Stolen Spring

I live in Bucha and work in Irpin. After the Russian occupation, these cities were destroyed. The military landscape has become my reality and routine. Every day I see people who are restoring their cities, their personal lives from the ruins and looking into the future.
I created a series of photographs in a historical dialogue with images by Polish photographer Michael Nash, who captured how the photographer used a decorative backdrop to mask the ruins of Warsaw during World War II in 1945-1946.
The heroes of my photographs are women who became victims of Russian aggression.
The occupation continued in the spring, people who survived this tragic period did not notice how spring passed, how chestnuts and lilies of the valley bloomed, birds flew in. They were deprived not only of their homes, loved ones, work, health, but also part of their lives. IDPs from Donbass and Crimea have a second tragic spring. A stolen spring is a stolen life. Each photo is a personal tragedy, but it is also a life-affirming story of a survivor, a hope that Ukraine will rise from the ruins.


Irina and her family moved to the village from Luhansk in 2014 because of the war. The village fell into the zone of active hostilities. After that, Iryna went to Irpin. When the Russian offensive began in February 2022, Irina worried more about her family in Severodonetsk than about herself. Parents stayed there. The father was chained to the bed and could not evacuate. Irina’s parents got into the epicenter of war events, and then into the occupation. Father died on Easter. Irina did not have a chance to say goodbye to her father. The woman lives near the Irpinsky hospital, from the window of her apartment she saw how a Russian plane dropped two aerial bombs. A few days later, a rocket flew into the neighboring house, the upper floor was completely demolished. Irina realized that it was now or never to leave. She left for the village of Yagotyn. When she returned, she saw that the apartment had no windows. The neighboring house was completely destroyed, there were many burned cars and houses around.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. December 2022.



The woman lives in Irpen with her mother, adult son Andriy, a cat and a shepherd dog. When hostilities began in the city, Alyona remained in Irpen. On March 5, water, electricity, communication and gas disappeared. Panic arose among the neighbors and they began to leave the city en masse. The temperature in the house reached 0 degrees, it was very cold. The family moved to a summer house, where they prepared food. During fierce shelling and bombing, they went down to the basement. Once, due to a strong explosion, the son was stunned, and the cat was wounded by shrapnel in the head. On March 27, nearby houses were bombed and neighbors were injured. Alyona decided to leave the city at any cost. The son loaded the grandmother into a wheelchair and they left the house under fire. They could not take the animals with them and were worried about this. It was necessary to make a choice either to evacuate the mother in a wheelchair, or to take the animals. Volunteers helped to evacuate through the Romaniv bridge, while they were waiting for an ambulance, there was heavy shelling. At that moment, Alyona cried, for the first time in the whole spring she allowed herself to be weak. Alyona’s house was damaged during military operations.
Ukraine. Irpin. November 2022.



Albina lives with her parents in Vorzel. This town is located in the neighborhood of Bucha and Irpen. On the morning of February 24, Albina’s boyfriend called and said that the war had begun. During the first days of the war, Albina hid in the basement from the explosions. It was very cold in the basement, she hardly slept. In a few days, the Russians occupied Vorzel and Albina’s family decided to evacuate. During the evacuation, all thoughts and attention were focused on the events in Irpen, Buchi, his hometown. After the occupation, Albina returned home and saw that the house was in disarray, the door had been blown away by an explosive wave. Albina remembers the spring of 2022 with pain and sadness.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. Winter 2023.



Inna and her son fled the war from Donbas to Irpin in 2016. On the morning of February 24, 2022, they woke up to explosions. It was scary, but they didn’t want to go, they hoped that everything would end soon, but the explosions intensified, Inna and her son went down to the basement. The next morning, they left for their relatives in Fastiv. After de occupation they returned and saw that there was a shell hit near the apartment, luckily Inna’s apartment survived.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. Winter 2023.



Arina lives in Bucha and studies in Irpen. Fighting in the city began on the first day of a large-scale war. A few days later, Arina saw the plane flying in the direction of where her school friends lived, on «Irpinsky Lipky». Arina heard explosions — the plane dropped bombs. The girl was very worried about her friends. During the bombings, Arina and her family sat in a windowless room. One day her father went outside and saw a plane dropping aerial bombs and shouted: — Run! Arina’s family ran outside. They ran to the cellar barefoot, without outerwear. On March 5, Arina and her family were evacuated from Bucha. After the occupation, they returned and saw that the windows and doors of the house were damaged. The neighbor’s house is half-destroyed. Now, when Arina hears the sound of an airplane engine, it causes a feeling of anxiety and fear.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. Winter 2023.



Tatiana lives in Mostyshche. In the first days of the large-scale offensive, she and her husband Victor and two dogs evacuated to a village in the Kyiv region. Tatyana was worried about her daughter, who ended up in an occupied village. Returning after the occupation, Tetiana saw that Mostyshche was 90 percent destroyed, and their five-story building had been hit by an aerial bomb. In total, 18 shells of various calibers hit the building. In Tatyana’s apartment, all the interior doors were blown away by the blast wave, communications were destroyed. There was not a single whole window, and the pigeons made a nest on Viktor and Tatyana’s bed.
Photo: Ukraine. Mostyshche. January 2023.



