About the Project | Wounds

About the Project

A Photo Documentary Project by Joseph Sywenkyj

Revolution, occupation, war and acts of terrorism over the past year and a half have changed Ukraine forever. Rany (wounds) is a documentation of young and middle aged Ukrainian soldiers and Maidan activists who have been severely wounded and maimed while defending their nation, their homes and their families.

Some of these men suffer from severe burns covering much of their bodies, many endure excruciating pain due to nerve damage, others lost their ability to walk, some lost an arm or a leg, while others are double, triple or quadruple amputees. Some of these men were taken prisoner by Russian forces and Russian supported rebels. Some were not mistreated while others were tortured. Some are battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others are addicted to painkillers. Each of these men has several things in common: Pain — severe physical and emotional pain and the daunting task of adapting to a new post-injury life. Oftentimes next to the men in most dire condition are their worried wives, mothers and girlfriends who are left to pick up the pieces of war.

These men and their families, along with many thousands more, have made tremendous sacrifices. This work is meant to inform and to encourage a discussion among Ukrainians about the formidable task of reintegrating wounded soldiers and activists into daily life, how to cover their long-term medical care costs, pensions, physical therapy, issues relating to PTSD, future job training and lack of infrastructure in Ukraine for the physically disabled.  

Additional photographs with more in-depth stories are also being self-published online at www.rany.com.ua. Kateryna Yudina and Maria Dachkovska, graduate students at the Kyiv Mohyla School of Journalism, have contributed by writing extended pieces. The site is available in Ukrainian and English.

I have spent many days and months working on this project and have become attached to the men I have photographed. It is now my obligation to do more than simply document their hardship and daily lives. If you are interested in assisting any of these men directly, please visit: www.atoheroes.org

The United Nations estimates that more than 9,000 civilians and military personnel have been killed in Ukraine since the conflict began and approximately 21,000 people have been wounded. The estimated number of Ukrainian servicemen killed exceeds 2,300 and thousands more Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded. These statistics are staggering; they are growing and the average Ukrainian seems to already have become inured to the regular reports of injured and killed. A goal of this project is to create a better understanding of the human consequences behind these numbers, and more specifically, the suffering of those defending Ukraine’s independence, democracy and European values.

A 2014-2016 Fulbright Scholar Award made this project, which is still in progress, possible.


Joseph Sywenkyj www.josephsywenkyj.com (b. 1978) is an American photographer specializing in reportage, portraiture, breaking news and travel photography. In 2003, a year after graduating with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York, he moved to Ukraine on a Fulbright Student Grant. He is currently the recipient of a 2014-2016 Fulbright Scholar Award.

Joseph is the recipient of the 2014 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. He was also a finalist for the Smith Grant in both 2011 and 2009. In 2012 he was awarded a Camera Club of New York Darkroom Residency. Joseph was a finalist for a Hasselblad Masters Award in 2010. In 2003 he was named as one of Photo District News 30 Emerging Photographers to watch. He attended the 2002 World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass and in 2001 was awarded a Visual Arts Foundation Grant. Kodak Professional has sponsored the creation of his work in Ukraine as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His photographs have been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums including Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland; Les Rencontres d’Arles in Arles, France; George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; The Richard B. Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC and the United Nations Visitor’s Lobby in New York City; University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hannover, Germany; Pretoria Art Museum in Pretoria, South Africa; FOAM, Photographic Museum Amsterdam in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and The Camera Club of New York in New York City.

Joseph has worked extensively on assignment throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has also worked in Africa, the Middle East and North America. His photographs have appeared in various publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek, Conde Nast Portfolio, Forbes, GQ, Newsweek, The New Yorker, Stern, Time, The New York Times, The New York Times Sunday Magazine and many others.

All photographs ©Joseph Sywenkyj 2015

Text ©Joseph Sywenkyj 2015, ©Kateryna Yudina 2015, ©Maria Dachkovska 2015