The 7-year-olds photographing war and how to support them

View Gallery 6 Photos
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Artem Skorokhodko and Dmytro Zubkov travel to war-torn Ukrainian villages, handing out disposable cameras to the local children who photograph their places of play

 

Masha is 10 years old and lives in rural Ukraine in a village called Lukashivka, in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine. The village was occupied by the Russian military in the first month of its assault on Ukraine, launched on 24 February this year. For three weeks, its residents were forced to hide in their basements. The soldiers damaged or destroyed almost every village home. Not long ago, Masha received a new disposable camera. She has a pet horse, Orlik, who features in the photos. The device was a gift from Behind Blue Eyes, a Ukrainian charity working not only to show childrens’ perspectives of life amidst war but using this material to raise funds for humanitarian aid. Masha adores rodents and after losing her hamsters, a pet chinchilla sits at the top of her wishlist. 

Masha: “This is my grandfather’s workshop.”

“[Kids] tend to photograph the places they feel good in, even if these places have been damaged or razed to the ground.” 

 

One of Masha’s sobering photos shows her grandfather’s carpentry workshop, wrecked by a Russian missile: “He would busy himself in there, and always bring me sawdust for my hamsters,” she explains. “Now it’s destroyed, I have to find sawdust somewhere else.” It’s an image that shows how catastrophic war can be and how intimately it is experienced by children. Taken en masse with the flood of images of death and carnage coming out of Ukraine, anyone would view this as more evidence of Russia’s crimes. Is this why a 10 year old picks up a camera? Not exactly. As Artem Skorokhodko, the co-founder of Behind Blue Eyes tells me over a Zoom call from Kyiv, the reasons are far more nuanced: “[Kids] tend to photograph the places they feel good in, even if these places have been damaged or razed to the ground.” 

© Masha.
© Valya.

It explains why Lukashivka’s youngest residents return to their playground, despite it being reduced to scraps. They go back to photograph what used to be their home and even the basements where they hid. A roll of film can hold personal tragedies — the loss of a hamster or dog — while also documenting the happy day they spent making candles with the volunteers. 

“Now that it’s summer they go to the river,” adds Skorokhodko. “They go to what used to be their playground, they photograph animals and flowers.”

Artem Skorokhodko and Dmytro Zubkov (Dima), first met the village kids of Lukashivka in early April. When their daily lives were disrupted by the war, the two brand marketing professionals started preparing food in a basement of a pizza joint in Kyiv, set up by Dima before the invasion in February.In the first month of war, they provided 2000 meals a day for the local military, hospital patients and the elderly. Turning Dima’s “dark kitchen” into a food bank, then a volunteer hub, the two colleagues were soon tasked with distributing humanitarian aid to liberated areas north of Kyiv. On arrival to the retaken village of Lukashivka, Skorokhodko says: “We were speechless. The scenery was horrifying. We saw hundreds of wrecked artillery machines, and countless burned houses.” 

Throughout April, the pair made several trips to Lukashivka. During this time they got to know the local kids. “For the fifth or sixth visit we planned a special delivery for the youngest residents: we collected toys and bought 10 disposable cameras from Fotovramke, a film processing shop in Kyiv,” says Skorokhodko. Each child could pick an item, be it a toy car, a ball, or a camera. They ended up with nine photo enthusiasts, aged seven to 15. “The first thing we did was take them for a ride in our SUV: one kid took all the photos from the floor, another put the camera on the roof of the car, someone else sat in the local bus stop. I said to Dima, laughing, we’re never going to get these cameras back,” Skorokhodko recalls. 

 

“We wanted to transfer this feeling, this positivity, to other people in Ukraine, who might need it desperately.”

 

The delight and spontaneity with which Masha and her friends took photos inspired Behind Blue Eyes. Already since the start of August, Skorokhodko and Dima have raised enough donations to expand their initiative to new regions. Over the next few months, they hope to visit a village in each Ukrainian region fighting Russia’s invasion, to hand out disposable cameras and fulfil every kid’s wishlist. “Everytime we visited Lukashivka, [these kids] gave us a feeling of hope — we’d return to Kyiv feeling uplifted and encouraged. We wanted to transfer this feeling, this positivity, to other people in Ukraine, who might need it desperately.” An image posted on social media when the pair launched their project in July, encapsulates that feeling of peace that is so rare in war-times. It was taken by 11-year-old Valia and shows a bunch of dandelions held up to the blue sky, echoing the colours of the Ukrainian flag. “She took the photo looking up. The gesture is super simple and symbolic for me,” says Skorokhodko

“It’s pretty hard to hide from the news as a Ukrainian,” he adds. “Approximately, 20 per cent of our country is now occupied. Inflation is crazy. The amount of people in need is only increasing.” In spite of the pain, Skorokhodko wants to show rural kids that creativity can be a tool to achieve their dreams; more importantly, he wants to show the world that even during war there is still room for living. “The kids are our future. If the kids are doing well, then we’ll find a way out of this.”

@theblueyedproject

If you’d like to donate to Behind Blue Eyes, click here

Liza Premiyak

Liza Premiyak is a London-based journalist. For the last seven years, she’s been interested in understanding, of all places, what it means to live, create and protest in Eastern Europe. Until recently, she was Managing Editor at The Calvert Journal, where she looked after the online publication’s photo stories and ran the New East Photo Prize, broadening perceptions of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asia.