"Yes, these images are violent, but people should see them. They need to know that this is not a movie. This is what war looks like in my home country" - says Evgeniy Maloletka, Ukrainian photojournalist and winner of the 2022 Krzysztof Miller Award.
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Ukrainian photographer and journalist Evgeniy Maloletka in conversation with Beata Łyżwa-Sokół.

See the winning photographs here.

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You are the author of the famous photograph from Mariupol. It shows an injured woman in an advanced pregnancy carried by paramedics to an ambulance amid the ruins of the bombed city. It was on the covers of major newspapers all around the world. Can you tell me about the circumstances surrounding the photo?

- On March 9, I joined the AP team documenting the story of the mass graves on the outskirts of Mariupol. The shelling of the city was in progress. A few hours later, we drove to the city center to take pictures at the local hospital.

There, I heard the sound of an airplane, followed by several large explosions right next to us. We went into the building next door where we could see the entire area. The epicenter of the explosions was at the hospital. Looking out of the window, I saw fast-approaching ambulances, and police officers and paramedics rushing into the hospital.  A moment later, they carried a pregnant woman out on a stretcher. They headed for the ambulance, passing destroyed buildings, broken trees, and burned cars. The woman had a large wound. She was alive when they put her in the ambulance to take her to another hospital.

Two days later, I learned that the 30-year-old Irina and her child were dead.

How did it make you feel?

- Sad. You look at the people in your own photographs and know that they’re no longer alive. All sorts of thoughts come into your head. You think that these were someone's relatives, friends, children. The photos quickly found their way into the media and were used as evidence of Russian atrocities, the use of weapons against civilians.

At that moment, it was important for us journalists to show these photos to the world and make everyone aware of what was happening in Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in London reacted immediately, dismissing the photos as "fake". After the publication of photographs from Bucha, showing streets strewn with the bodies of victims of Russian crimes, there was a discussion on social media about whether such explicit images should even be published. What do you think about this?

- Journalists working on the ground are confronted with similar scenes every single day. It’s not about individual images. Yes, these images are certainly violent, but people should see them. They need to know that something like this had happened. That this is not a movie, but a real situation, that this is happening in a specific place. This is what war looks like in my country.

Anyone, looking at these pictures, can see what Russia is doing, and what kind of weapons it is using to kill civilians in Ukrainian cities. Today, we can learn a lot by following photos and videos, they say much more than plain text.

Visual materials are proof of what happened in Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Bucha, Kharkiv, and many other places. They are proof of what happened all over Ukraine.

We publish plenty of photographs and other evidence of Russian crimes, yet the war still goes on. What motivates you to keep doing your work?

- After sending in the first materials from Mariupol, I asked myself: will these images change anything? Everyone was talking about them. Russia called us "information terrorists". I'm sure this coverage allowed the world to understand what was going on.

If there had been no journalists in Mariupol, no one would have known what the Russians did there. We have photographic evidence that the Russians used tanks, attacked civilians, and bombed infrastructure.

In Mariupol, you and the AP team spent an entire week living in a hospital. What did your work look like?

- We slept on the floor, just like the patients. We were there already during the first rescue operations. After the failed resuscitation of a little girl, the doctor shouted to us: "Show these photographs to Putin, show him the dead eyes of a child and the tearful eyes of a crying doctor!".

We worked closely with the doctors and became friends. On the last day of our stay, March 12, it was already very dangerous, there was ongoing shelling from the buildings taken over by the Russians, right next to us. We felt the hospital building vibrating under our feet. We were afraid.

41-letni Serhij Kralya tuż po operacji w szpitalu w Mariupolu. Mężczyzna został ranny podczas ostrzału miasta.
41-letni Serhij Kralya tuż po operacji w szpitalu w Mariupolu. Mężczyzna został ranny podczas ostrzału miasta.  Fot. Evgeniy Maloletka / AP Photo

You’ve worked in several war-torn regions before: Israel, Somalia, Liberia. Most recently in Nagorno-Karabakh. What is it like to photograph war in your home country?

- I'd rather not have these photos in my portfolio. I can't compare it with anything else. Every one of us, every Ukrainian, is against this war. Its scale and destruction are enormous, lots of people have died or were tortured, we hear about many war crimes. We are confronted with this experience as journalists, soldiers, and ordinary people...

It’s difficult to talk about war in our own country. I photograph parents bringing their dead children to the hospital, doctors trying to resuscitate them. We cry together.

The stories from Mariupol, Chernihiv, Kharkiv will not be forgotten, they will always be with us. In my family, too, we have people, distant relatives, who lost their lives because of the war.

On the one hand, it's easier to deal with certain topics, I understand more, I know the situation, and I know where all of this is taking place. But on the other hand, it's really difficult, because, unfortunately, it's happening to my country and my compatriots. And I cannot be sure whether my own house won't be destroyed tomorrow, if I won't be injured. Today, no one is safe in Ukraine. Any village, town, or city can become a target.

Do you have any advice for those who want to work as war reporters? After the war broke out, a lot of young photojournalists went out there.

- It's a good idea to get some basic safety and medical training, learn how to drive a car well. That's the bare minimum.

When I worked in the Donbas in 2009, I had little experience, but the situation was developing slowly, so I could learn everything at my own pace. Now it's impossible, the scale of the conflict and the risks are huge, everything happens fast.

You once said that the camera is like a filter, it protects the photographer from what he sees behind the lens.

- I said there are some people who think that. But it doesn't protect you. Later, when you show your photos, look at them, select them for future publications, it all comes back to you.

The camera protects me, but only during the very brief moment when I take the picture. Anyone who has witnessed war has this experience. Photographs of specific people and situations I participated in come back to me with a delay. I’m not immune to PTSD. No one is. I know I have to watch out for myself, take care of myself.

Does the agency you work for provide you with psychological support?

- We have a rule at AP that after a month spent on the frontlines someone else has to take over for me. I need to recharge my batteries, my body should rest. After that, I can come back. I have used psychological support many times before. I know how to behave in difficult situations, how not to lose myself later, after returning.

We think a lot about how our work can change the world, but we hardly ever think about how the world changes us. It's important to talk about it with your loved ones, with friends, and not keep everything inside.

Fotoreporter Evgeniy Maloletka, laureat 5.edycji Konkursu im. Krzysztofa Millera na tle muralu zaprojektowanego przez Bruno Althamera inspirowanego zdjęciami Krzysztofa Millera, Warszawa, Czerska 8/10
Fotoreporter Evgeniy Maloletka, laureat 5.edycji Konkursu im. Krzysztofa Millera na tle muralu zaprojektowanego przez Bruno Althamera inspirowanego zdjęciami Krzysztofa Millera, Warszawa, Czerska 8/10  Fot.Kinga Kenig

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