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Cossack blood, Ukraine – photo essay by Cosimo Attanasio

Lugansk (UA) Apr/30/2014 – A “baboushka” (an elderly lady) talking with a pro-russian soldier in front of the Lugansk administration occupied in the night

Cossack blood, photo essay by Cosimo Attanasio

This is a still ongoing project.

In 2014, following clashes in Maidan square in Kiev and the fall of former President Yanukovich, Ukraine is passing the most hardest historic time from the fall of the USSR. In March, the Crimea was occupied by soldiers without insignia, nicknamed: “Green Men” by the local population, they was soldiers and Russian agents came there to annex the peninsula to the Russian Federation.
In April of 2014 a group of insurgents began to occupy public buildings and barracks in the city of Donetsk and Lugansk, other clashes involving the city of Karkhiv and Slavyansk.

I started to follow the events of Ukraine starting from April 2014, I have never personally experienced the war but I grew up with the stories of grandparents and friends who have fled Libya, my question was: “How can born a war conflict in this war? How work the propaganda machine in both sides of barricades? How really live the population these events?”
The first evident thing when I went in Donetsk it was the strange mix between ancient zarism, soviet nostalgia, extreme right ideology and a para-religious cult about Vladimir Putin. It’s impossible for me summarize in a few images and a few lines everything that I saw and felt on my skin in all this months in Ukraine.
I am particularly interested in all the stories that the mainstream press don’t consider interesting. As the story of Dasha, Irina and Margarita, three young and beautiful girls of Slavyansk who decided to enlist in the famous Battalion Sparta and fighting against the central government. They could escape to a safe area, keep studying as many their friends; instead have left their families, their normal life, followed their boyfriends, took the Kalashnikov and earned a medal by the rebel authorities.

Irina at 17 y.o. has already wanted by the authorities.
There’s also the story of Lev, I met him inside the occupied administration building.
He is a senior pro-Russian militant with Georgian and Armenian origin, and he fought four wars fought at the Russian side.
Lev is one of the most educated and cultured people that I knew: he was born in a gulag and for its mixed origins speaks three languages as native, and also Turkish and and a good Italian. He is an art restorer and a writer.
He has lived in north-east Italy but he went to Donbass to fight his fifth war.
He offered to help me to get out from the occupied territories after the war broke out, but I refused. I miss his contacts, I just hope he is still alive.
In the next future I want to continue to follow this beautiful country, giving voice to orphans and the soldiers, the maimed and the refugees of both sides of the front. I would also be able to find a good idea to help children in the orphanages.

Donetsk (UA) May/01/2014 – During the traditional gathering of May/1th in Lenin Square, a group of nostalgic of U.S.S.R. taking pictures next to the red flag of Donetsk Soviet
Odessa (UA) May/05/2014 – Inside the trade unions building. A man has left his mark when he was died during the May/2 assault. The smoke has blackened the walls, leaving the original white color just where people reclined before dying
Donetsk (UA) May/12/2014 – An orthodox fanatic raises the cross and a mobile phone during the declaration of independence of D.N.R. Since the begining of the crisis in eastern Ukraine the Moscow Patriarchate has taken a strong leading role among the masses, so that now it is common to see the flags of the Patriarchate around the city
Donetsk (UA) May/13/2014 – Inside the occupied administration building. Lev, now a senior pro-Russian militant with Georgian and Armenian origin, shows me the scars of four wars fought with the Russian. Lev is one of the most educated and cultured people that I knew: he was born in a gulag and for its mixed origins speaks three languages as native, in addition to the turkish and and a good Italian. He is an art restorer and has also written a book. He offered to help me to get out from the occupied territories after the war broke out, but I refused
Donetsk (UA) May/26/2014 – Few hours after the begining of the battle in the airport several civilian was killed. In front of the railway station a woman was killed by a sniper’s bullet, probably placed over the roof of the station.
Ilovaisk (UA) Nov/15/2014 – In the August of 2014 Ilovaisk was the scenario of a terrible battle which almost 90 Ukrainian soldiers was died. The Chornie Tulipan (Black Tulips) is a N.G.O. from Kiev, they finding the corpses of the soldiers in the battlefields to give to the families. In photo: a member of Chornie Tulipan inspects the carcass of a tank searching the corpses
Iasinovotaja (UA) Nov/16/2014 – The sunset light illuminates the city theatre of Iasinovotaja, heavily shelled few time before. The theatre is a 500mt from the civil buildings (also shelled) and was used as barracks of the Batallion Vostok (Battallion East)
Petrovsky (UA) Feb/10/2015 – The basement of the local school it’s used as shelter for civilians. A group of children preparing a ballet using a smartphone to listen the music. Certain times, when the shellings are particularly intense, these children spends weeks without see the sunlight
Donetsk (UA) Feb/11/2015 – Blood on a stretcher, a soldier has just died. Refrigerated truck it’s used to transport the corpses. All around a sea of cutted clothes and stained with blood, it’s the clothes used by the dead people
Donetsk (UA) Feb/16/2015 – From left to right: Dasha (18 y.o.), Margarita (21 y.o.) and Irina (17 y.o.), three girls from Battallion Sparta, show me an Ukrainian unexploded Grad missile, stuck in the asphalt of Kyivsky district. Irina is still a minor and she and Margarita received a medal for their services in Slavyansk during the battle of the past year. The districk is not far from the airport and now is uninhubited. When I asked why the bomb squad don’t come to detonate the bomb, the girls told me: “We don’t have bomb squad teams”
Kiev (UA) Apr/24/2015 – Funeral in Maidan square for Georgi “Satana” Djanelidze, a georgian pro-Ukrainian fighter died in Sherokino, close to Azov sea

Q&A with Cosimo Attanasio

Photography is…
It’s the easiest way to be in a certain place and see a certain thing and way to tell about the world. I could use the words, a drawing or a video, the camera is the system with which I feel more better. I also believe that the photographer should stop to feel a journalist or an artist, and start to feel “craftsman of the shooting”. Less aspire to the award or the publication on a magazine and more to the book.

Photography and writing…
It is essential for the photographer know to make a synopsis of his own work and the photo caption, this is the first rule that I learned working for agencies. The problem now is that the photographer must know how to do everything: writing, making video, graphics… ok, the photographer’s job is changed but the risk is to do a little bit of everything.
I prefer shooting photos or videos and moving with a journalist, as I do with Danilo Elia. Each one has his own job and the exchange of ideas it is definitely more challenging.

Who left the biggest impression on you?
I tell you the truth: I follow just a little bit the photographic world, almost all the photographers that I follow it’s because I knew them personally. By the big I like the black and white works by Massimo Berruti and Manu Brabo, even if they have a style very different from mine. And then there’s my great friends Olya Morvan and Tom Girondel. Olya is a very talented woman, I don’t
understand how she can take pictures just using the 35mm lens. Tom’s photography is more reflexive than mine.

Tell us a little about yourself
Rocker, eternal Peter Pan, lover of good food, cinema and beautiful women. I live in a fucking provincial town where the greatest aspiration of its citizens is: working to eat, eating to live and living to work. Sometimes someone is killed for trivial reasons. I would be a bit more cynical about how the world works and finally enter in the world of adults, unfortunately my ideals of when I was 14 year old always return and I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking about my future projects, and I want to continue to be amazed and angry for what happens in this crazy old world.
Ah I am convinced that Elvis Presley is still alive and goes to the supermarket near my house :-D…

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