Why this photographer wants to go back to his boring pre-war life

Serhii Korovayny says Ukraine will take back its lost territories

gallery-image Sorush Zali, an Ukrainian artist, performs the Arno Babajanyan Elegy in a destroyed building in Irpin.
gallery-image A resident of Mykolaiv sharing news about an attack on phone.
gallery-image A girl exploring the cemetery of burned cars in Irpin.
gallery-image Refugees from Donbas in the evacuation bus to the train station in Pokrovsk.

For me, being a war photographer is no longer an adventure, but a regular job. It has been a year since Russia invaded Ukraine and there is now a sort of fatigue compared with the fervour we felt at the beginning of the war.

I grew up in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Some of my fondest childhood memories include going to school and playing football. Later, I moved to Kyiv. Whenever I would return to my home town, my mom would bake a pie and we would have a meal as a family. I miss all that. I also miss Crimea, a beautiful place where I made some wonderful memories. It has beautiful mountain ranges and it is close to the sea. You could go on a hike, swim in the sea and eat fruit around a campfire. All that is gone.

Before the war, Ukraine was just like any other European country. It was developing rapidly. A lot of new businesses were coming up―restaurants, cafes, malls, local brands and much more. Foreigners had started discovering Ukraine. Nothing much is left now. It would be wonderful just to go back to our normal, boring lives, and not worry about air raid sirens, death and destruction.

The war has lasted longer than expected and that is because our enemy is bigger than us―bigger, not stronger. So, the story continues. Last year was successful. It was a long year, but we had some victories. We were able to defend northern Ukraine and liberate Kharkiv and Kherson.

gallery-image On the morning of October 10, 2022, five explosions in Kyiv killed many people and wounded many more.
gallery-image Friends and relatives attend the funeral of the Ukrainain soldier Volodymyr Prymachenko.
gallery-image Olha Kovalova, 30, a refugee from Kharkiv, preparing tea with her daughter Polina, 3, at their apartment in Kyiv. She uses candles to save electricity.
gallery-image Stretchers covered in blood are seen near military hospital in Bakhmut. The city in Donetsk was a scene of heavy battles between Russian and Ukrainian armed forces.

We have suffered some big losses and might lose even more territory, but we are going to regain those territories piece by piece, with the help of our friends. So this year looks like a continuation of 2022. While I am not a military expert, I am sure more weapons will definitely help us. We need more tanks and jets. Our women, too, are fighting the Russians. Many of them are serving as paramedics and as journalists, disregarding personal safety.

What I really miss now is the freedom to live without the lingering tension. I wish to see my family, I have not seen them in two years. My wife and I eagerly await victory so that we can travel to Donetsk. We long for a proper vacation. It would be really nice to be able to travel to India.

Russia is an empire, similar to the British empire of the past. It just wants to expand its territory. We, in Ukraine, want to live our life our way, and not be a part of Russia. What the Russians have been doing is very cruel. They even destroyed our power infrastructure, crippling our electricity supply. It is a form of terrorism against civilians, an attempt to make us negotiate. We, however, have adapted to face the challenge. We bought generators and power banks and did everything possible to survive the crisis and defeat the crude attempts to crush our morale.

We are fighting back. I have seen cameramen working on projects, making documentaries and films about the war. You would get to see street art, especially with patriotic themes, in all our cities. Another form of resistance is listening to music, especially Ukrainian songs about war, military and victory.

Being a part of the European Union is the next step for our country. It will help us develop economically, socially and culturally. It would also be a great thing to be protected by a force like NATO. But the war will have to end before that can happen. While I was not a supporter of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and did not vote for him, he has proven to be an able leader. I am glad to have him as our president.

Korovayny is an editorial and portrait photographer based in Kyiv.

As told to Sumitra Nair