the sun
Left: Patients lie in an intensive-care unit after being wounded by Russian shelling. Right: Sunflower fields in Dnipro province.
A priest performs a service near graves
An Orthodox priest says a prayer at mass-burial site on the outskirts of Izium, in the Kharkiv region. More than 400 graves were discovered at the spot after Ukraine reclaimed the area from Russian occupiers.
An aerial of a road with bombed out houses on either side.
The devastated village of Stepova Dolyna, outside Kherson, in May 2023
diptych: flooded street with a car and raft; medics evacuating a person from a flooded area
Left: Flooding caused by the destruction of a Dnipro River dam, June 2023. Right: An evacuation after the collapse of the dam.
diptych: a toy airplane in the rubble; a boy sits on a dirt bike next to a bathtub and handing laundry
Left: A shelled building in Kyiv’s Obolon district. Right: A boy in Kharkiv.
a hole in a home with a flowering tree growing
A severely damaged house in the village of Cherkaska Lozova
a man walks in front a a window riddled with bullet holes
A man walks past a destroyed entrance to the Heroiv Pratsi metro station in Kharkiv’s Saltivka district.

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