Amadeusz Świerk

Photographer's portfolio

  • Sergei "Sniper" (25) smokes on his position in the trench. Previously he was fighting in Bakhmut, he has wife and child - "There is much to defend", he says.

  • Kharkivska Street and buildings destroyed by recent shellings.

  • Irina Chernyavskaya (50) during a moment of sad reverie while packing the furnishings in her apartment in Kupiansk.

  • Orthodox Icons in the home of Larysa and Grigoryi.

  • The destroyed market near the city's main square - one of the places most affected.

  • The interior of the destroyed Kupiansk mechanical engineering works.

  • City services removing the effects of a direct hit on one of the apartments in the block. Fortunately, no one was killed this time. Every day a few - a dozen artillery shells randomly fall on the city. One does not know the location or the second.

  • Nina Sayapina (70) - one of the last remaining doctors in front of the city clinic entrance.

  • Destroyed school on the left bank.

  • Children riding their bicycles on the last warm days of October. It's a rare sight in the city these days - most families with children have already left town. However, not everyone could or wanted to.

  • Nikolai Paiwin (72), the only pro-Russian interviewee we had. He lives in a hut cobbled together from the waste.

  • A crossed-out bas-relief of Lenin on one of the walls. Underneath, the spray-painted inscription reads "Executioner."

  • Grigoryi Haivan (78) - living in Kupiansk with his wife, Larysa. They have been together for 68 years. Their son lives in Russia, no contact with him, and their daughter lives in Wales. Grigoryi recently had a stroke and has since had difficulty moving and speaking. He do not want to leave.

  • Detour after bombing of overpass on Kharkovskaya Street.

  • "Tark" (42), a commander of a Freikorps volunteer subunit in Kupiansk.

  • An evening assembly of soldiers from the 41st Mechanised Brigade.

  • A sign warning of mines in the woods below the town on the south left bank.

  • Petr Kukla (58) a soldier wounded at Bakhmut, now stationed in the area of Kupiansk. The scar on his neck is from a bullet that miraculously missed the arteries. He is half Czech by origin, living in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains.

  • Sergei "Sniper" (25) walking onto his position.

  • "Iskra" (20) in the ammunition elaboration workshop. A week later, the base we visited was shelled by Russian artillery and completely destroyed. He was killed.

  • Volodymyr Blazko Petrovich (56) came to Kupiansk from Balaklia because his house was destroyed. Now he lives in the completely dark basement of a department store and does not know what to do next. He has lost everything. He separated from his wife before the war and does not know where she is now. His daughter lives with his brother in the Crimea and he would like to visit them again one day. He has increasingly serious memory problems.

  • Oleg Sverzhin (55) and Irina Olinek (44) in the last bakery working in the city, at the back of the "Kalyna" store.

  • A violin that was once an exhibit of the Kupiansk Ethnographic Museum.

  • Nadiia Dehtarova (75) with her daughter Iryna Sizonova (50) in the garden where they grow vegetables and fruits. It is large enough to allow them to be self-sufficient.

  • Veronica runs an organisation that looks after stray animals. She collects them from the streets, vaccinates and sterilises, which prevents them from being euthanised by the authorities. As there is no longer a veterinarian in Kupiansk, she often travels to Kharkiv to get the resources needed for the animals.

  • Olha Fenko (32) holding her son Mykola during a weekend visit to her home in Left Bank, where only her husband, Zhenia lives permanently.

  • “Desna”, a reconnaissance officer. He is 30, a bachelor and has already been wounded twice. He achieved his position in the army through merit. He is stationed on the left bank.

  • Sunday Liturgy in Sviato - Nikolaievskiy khram.

  • Evgeniy Fenko (32), electrical engineer, living on the Left Bank of the city. Zhenya is one of the heroes thanks to which the city still functions - he risks his life to repair damaged high-voltage lines after shellings. Although his home is only about 5 km from the front line, his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son visit him regularly every weekend.

  • An evening look at the ruins of the completely destroyed ethnographic museum in Kupiansk, which became an ideological target of the Russians.

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In the shadow of Russian offensive

On 10th September 2023, the Ukrainian authorities announced the obligatory evacuation of settlements in the area of Kupiansk, on the east bank of the river Oskol — including parts of Kupiansk itself. Less than a year after being liberated by the Ukrainian army, the town and its suburbs, being an important railway and road junction connected directly to Russia itself, again became an important military objective, endangered by the Russian offensive.

Once a 27-thousand town, Kupiansk, now a home for 5.5 thousand souls, ravaged by the sweeping war front and months of Russian occupation, just won’t give up living. The emergency and support services — the police, the firefighter crew, the health care, as well as shops and municipal administration — are still there. Despite the everyday shelling, there’s water and electricity; the bakeries bake fresh bread, people queue to the post office and to the Orthodox religious services. Some families decided not to leave and their children are still there, playing among shattered buildings.

In this report we show how the people endure the risks of shelling and death, what motivates them to stay and how they manage to live in the frightening shadow of war. We talk to heroes who try to save the endangered town, and to those, who simply decided not to leave.

For The Kyiv Independent.

© 2024 Amadeusz Świerk