24.2.22, at 4 o'clock in the morning Kyiv and Kharkiv were bombed.
When it all started, I realized that for me this would be a personal war; that I couldn’t stay in place and watch from the sidelines. I got there at the end of March, April at a time when the first shock still hadn’t worn off, when crimes in Bucha were exposed. It was becoming obvious that the blitzkrieg hadn’t worked out, and that this would be yet another protracted conflict.
I was born and raised in the USSR where WWII, or as it is called there; “The Great Patriotic War” was a sacred cow. It was an unshakable symbol -the personification of good and evil. I grew up with stories of heroic deeds, war movies and books and my grandmother's stories of the famine she endured. It was a romantic image, and I, probably like other boys, was a little sad that we did not live in a period which would allow us to achieve our heroic potential.
I have never imagined that during my lifetime I would have to witness an event comparable in scale with newly refined concepts of good and evil. Of course, I have never thought that Russia would become a symbol of absolute evil.
It’s not as if there haven’t been any wars since World War II. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Georgia and the African continent tell their own bloody stories. It’s not as if Putin would have done anything else. Not that NATO forces didn't bomb cities justifying themselves with a "witch hunt”.
This is not a regional conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This is another world redistribution for which all world powers are responsible, and Ukraine is simply being sacrificed to "Moloch".
This time, the scale and cynicism is staggering. Propaganda reuses old symbols; Ukrainians have become martyrs and Putin is the new devil. Russians have suddenly returned to 1937, the year that has come to stand for Stalin's repressions. Putin’s powerful propaganda has, once again, overpowered common sense. In today's age of information, the iron wall has once again surrounded the darkness. Those Russians who have not succumbed to this nonsensical discourse are either pursued, run away or remain silent in their kitchens, burning with shame for their nation.
Zelensky, having become a symbol as a fighter against absolute evil, skillfully uses the guilt of the Western world. Inside the country, I felt the complete absence or inaction of official state structures. Along with this vacuum, the people have rallied around the real threat of losing their homes and country. This war is “Patriotic” for them. Those who did not run away and did not fall into a stupor became real warriors on the front line, and in the volunteer army in the rear. The volunteers selflessly provide their army with food and equipment, transport and even weapons. They organize the evacuation of the weak and helpless sections of the civilian population.
Once there, in the beginning, I naturally shot with conventional digital equipment in news mode but it became obvious to me that next time I shot, it would have to be different.
I saw and understood how the news interest of the world media would gradually subside. Many colleagues, photographers and documentarians who I met, had long ended their editorial assignments and they were there on their own initiative and at their own expense. There are only a few large publishing houses that are able to pay for stellar journalists, fabulous money for armored "land cruisers" and fixers.
So, I decided to shoot the last war using ambrotypes - the first photography technique. To sacrifice a decisive moment for capturing time on fragile glass. The face of the last war.
I wanted to close a certain logical circle. After all, the first documented war was the Crimean War in the middle of the 19th century. Ironically, in the same region. Initially, I did not try to do this for the media. I understood that I could not find an editorial office that would pay for such an irrational, expensive, dangerous project. I managed to find the money myself. People responded to my call and bought my work. These people became my editors because they wanted to have their personal witness there.
With these funds, I was able to implement my vision.
So, this project is for them.
I will not hide the fact that doubts constantly disturbed me. I knew it would be difficult without any support team, alone on such a journey solving daily challenges such as refueling and water supply as well as the crucial negotiations necessary with people and authorities in order to plan and execute my shooting schedule. But the reality of the circumstances managed to shake even me.
Since my first pictures were x-rays of my knee and ribs, it seemed to me that I would have to give up. Coming to my senses after a day and a half I realized that I could not. I realized that I would have to overcome the pain and work. All the misadventures and difficulties that I encountered on the way are worthy of a different, separate story.
The people I met and photographed regarded my ongoing work with respect and awe. They could not understand why I had paid for a ticket from Israel to Ukraine to risk my life in order to do such a complex, unprofitable project. I couldn't find a clear answer for them. I could only tell them - "I feel this way and I can't stay away." They, for their part, trusted me and my fancy camera and we were as one during those long seconds of exposure. They had a feeling that it was important for history.