Ukraine calling

Yevgenia Laptii, photographer

Everything was beautiful, except for one thing

by Yevgenia Laptii

Before the war I was a photographer; now I am learning to photograph again. For me, the war began at 6 a.m. on February 24, 2022, when I saw the first armored personnel carriers entering our village.

I was woken up by the clicking of the TV. The light had been cut out. Then the house began to shake and the noise of thunder was coming from some place. But there is no thunder in February. The thought flashed through my head for a second: “Explosions.” I decided to ignore that thought, thinking it was just a thunder and going back to bed. But the “thunder” was getting stronger, and I realized I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I called my Mom and said, “The war has started; don’t come over. Go stay with Dad in Germany.” 

When I approached the window, I saw a glow over Goptovka, a border village 30 km from us. The explosions were endless, and the ground was shrouded in a roar. Goptovka was being destroyed by hundreds of bombs coming from Russia. I began to pack my suitcase, still not believing that the war would begin. As it turned out later, I’d packed two blouses— one, bright bright crimson backless, the other one, transparent jabot-neck (the most necessary things in the war)—a pair of summer pants and a laptop with my entire photo archive.

Then I sat down and waited, and the sun came out. The morning was wonderful in its carefree beauty. Hoarfrost covered the grass and birches planted by my great-grandfather. Everything was shining and shimmering in the morning sun. Then, the explosions quieted down. And the silence broke…depressing, disturbing silence. Everyone waited to see what would happen next. People gathered on the street, smoking and saying this couldn’t be happening. The whole thing felt surreal. The sun was rising higher and higher, gilding the trees. It was an incredibly beautiful morning.

Everything was beautiful, except for one thing…

Buzz on a highway. I went on the road (it leads to North Saltovka). The buzz grew, getting closer and closer. I hoped that this was the Ukrainian army, but then the first Z-marked armored personnel carrier appeared. And it was followed by hundreds more similar carriers. The convoy went on for three days in a row. There were many—hundreds, thousands of them. We were cut off from the world, from communication, from Kharkiv. At 6 in the morning on February 24 of 2022, we were occupied.



Most of my photos were taken in my village. That’s where I’d started my photography journey, that’s where I created my first photo series. There, I learned to listen to nature. There, I first “saw” the beauty of the human body. The wonderful nature of my land taught me that light is never the same. Even if it’s the tenth thirty-degree day in a row and there isn’t a single cloud in the skythe light is always different. Therein lies the magic of photography: you can never control it. You’re just a guide, a spectatorlife itself and nature are the creators.

Nature amazed me every day. I listened to it. I knew every path, every river and every little forest in my village. I knew where to go for the juiciest strawberries, where nuts grow, and where a field of mushrooms crawls out after a heavy rain.

Nature showed me its wonders: one day, a fox flashed in the field, another day a hare slipped into tall grass. Sometimes, I could spot a prideful roe deer looking down on me, not understanding what I was doing on her territory.

In my village I knew every path, every little forest, every river. I walked in the woods at night, looking out for mavkas. I swam in the lakes at dawn, playing hide and seek with them. I knew every path, every forest…

And now they’re filled with darkness…the forests are burning, the land is raped.



Actually, I got lucky. I was in a relative hellit’s something between living in a hut in Zakarpattya and in a house in Mariupol. We were occupied immediately, quickly. There were no battles on our territory; the Russians drove in with their horde. They quickly set up equipment among residential buildings and began shooting over North Saltovka day and night.

They even had a schedule. Every hour, starting at 9 a.m., they bombed the city. After that, they took a lunch break, and then got back to work, continuing to bomb. After all, the population of Saltovka wasn’t going to liberate itself.

They were the first to bomb, and we had to respond. It’s safe to say the response was pretty “humane” compared to the Russians’ one, consisting of less than 4 Tornado Fires in a row. Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) fired accurately, but, unfortunately, they sometimes hit the wrong targets.

A man on a street next to ours went out from a bunker for a 5-minute smoke break and a bomb hit him. The neighbor was torn to pieces. His family lost a father.

We were living in relative hell. We had no light, but a connection began to show. Oh God, in the morning you could even get on the Internet for a while. I wanted to go on Instagram and see who was still alive so badly.

In our relative hell, we had some rules: walking only on the roads, not going into the forest (otherwise, they’d shoot you), never turning in the field because of the mines. The “liberators” also told us how to think properly. Over loudspeakers, they broadcast that we were one people—brothers, Slavs—and that they’d come to liberate us. They said that war was peace, freedom was slavery, and love was hate. Just kidding, the things they said were way more perverted. Freedom was death, and it is from life that they came to liberate us. So, in general, that’s how we spent our days: listening to absurd Russian propaganda and the roar of bombs.




Every time the soldiers approached us, I looked them in the face. I tried to see absolute evil, faces disfigured by bloodlust, monsters, devils. But to my great regret, I saw ordinary human faces. And then it became completely incomprehensible how such people could fire residential areas with Tornadoes—how these people could kill hundreds of people. I really wanted evil to be easily distinguished from us in an ugly, demonic way. I wanted it to have horns, tentacles, and a mouth with a thousand fangs. It would’ve made things much clearer: there would be nothing human in it. But the soldiers were just like us: ordinary people.

For a long time, I tried to understand why evil had a human appearance—because it was indifferent. A bomb doesn’t care where to fall: on a residential building, a military base, or a child. Bombs are blind… just like Russian soldiers. But the soldiers deliberately close their eyes, lulling their conscience. They see nothing, hear nothing, know nothing. They just press the button, and the bomb falls by itself, independently. And in this blindness and deafness is where they live. Bombs don’t care where to fall, and neither do Russian soldiers—they are indifferent.



Yevgenia Laptii

Yevgenia Laptii is a photographer based in Kyiv. Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, she graduated from the Kharkiv Art Academy of Design and Arts, specialising in History of Arts. She has participated in various group and solo exhibitions in Ukraine, Italy and Austria. She is a laureate of the 2018 NonStopMedia contest.
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