Diana hoped that the large-scale offensive would soon stop quickly, but events unfolded at lightning speed.Soon Diana saw a red glow from the side of Gostomel because of the fires. The girl decided to leave Borodyanka for the village to her grandmother. At first it was calm there, but Diana felt anxious.
Russian troops entered Borodyanka. There began active hostilities. Several high-rise buildings were destroyed by aerial bombs, people were trapped under their debris, most of them died. Diana constantly followed the events. Soon the war reached her village. The girl found herself in the epicenter of war events. The Russians approached the village, and behind the village, Ukrainian troops maintained defense. The fire came from two sides. On March 8, Diana and her mother were able to evacuate to the Lviv region. Due to severe stress, Diana’s body failed and the girl was hospitalized. She often remembers the spring of 2022. Each time these memories open an unhealed wound that will hurt for a long time.
Photo: Ukraine. Borodyanka. Winter 2023.



Yulia lives in the city of Irpin. Together with her family, she was forced to leave her city of Donetsk because of the 2014 war. On February 24, the offensive of Russian troops began, and Yulia fled the war for the second time to the west of Ukraine. Roads, suitcases, other people’s apartments and all-encompassing fear began. The woman did not notice how spring came, all her attention was focused on war events. At that time, Russian troops were destroying Irpin and other Ukrainian cities. Immediately after the occupation, Yulia returned to Irpen and saw that the neighboring houses were destroyed. As a result of shelling by Russian troops of the residential sector and infrastructure, 70% of the city was damaged during a month of fierce fighting.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. December 2022.



In 2014, Svetlana left her native Donetsk because of the war. She went to Krasny Liman and ended up on the front line. During the hostilities, the woman and her husband’s family hid in the basement. Since 2019,Svetlana and her family have been living in Irpen. Svetlana’s apartment has large panoramic windows, it was dangerous to stay in the rooms during shelling. The only protected place was the bathroom, where the children slept. When the explosions became audible very close, they moved into the entrance. The blast wave destroyed all the windows in the apartment, and Svetlana and her family moved to the basement of the building. It was very cold in the basement, the air temperature was 2 degrees higher than outside. On March 9, Svetlana and her family decided to leave Irpen and went to the apartment to pick up the cat and things. The man carried things, and the woman could not find the frightened cat. A loud explosion rang out on the street. When Svetlana and her family went down to the street, they saw that their car had been damaged by the explosion, if people had been in the car at that moment, they would have died. Under shelling, the woman’s family ran to the saving Romanivsky bridge. In Svetlana’s hands was a cage with a frightened hamster, which was turning the wheel all the way, two daughters were running nearby, the husband was carrying a screaming cat. They lived with friends in Kyiv, where after the de-occupation she returned to Irpin.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. December 2022.



Before the large-scale offensive, Oksana lived with her old mother and adult son in a village in the Sumy region. Oksana was forced to leave her home due to constant shelling from Russia. In search of work and security, Oksana moved to Irpin in her niece’s empty apartment. There is no furniture in the apartment, so the woman sleeps on the floor. Mother refused to leave her native village. Oksana’s son is mobilized to the ranks of the Armed Forces and protects Ukraine in dangerous areas.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. Winter 2023.



Alena is the author of the «Stolen Spring» project. In 2014, Alena and her family left her hometown of Donetsk because of the war. Since 2017, the author has been living in Buchi. On the first day of the large-scale offensive, the woman and her family left for the west of Ukraine. After the deoccupation, Alena returned to Buchi and documented the testimonies of people who suffered during the occupation.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. Winter 2023.



Elena lives in the city of Irpin. She did not leave her home during the Russian offensive. The woman lives near the military hospital. The active phase of the war took place near her house. Elena remembers the spring of 2022 with horror.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin Winter 2023.



Russian troops captured Gostomel in the first days of a large-scale offensive. For this city there were fierce battles. Nastya, her little daughter and her mother found themselves in the occupation.
Russian soldiers forced local residents to constantly sit in the basement, while they themselves were in their apartments. The military closed the door with a thin rope. If you wanted, you could open it, but the residents did not do it, they were afraid to annoy the soldiers. In the morning, the soldiers would open the doors and let the residents out into the yard for a short time. In total, about 30 people were sitting in the basement. Among them were 10 children. Together with everyone in the basement sat Nastya with the baby. They survived as best they could. Sometimes they were allowed to make a fire and cook something. In order to make a fire, they looked for twigs, broke old benches, it is a shame to put new ones in the furnace. Neighbors shared food stocks, but they didn’t want to eat, they cried all the way, children cried and adults next to them. They spent three weeks in the occupation. Nastya and her family managed to evacuate. When they returned home, they saw that part of their house was destroyed. Fortunately, Nastya’s apartment survived.
Photo: Ukraine. Gostomel. Winter 2023.



Valya and her family live in Irpen. In the first days of the Russian offensive, the woman saw from her apartment window how Russian planes began to bomb Gostomel. Then the Irpin bridge was blown up and everyone was waiting for evacuation. When Irpin began to be bombed, Valentina’s family went down to the basement of a multi-story building and lived there for 10 days. On March 3, a mine fell near their house. The shell exploded near the basement, where people were, and the door flew out due to the blast wave. Valyn’s son was very frightened. On the same day, they evacuated through the green corridor. Valya returned home at the beginning of summer and saw that there were no windows in her apartment, the roof of the house was damaged, the houses on the neighboring streets were even more damaged, some were completely destroyed.
Photo: Ukraine. Irpin. December 2022.