Ukrainian photographer Marta Syrko has asked war-injured soldiers to sit for her.
Oleksandr, who lost his lower legs, said he wanted to show that injured bodies can be powerful.
The pictures, both stark and tender, are a reminder of the human cost of Putin’s war.
Last summer, 26-year-old Oleksandr was resting in a trench.
Exactly six months earlier, he had been working as a barista while he trained in graphic design. But after Russia invaded, he became a leader in a mortar batallion.
He was exhausted. The safest place to rest would have been under tree cover along with his squad, but there was no more room there. So he drifted off in the trench.
The next thing he knew he was buried in soil, his legs in excruciating pain. After his friends had scrabbled through the earth, they laid him on his front, not wanting him to glimpse his legs.
It was August 24, Ukraine’s independence day, and Ukrainians suspected Russia would seek grim trophies.
Oleksandr’s lower legs were later amputated.
He told Insider he accepted his injuries “from the first moment” the missile hit him. (He spoke to Insider through an interpreter.)
So when photographer Marta Syrko asked Oleksandr to sit for her, he felt he could send a message with his body: among other things, to show the world the carnage Putin is inflicting and the cost of defending his country.
‘We need an artist, not just a photographer’
One of Syrko’s main subjects is bodies. A skim through her Instagram feed shows the human form in all its glory, from an advertising-perfect washboard stomach to the soft millefeuille creases of her grandmother’s skin.
After Russia’s invasion, however, more and more people were returning to her hometown of Lviv with life-changing wounds.
So she approached a rehabilitation clinic near the city to ask if any of the soldiers — whose bodies had been radically transformed by war — would let her take portraits of them.
Four men agreed, three of whom lost limbs and one who received serious burns.
Among the soldiers was Serhii, pictured above cradling his second child, who had his leg torn off in the shockwave of a blast near Izyum, in Kharkhiv Oblast.
Another, Stanislav, also lost a leg last summer, in Bakhmut — one of the most fiercely contested cities in the entirety of Russia’s bloody war.
Syrko said she was inspired by the classical statues she saw in museums like the Louvre.
Foundational for Western art history, they, too, through wear and tear, are often missing limbs.
Later, Neopalymi, a charity devoted to treating and rehabilitating people with severe burns, approached Syrko with a request. They asked her to photograph Illya Pylypenko, a soldier who had burns on much of his body after his tank caught fire.
Syrko’s unflinching photos of Pylypenko show how his face, in particular, was transformed.
Maksym Turkevych, Neopalymi’s CEO, told Insider in an email that the project needed “an artist, not just a photographer.”
‘We don’t know what to say. How to behave.’
Syrko’s work has many fans, but she said she’s had occasional comments from people who say she’s exploiting disabled people through her work.
Asked about this, Syrko — who is able-bodied — said her aim is to make a real and complex discussion happen.
“It’s a hard question for Ukrainians now, because we don’t know how to act near them,” she said. “We don’t know what to say, how to behave. And so that’s why we have to discuss it.”
For Oleksandr, the decision to become a “monument” for Syrko’s photos, as he put it, was a deliberate choice that he embraced.
He liked Syrko’s thinking about statues, saying in an Instagram post that people like him are “living monuments, who have been close-up witnesses to war.”
But public attitudes can be disappointing, even though he was injured defending their homeland, he said. People “look away, and they break into lively talk when ‘monuments’ walk past.”
Society, he said, stops seeing these bodies as beautiful.
“I wanted to become something that would inspire others like me to feel that people are looking at them not with shame, but with exaltation!” he wrote.
This was Neopalymi’s goal, too. “The main reason for us to do it is to show the society that there is a beauty in it, and that they should not be scared or disgusted by this,” said Turkevych, the CEO.
With a 122,000-strong Instagram following, Syrko said she had conversations with her subjects about the exposure the pictures could bring.
“I told them that they are probably going to be a little bit popular,” she said. And so they turned out to be — her pictures have been shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Twitter account, and by newspaper Ukrainska Pravda.
Oleksandr told Insider, laughing, about his surprise when he arrived at the studio and realized that Syrko wanted him to pose nearly nude.
But he quickly got comfortable. “Marta’s the kind of person with whom you can feel comfortable and free,” he said.
Rebuilding an accessible Ukraine
Oleksandr spoke to Insider from the US, where thanks to a partnership with Ukrainian organization Without Restrictions, he has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation.
There, he’s learning to walk and run on high-tech prostheses. But for some weeks before he flew out, he was using a wheelchair.
While the Ukrainian government has not confirmed exact numbers of casualties, the number of people with life-changing injuries — whether civilian or soldiers — is likely to make accessibility a key concern for the country’s future.
It’s a realization echoed by disability organizations supporting relief efforts in Ukraine, who at a joint conference last year issued the Riga Declaration, a document calling for the country’s rebuilding to employ universal design principles.
“A lot of cities are in a rebuilding phase,” Syrko said, envisioning a new, post-war Ukraine. “We can start to build it from zero — why can’t we do it correctly?”
Read the original article on Insider
2023-02-24 20:12:39 ,
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