It’s a conflict that’s lasted more than seven years and claimed about 14,000 lives. Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, there hasn’t been a resolution. Fear of all-out war in Ukraine is always present on the front lines.

Photographer Sandro Maddalena, who has been following the war since its start, has noticed a transformation: The parades and fanfare that once hailed the return of Ukrainian troops have faded. Now veterans are left to fend for themselves.

“After seven years, a lot of people are very tired and bored,” Maddalena told The Washington Post. “In Europe not a lot of people speak about the conflict. And in Ukraine not a lot of people speak about the conflict. Veterans in the eyes of the people lose the appeal.”

His project, “Ukrainian Nostoi,” which focuses on the ancient Greek concept of a returning warrior, documents how veterans cope with coming back to an unwelcoming society. In 2020, the United Nations found that almost half of the nearly 400,000 Ukrainian veterans who have returned “suffer bias and mistreatment in their daily lives, with one third feeling excluded from society.”

The burden of addressing these issues has often fallen on the veterans themselves. Maddalena met former combatants who started rehabilitation centers to help others with the trauma of war. But the road to recovery is never straight.

“Most of the veterans attend rehabilitation courses to overcome post-traumatic stress,” Maddalena writes in his description of the project. “Some of them in addition to psychological trauma have to face a new life with serious physical impairments. It is an unprecedented situation in the history of Ukraine.”

While treatment is an indispensable step, he found that the real reintegration takes place “through the practices of daily life. Sport and music play a fundamental role, as [does] social commitment.”

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