Magnum Digest

Theatre of War, A Photo Essay by Sabiha Çimen

A selection of images from Çimen’s photo essay around cultural institutions in Ukraine, on assignment for Harper’s Magazine.

A sculpture outside the Odesa Archeological Museum, protected against missile attacks. Odesa, Ukraine, 2023. All images © Sabiha Çimen for Harper's Magazine.

In 2023, Sabiha Çimen traveled to Ukraine twice to explore how cultural institutions are coping in the cities of Kyiv, Lviv, Mykolaiv and Odesa during the war. In March 2024, just weeks after the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Çimen’s photo essay was published by Harper’s Magazine.

Harper’s writes: “In these photographs, Çimen documents schools, churches, museums, and performance halls — some destroyed, others still standing — and the people she met there, who were all making do as best they could. Before a show at the Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, an announcement informed spectators of where to go in the event of a missile strike. Then the curtain rose, and the ballet began.” 

During her time in Ukraine, Çimen also photographed Pavlo Aldoshyn, a Ukrainian actor-turned-sniper in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Aldoshyn played the role of protagonist in the 2022 film Sniper: The White Raven, in which a young physics teacher enlists as a sniper in the Donbas region in 2014, at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War. 

Following in the footsteps of the fictional persona, Aldoshyn himself trained to become a real-life sniper after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He has fought in Irpin, Bucha, Backmut, and more, over the past 24 months.

Below, we share a selection of images from Çimen’s photo essay, oscillating between the defiant poses of the people of Ukraine as they attempt to continue their day-to-day lives, and the traces of destruction left in the cities and cultural zones. Further below, we see Aldoshyn training in the countryside around Kiyv.

The Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral was damaged by a missile attack in the Odesa region. Ukraine, 2023.
The Lviv State Choreographic School. Ukraine, 2023.
Valentina Ivanova (85) has worked for 35 years at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in Kyiv. Every morning she comes to the museum garden to bathe in the sun and mediatate before she go (...)
Gas mask training at a cadet school in Kyiv. Ukraine, 2023.
A destroyed restaurant in Borodyanka. Ukraine, 2023.
A funeral procession for a Ukrainian soldier in Lviv. Ukraine, 2023.
Comrade of Actor Pavlo Aldoshyn (36) giving him a hair cut, days before the birth of his child. Ukraine, 2023.
Rubber dummy for shooting training. Kyiv region, Ukraine, 2023.

View the full story from Harper’s Magazine here.

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