They Used To Photograph Weddings. Now A Ukrainian Couple Is Documenting The Horrors Of Russia’s Invasion.


Vlada and Kostyantin Liberov have been among the many first civilians to enter the territory of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv area behind the profitable lightning counteroffensive that despatched the occupying Russian forces reeling in retreat.

“In our conversations with locals, it appeared the occupation was bearable,” Vlada mentioned in a twin video interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service. “They have been all very pleased to see their properties returned to their native nation, to listen to Ukrainian once more. They are surely — and we noticed this with our personal eyes — greeting Ukrainian troopers with tears of pleasure.”

Earlier than Russia launched its large, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Liberovs labored as marriage ceremony photographers and images instructors within the Black Sea port metropolis of Odesa. Since then, nonetheless, they’ve traveled the nation to doc the battle. Their pictures have appeared on the social media pages of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and elsewhere.

“Our principal process is to make it possible for nobody forgets in regards to the battle,” Kostyantin mentioned. “It could sound unusual, however we need to present all these horrors superbly.”

Their photos seize emotional moments such because the reunions of troopers with their spouses or displaced individuals returning to their shattered properties. In a single picture, a grief-stricken soldier appears on the wreckage of a car by which considered one of his comrades was killed by fireplace from Russian forces:

“We all know that we’re completely different from classical battle photographers, however we aren’t going to alter something,” Vlada mentioned. “As Kostya has mentioned, social media is among the fronts the place we’re preventing lately…. Our pictures are those which are utilized by bloggers and by [conventional] media. They typically assist folks categorical their very own ache, even about issues that they didn’t see with their very own eyes.”

When {a photograph} will get 10,000 or 100,000 reposts, she added, she is aware of that 10,000 or 100,000 folks have been reminded that there’s a battle in Ukraine – they usually have reminded others as nicely.

“And in the event that they hadn’t reposted it, they wouldn’t have remembered,” she mentioned. “I actually suppose that one of many causes that Ukraine has survived — one motive why Ukraine is holding on — is as a result of we haven’t been forgotten. Our Western companions haven’t forgotten us, and we haven’t let ourselves neglect both.”

“As a result of we’re continually shouting about it,” Kostyantin added.

The couple recalled lately seeing pictures of Russia’s army actions and purported battle crimes in Syria in 2015-16.

“First, you perceive that the identical issues occurred there which are taking place right here,” Vlada mentioned.

A Ukrainian soldier holds a watermelon while a multiple rocket launcher fires in the background.

A Ukrainian soldier holds a watermelon whereas a a number of rocket launcher fires within the background.

“And you then perceive to your horror that you just didn’t find out about it,” Kostyantin mentioned, ending her thought. “It’s simply the horrific realization that it seems that Russia did all the identical issues there – cities laid to waste, while you see entire streets with out a single undamaged constructing…. All of this already occurred, however I didn’t even hear about it.”

Extra particularly, Vlada mentioned, the media covers such issues and strikes on. However the world quickly forgets “as a result of in that space at the moment, they hadn’t developed the power or the behavior of taking their telephones and crying out themselves about their very own ache.”

A woman's shoe is covered in blood after Russia shelled a public transport stop in Mykolayiv. Five people were killed.

A lady’s shoe is roofed in blood after Russia shelled a public transport cease in Mykolayiv. 5 folks have been killed.

“On this regard, Ukrainians are doing nicely as a result of we’re all the time reminding the world that we exist,” she added. “And Kostya and I are serving to with this, I believe.”

After they started their journey, the couple had a tough time coming to phrases with the human tragedies they started seeing every day.

“I refused to acknowledge that right this moment or tomorrow somebody’s son or father or husband would go off to battle and by no means return,” Vlada mentioned. “However hundreds and hundreds of Ukrainian households are going by exactly this. And it terrifies me that this can simply by some means turn out to be a statistic. That is among the the explanation why Kostya and I are doing what we do.”

A son hugs his father for the first time after he spent six months living under Russian occupation in the Kharkiv region.

A son hugs his father for the primary time after he spent six months dwelling below Russian occupation within the Kharkiv area.

Over the seven months of the invasion, the couple have commonly come below fireplace, steadfastly attempting to be as near the preventing as doable.

“We’re guided by the wonderful citation from [American-Hungarian war photographer] Robert Capa, who mentioned, ‘In case your footage aren’t adequate, you aren’t shut sufficient,’” Vlada mentioned.

Furthermore, the pair, whose native language is Russian, started talking completely Ukrainian each in private and non-private. Kostyantin mentioned he believes a lot of Ukraine’s woes might have been prevented “if all of us spoke Ukrainian and hadn’t had all these Russian-speaking areas and so forth.”

An elderly man stands amid the remnants of his destroyed house in Shevchenkove in a liberated part of the Kharkiv region.

An aged man stands amid the remnants of his destroyed home in Shevchenkove in a liberated a part of the Kharkiv area.

“One of many first issues I did [after Russia invaded] was to alter the language on my phone and laptop and different tools,” he mentioned.

The couple is now primarily based in Kharkiv and solely not often are they capable of return to Odesa to go to their mother and father and beloved canine.

“Each time we’re again in Odesa, it takes us not more than two days earlier than we’re overwhelmed by a sense of guilt – that we’re not doing sufficient, that we have now accomplished too little, and that we have now to maintain shifting on,” Vlada mentioned.

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report.

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