Donetsk, eastern Ukraine – It is Wednesday, May 4, 2016, and five grade 11 boys run gleefully on to the football field next to the school. In their right hand, they each carry a gun, in their left, a hand grenade.
It is the last period and the older pupils have a class in defence, patriotism and discipline. The guns they are using today are made of wood, but later they will practise with the real thing. At School No 58, the war is no game of pretend.
“Maybe the classes will inspire them to join the army when they graduate,” says teacher Alexey Ivanov.
He nods towards the teenage boys. They have swapped their school uniforms for camouflage print T-shirts.
One of the boys butts his weapon against his classmate’s. Another has picked a dandelion and placed it in the muzzle of his rifle.
“Act your age, boys. Fall in line,” says Alexey.
More soldiers are killed in Eastern Ukraine each passing day, but no one knows how many, in total, who are killed in the war. This is the story about why Oleg, Mikhail and Roma gave their lives to a rebel republic.
Text: Per Christian Selmer-Anderssen
Photos: Kyrre Lien
Olga Fedorovsky is guided towards the open casket by two men dressed in black. They give her water from a half-empty, green plastic bottle. She drinks as if it was oxygen. A muffled scream. Sobbing that is drowned out by hyperventilation. We are attending the funeral of Oleg Fedorovsky. A day earlier, they buried his good friend Maksim. The day after, we’ll attend the funeral of their good friend Roma. Only 24 hours after the death of Roma and Maksim, Olegs heart stopped beating. “Killed by a sniper”, someone says. Other than that, no one is talking about what happened to Oleg. The priest places a loaf of bread on the coffin. He has a grizzled, weathered face — and is the most terrifying person in the heavily armed funeral procession.
– We have different paths in life, and some have shorter paths than others. Soldiers go directly to God, says the priest.
Olga kisses her husband’s pale face for the last time. He wears a white ribbon on his head, which partly covers the bandages over his left temple. The grizzled priest motions the grave diggers, who put out their cigarettes before they shut the coffin.
Oleg is then lowered into the ground for the last time.
Olga’s screams mix with the howls of her son: A heavy-set 19 year-old who is standing next to the procession, sobbing with increasing intensity. His friends are standing on the side-lines, looking a bit uncomfortable. They are smoking, and their gazes are fixed on the peat in front of them.
Ina Layevska, a woman in uniform, with long, pitch-black hair, unholsters her gun and approaches the field. Some twenty soldiers follow her.
They will fire their weapons in salute as a last goodbye to Oleg.
– I don’t have time to stop crying over one soldier before we lose the next, says Ina Layevska.
It is Ina’s job to deliver the news to the widow when a soldier is killed. She is also the one who has invited us to the funeral.
In the Vostok Batallion she is simply known by the nickname “Mom”.
After the funeral, she joins the other soldiers on the army bus.
They are heading back to the front lines.
The whole feature in Norwegian:
And here in Roads & Kingdom in English.
Five years has pasted since the unthinkable massacre that struck Norway in 2011.
This summer I’ve been working on a big feature where we met up with 13 survivors and relatives after the attack, and hearing who they are today and how the day changed them.
In the feature we used cinemagraphs when we did the portraits.