In photos: The war in Ukraine one month on

Ukrainian forces carry an elderly man as thousands flee the city of Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine on March 7,2022. (Photo by Heidi Levine for The Washington Post).
Ukrainian forces carry an elderly man as thousands flee the city of Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine on March 7,2022. (Photo by Heidi Levine for The Washington Post).

One month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the loss and destruction is hard to put into words. Traumatized soldiers have returned to the front lines; ordinary citizens have taken up arms for the first time. Millions of women and children have boarded trains west, bidding painful goodbyes; others have taken shelter in underground subway stations. There are no definitive counts of the dead or wounded, no official tally of what has been destroyed, but the pain of war is on the faces of the people from this embattled nation, their resilience etched into their brows. Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the very beginning — here’s some of their most powerful work.

Michael Robinson Chavez, in Novotroitske, Ukraine

In early February, two of my colleagues and I joined a group of Ukrainian special forces on the eastern front of the “Gray Zone,” a border between the area controlled by Ukraine and the area held by Russian-backed separatists. It was cold, wet and muddy. The soldiers toiled in the mud digging out bunkers and trenches. We stayed at their barracks in the half-abandoned town of Novotroitske. We slept in their barracks and ate at the mess hall, which was adorned with children’s well-wishes and drawings. My bunk was festooned with Christmas lights, as was my neighbor Vanya’s. Vanya is a kind soul who openly talked about post-traumatic stress disorder and all the fighting he went through in the years since 2014.

For the first couple of weeks of the Russian invasion, we had no idea what had become of him or his fellow soldiers. Fortunately, he surfaced and got word to us that he was alive and okay. Others in the group, including Oleksander, the commander, had been injured. Still, others were killed. I hope that I can see Vanya again and laugh about the accommodations we shared.

Heidi Levine, in Kyiv, Ukraine

When I first arrived in Ukraine, just four days before Russia invaded, it felt as though everyone was still trying to desperately hold on to a fragile thread of hope that this horrific war could somehow not happen.

Within the very first days of the war, I witnessed and documented the largest exodus of refugees fleeing to bordering countries for safety since World War II. It felt as though people were running from a tidal wave crashing down on their lives, most leaving their sons, fathers, husbands and even grandfathers behind to fight for their country.

In the city of Irpin, people carried their children, their elderly, their disabled and whatever belongings they could take with them. Some often collapsed from the journey against the sounds of war and crackle of gunfire. Even their pets showed fear in their eyes as their owners tried to keep their balance while crossing the shaking planks of wood over the icy Irpin river. During one snowstorm, the images I made of an elderly woman covered in snow as her family struggled to push her in a supermarket cart made me wish to caption my photos with a single sentence: “What if this was your grandmother?”

In Irpin lay the bodies of three Russian soldiers as civilians carrying a white flag walked in their journey to escape to elsewhere in Europe. On the destroyed bridge, among the deserted cars, lay the body of a young man shot by a sniper. Beside the body were his cellphone and bicycle.

It is difficult to estimate how many more lives will be lost in bloodshed as the war continues. And yet, despite it all, Ukrainians are united in a way that words cannot describe. They display a level of immeasurable resilience that can never be shattered.

Salwan Georges, in Kharkiv and Odessa, Ukraine

It was 5 a.m. on Feb. 24 when ground-shattering booms woke Kharkiv. At that instant, I knew Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had begun. I threw on my helmet and flak jacket, both with the word PRESS on them, and headed to the streets. Within hours, the platform of an underground subway station became a refuge for women and children. Family members embraced as the sound of explosions intensified above them. At a territorial defense center nearby, many civilians lined up to join in defense of their country. They filled the backs of trucks and were sent to the front lines to fight.

In Odessa, as thousands boarded trains to leave the country for Poland, I met Georgiy Keburia as he kissed his wife, Maya, goodbye through the train’s window, wiping away the tears. On International Women’s Day, I met Katya as she held a rifle, learning how to use it to defend her country. In Mykolaiv, I met Diana as she spent her fifth birthday in a bomb shelter surrounded by her family. Just a few blocks away, at the city morgue in Mykolaiv, other families came to identify their sons killed on the battlefield. I will never forget walking through rooms filled with the corpses. People of all ages who gave up their life defending Ukraine.

Kasia Strek, in Poland and Lviv, Ukraine

One night after the curfew fell on Lviv, I saw a family running through the streets. A grandmother with her daughter and her granddaughter, who was tightly clinching a doll to her chest. The terrified look on the little girl’s face caught my eye. There it was, three generations of women fleeing the war, while the men in their lives stayed behind to fight. In the last few weeks we met a lot of women and their children. All of them trying to stay strong.

I met women already at the Polish side of the border who did not know what they would do next, as well as women deciding to remain in Lviv or in the mountains to stay closer to their partners, brothers and fathers. Women who decided to abandon their previous lives and work to protect Ukraine in any way they could. During all these meetings, we mainly talked in a mixture of Polish and Ukrainian languages. This mutual understanding made me feel personally closer to all of them. It made me realize very strongly how similar we are and how, because of the border that separates our two countries, we now live in very different realities.

Wojciech Grzedzinski, in Kharkiv, Bela Tserkva and Lviv, Ukraine

This war hurts me because it’s just around the corner. It’s on my country’s borders [Poland]. I have been there several times in the past years, working and having a good time. I have Ukrainian friends, and their life collapsed in the blinks of an eye. I’m not surprised how courageous they fight. I’m not surprised how well organized they are and how helpful they are to one another. Ukrainians are giving everyone an example of what the word “humanity” means. It’s an amazing lesson we all can use.

I am speechless with the brutality with which civilians are attacked. They became the main target in this war. Shelled with rockets and artillery. Living in dark basements with no water, electricity, or heating and still hoping for peace.