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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Donetsk: Igor Ivanov, the Witness

An interview by Marco Bordoni.
Translated by Francesco Giannatiempo, edited by Supriyo Chatterjee, Tlaxcala
Italian original
Whenever bullets and Grad missiles whistle down on Donetsk, there’s a man who does not run to hide in air-raid shelters. Instead, he takes his camera and rushes to record the massacre of a people. He is Igor Ivanov, the Witness. He’s the witness of the construction, and then of the destruction, of his town. If those responsible are ever summoned to account for the Donetsk carnages, Igor will be brought in by the Public Prosecutor to testify for his town because he lends his gaze to his community. Meanwhile, Igor’s photos  are uploaded on his Facebook page, open to all those who want to look at them and want to face reality. The images shot by Igor will convey to you a wave of shock, rage and despair. After looking at them, you cannot remain unmoved. Even those involved in South- East Ukraine for months, and know very well the terrible trials of the population, are overwhelmed by the quantum of pain and destruction that Igor meticulously records, day after day, month after month. We asked the Witness to tell us his story – an incredible and normal one, as many stories of the besieged town.

Who’s Igor Ivanov? What were you interested in before this war?
There’s not much to say about me. All that existed before this war has become completely insignificant now. But if you consider it important to know, I’ll tell it. I was born in Donetsk Oblast, I have two sons and we all live there. I have a B.Sc. At a certain point of my life I devoted myself to photography: it started as a youthful hobby, then little by little became a fascination, and finally my job. It has been keeping me busy for the last 10-15 years… I don’t even remember exactly how long. Among other things, I took photographs of the new constructions of Donetsk for the city brochures – as its new buildings embellished it and made it unique.

We saw your photos album on the FB: they are really impressive. Did you shoot all of them?
I’m a photographer and I shot all the photos you can see on my FB page. And, I didn’t touch up any of them with photoshop: they are downloaded directly from my camera.
You make your photographic reports on site, just after the missiles and grenades land. In many photos we can see the flames erupting, people sill in a state of shock and crying for their destroyed homes, their dead relatives — in a word their devastated life. Why do you risk your life this way?
When the war started, I considered it necessary to show the public what was happening in our town. I don’t put my life at risk; you’re pulling my leg! It’s the firemen, the ambulance teams and the gas supply operators - even under the bombings - who rush over: they are the ones who are indeed risking their lives!

Donetsk bombing, 1st December
What is your method? How can you reach and be on site at the same time as the aid teams?
When I reach the bombing location, there’s always a friend of mine recording videos of what is happening. His name is Viktor; he’s from Donetsk. Before this war he was a computer technician but with the war he lost his job. At the beginning, Viktor and I went and searched the bombsites. Being in the city, it wasn’t hard to realize what was happening and where. Then, once at the site, we often came across fire brigade and ambulance teams doing their duty. We’ve formed a friendly relation and now they indicate to us the “hot spots”.
And then, what do you do with your photos?
I download them on the Internet to make them accessible to the public: the more people see them, the more they can realise what is happening here. And my technical education has been useful too: I have written some reports on the direction and the distance from where the attacks on the town came from, in order to identify the responsible. I also have worked on the scandalous case of the Oktjabrsk village playing field bombing, where some children died. After that, the OECD has been obliged – even if not explicitly – to admit who were responsible.
Your photos are very beautiful and professional. Have you received any kind of remuneration for your job?
I don’t make any profit from this activity. On the contrary, my only gain was the destruction of all my equipment. Given that I do this work voluntarily…
How is it possible that the world seems to ignore your tragedy?
Last summer, when Angela Merkel visited Kiev, she was personally given an extensive collection of my photos. An equally important collection was given to Poroshenko. They fully know what is happening here. When Mrs. Merkel visited Kiev, she had a meeting with Poroshenko, where Lukyanchenko, the Donetsk Mayor, was also present. He personally gave those photos to both of them. Reporters from France, Austria, Germany and USA have been here; but, considering the results, I’d say they wrote the exact opposite of what they saw.

What is the situation in Donetsk now? How can you live in a town surrounded by the enemy forces and under non-stop bombing?
We were very frightened in July and all through summer when the bombings were unleashed. We were terrorised! Now, as time passes, we get used to it: you cannot be terrorised for five months. At the moment, they are bombing both the outskirts and the city centre, but the people go to work (if they have a job yet…), take their children for a walk and women give birth. But, sometimes, they cannot do it in the hospital, since bombings can make it impossible; therefore, we manage in the basements replacing power with candlelight.
What do you mean “they cannot go to the hospital”?
Sometimes, it is safer in the hospitals, and this does not mean that doctors don’t do their duty. For instance, I remember the case of the Hospital 21 placed in the Oktjabrskj suburb: that building has been bombed several times; they hit the walls and also the roof with Grad missiles. But, in spite of everything, over 90% of the hospital staff are operating normally.
According to you, what do the Donetsk people want for their future?
In my opinion, our people do deserve to have at least a certain level of self-determination - not due to hate for the Ukrainian State: this is not the point. In the beginning, during spring, we sought the path of dialogue; but afterwards, as you know, we have been obliged to defend our land at all costs. When I say that the aspiration to self-determination is widespread, I’m not speaking in my personal capacity but in the name of the majority of our community. This has also been proven by the result of the referendum. The majority of population turned out to vote. They wanted to express their opinion. They wanted to decide their own destiny.
Igor’s  cover page image on Facebook

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