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One of many Ukrainian villages

At the entrance to the village of Dovhenke, residents have put up a billboard with photos of destroyed houses with text that reads: “Village of Dovhenke: Everyone has a dream to return home. Unfortunately, our village is completely destroyed. Please help us rebuild it.”

The village of Dovhenke lies 60 km from the Russian border and is halfway between Izyum and Sloviansk. The village is of no particular strategic importance, perhaps the Russians wanted the village because it was on a hill overlooking fields and a main road.

11/11/2023 – Dovhenke, once upon a time, grass was kept neatly cropped along the road, the road which was without
potholes and tank tracks. There were tall trees were where burnt out stumps now stand, a memorial (on the
right) to WWII was carefully tended to, but is now littered with land mines and other UXOs. The houses had roofs and gardens full of flowers.

Until the war, the 450 inhabitants of the village lived a happy life here. They farmed their fields, grew vegetables and fruits in their gardens, and raised cattle and other domestic animals. But with the first signs of Russian aircraft and the sounds of gunfire in March 2022, the residents of Dovhenke packed their essentials and left the village in a hurry, leaving behind their contented life. Only two elderly men remained in the village. Villagers say that the evacuation team probably weren’t able to find them. Tragically, one died in Dovhenke, the other was taken by Russians to Izyum, and there he disappeared, no one knows what did happen to him.

11/11/2023 – Natalia stands in front of the destroyed school where she used to teach. She and her husband are two of 40 villagers who returned to the village after the Russian forces retreated. Natalia received a generator from a volunteer organisation.
“Now I will be able to teach for a longer time thanks to this support. We returned home on June 21. I am a math teacher, but the school is destroyed after the Russian shelling. The residents have scattered all over Ukraine, some ended up in Western Europe. But the children want to learn in the “old” school they attended before the war. So I teach and they learn online.”

Russian forces entered a deserted Dovhenke in mid-April. During the six-months of occupation, all the houses were looted and then destroyed. Not a single house remained intact in Dovhenke. There is no gas, electricity nor drinking water in the village. Wells are contaminated with debris.
The retreating Russian army laid land mines in fields, roads and even in the cemetery. There are various unexploded ordinates, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and explosive booby traps in and around the village.

Today, about 40 people have returned to live in the village. Others, despite the perils they face, dream of returning to their homes, yearning that the village will be rebuilt. They hope their billboard will help make their dream become a reality.

11/11/2023 – A destroyed house bears “LNR” the spray-painted signature of the militia from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. During the occupation Russians marked the houses they moved into, with the assumption that they would stay there forever.
11/11/2023 – A bomb casing rises out of the earth in front of a destroyed house. The village and the surrounding fields are heavily mined.

11/11/2023 – Dmytro stands in the destroyed shell of the village’s cultural house, where films were shown and various events were held.
“Before the invasion, before the war, there were about 450 people living in the village, now there are about 40 of us here. We had everything in the village, two schools, this cultural center, a polyclinic, a library… Everything was destroyed by Katsabs” (Katsap is an ironic, insulting and even chauvinistic slang term to describe Russians, and means butcher or knacker), says Dmytro.

11/11/2023 – A crater that was formed after the bomb was dropped on storage of Silitra chemistry in the Karavan Private Agricultural Enterprise farm.
The farm is completely destroyed as well as the village.
11/11/2023 – One of the cellars where the Russian occupiers lived. They settled in cellars but not in rooms in the house upstairs – possibly for safety and to avoid the hot summer temperatures.
11/11/2023 – A leather tourniquet left behind by Russian soldiers. The soldiers looted white goods like TVs, refrigerators, microwaves and even toilet bowls…

Nataliya and her husband Viktor stand in front of their damaged house.
“We built the house ourselves; I kept improving the interior, and now we out it is nothing but ruins”, says Nataliya. “We ran away from the occupation in March 2022 when the Russians started shooting at us. Now we live in Izyum and we come here to collect metal scrap. You know, the pension is small, so we earn extra money by collecting metal scrap around our destroyed house.”

A memorial was made for three Ukrainian soldiers who sacrificed their lives defending the village of Dovhenke. The memorial reads, “The earth became poorer with the loss of these three heroes, the heavens became richer with three stars.” The martyred soldiers are (from the top): Captain Singaevsky Rostislav Ihorovych (26), from the left: Senior Lieutenant Martin Stanislav Fedorovych (22) and Junior sergeant Fedko Bohdan Aleksandrovych (26).
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Iva Zimova

Iva Zimova, Czech and Canadian born in 1956

. I first developed my photographic eye in Montreal, where I studied photography at Dawson College. But… More »

3 Comments

  1. Excellent reportage, my compliments. Just a quick note: you wrote “a 200 tons Silitra bomb” but such a weight for aircraft bombs has never exixsted. I suppose that you meant to write 200 kg. , that’s possibly the correct size of such a weapon.
    I wish all the best to you and youtìr country: you have been a sacrifical victim of the Nato expansion.

    1. The bomb was probably FAB 500 and it hit Silitra chemical,which is used in farming…therefore was difficult to identified what kind of bomb was used. caption will be changed I hope

    2. Dear Ruggero, thank you for your comment. I am not Ukrainian I am Czech-Canadian photojournalist. I am going to Ukraine since 90′, Ukraine is in my heart.

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