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A Ukrainian photojournalist reflects on documenting a year of war


Evgeny Maloletka has won praise for covering a war that's been in the eyes of the world for a year, the war in Ukraine. It is his country. Evgeny Maloletka has taken photos for the Associated Press and other outlets. And The Guardian newspaper recently named him agency photographer of 2022. A documentary featuring some of his work taken during the siege of Mariupol at the outset of the war last February has just been screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Evgeny Maloletka joins us now from Kyiv.

Thank you very much for being with us.

EVGENY MALOLETKA: It's my pleasure.

SIMON: Can you take us back to February 2022? You and his small team made it into Mariupol, I gather, just about an hour before the Russian invasion began there.

MALOLETKA: I think the people of Mariupol didn't understand what will happen. And when they realized, they lost the time, and they were already blocked in the city because it was too dangerous to leave the area, and there was no green corridor. And that's why so many people, so many children are being killed during this time.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you remember the photo you took of the pregnant woman on a stretcher?

MALOLETKA: Irina Kalinina. It's a normal family from Mariupol, you know? Husband was working on other steel plant, and she was working in a shop. And they decided to have a baby. And on the last months of the pregnancy, she was in the hospital to take care that - and waiting for give birth. But unfortunately, you know, that Russian jet who threw the bomb to the hospital killed her and baby as well. Doctors tried to but didn't save their lives, you know? She lost too many blood.

SIMON: Can I ask you about another picture?


SIMON: Little boy, 7 years old, who's holding a wooden rifle.

MALOLETKA: We were on the outskirts of Chernihiv, that small village with a few - only few streets. And there was a column of Russian tanks. And the Russian trucks full of ammunition were hit by Ukrainians, you know? And destroyed them. And because it was full of ammunition, the explosions were huge. And after liberation, we came to that village and trying to see what's going on and how that people were living during this occupation, you know? I found the boy who was playing, you know, with his friend - playing with a wooden gun. And he was passing by through these destroyed Russian vehicles full of artillery shells, RPGs and et cetera. And through all of this, you know, children were playing in the army even during the war.

SIMON: What do you think the job of a great photographer like you is in the middle of an act of war?

MALOLETKA: I don't think that I'm a great photographer, you know? I think I'm regular photographer who are, like, in a situation where what we are trying to do is trying to, you know, do the best what we can. And don't think that I'm someone special. No, I am just like others. And we were doing for this whole period times the same job - the same as our colleagues. And because we are Ukrainians, we understood what is going on, maybe we can react faster. But I think it's not about photography, but it's about information. It's very important to give people information in time when it's really needed. And then think what we did, you know, I still not understand, did we done enough? Because you never know what the impact. And still I don't know what the impact of this.

SIMON: What do you hope people around the world who see your photos will see in your photos?

MALOLETKA: You know, I think my job is to show emotions - yes? - not to ask, but to show people and do them to react somehow. What I see, it's only maybe 1% what is happening nowadays, because it's impossible to be everywhere in time and to capture the moment. So, unfortunately, there is a lot of pain. And the picture might to burn something in the brain and to keep - remember that image. Maybe even it will not stop the war, but it will bring help somehow.

SIMON: Evgeny Maloletka, photojournalist, joining us from Kyiv.

Thank you for sharing your work. Thank you.

MALOLETKA: Thank you. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLAH-LAS' "HOUSTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.