High School Graduates From Ukraine Pose for Grad Photos Amid War Rubble

Photographer Stanislav Senyk has captured a series of powerful photos of high school graduates from Chernihiv, Ukraine, surrounded by the ruins of their war-torn city. Senyk, who is only 25 years old, recruited about 40 students to take part in the photo shoot, in which many are wearing their graduation sashes and posing amid rubble and debris caused by the Russian invasion. The photographer says he was already planning to go to Chernihiv when he felt moved to photograph the students.
"I saw the children who were there and it was like some kind of surrealism going on," Senyk said, according to Reuters. He realized the students graduating this year are experiencing something quite unusual and wanted to tell their story, in a way that would help them preserve their memories of this difficult, but important time.

Senyk recognized the importance of the students' story.

"I realized that I could write a very important story at that moment, about schoolchildren who were graduating and who had witnessed the war, and because of that their graduation, their prom, their everything, just cracked,” Senyk told Reuters. “It was very important to capture that memory.”

The resulting photos are both heart-wrenching and poignant, showcasing the horrors and destruction of war, while also exhibiting the resilience — and happiness even — of the students.

The photos are incredibly emotional.

Senyk has shared several of the photos on social media so far, and seeing the young graduates standing in the rubble and even on tanks, is quite powerful. The images are emotionally charged and even a bit confusing. They are far from the typical happy-go-lucky grad photos most of us are accustomed to, and while some may find them upsetting, they highlight the idea that optimisim is possible even in the middle of catastrophe.

"Seeing it in person is a special feeling that cannot be described," said Senyk.
Senyk made some keen observations about the kids.

Senyk says that one of the things he noticed about the kids, is that they've become somewhat desensitized to their surroundings. "… Because they were no longer impressed by those ruined buildings. It was as if they had already experienced it and had become stronger," he said.

"We were taking pictures near the tank. And they got on the tank normally. Someone went down, got some bullets, even gave me one. I mean, they felt like they'd learned to live with it and it was kind of a routine," Senyk said.
The students recognized the power of what they were doing.

"We all really liked it, although it was emotionally difficult. I mean, I want to emphasize the fact that we didn't rejoice in the ruins, it was very difficult for us. But we wanted to show that we live in such realities and it is like that for us," explained 17-year-old, Olha Babynets, perhaps with more wisdom and awareness than should be expected of a person her age.

"No, we wanted to show our pain, which is there and has never subsided. It was difficult emotionally, but we tried to hold on. And I think we managed to do that,” she said.

The photos also showcase the widespread the damage from the war.

Senyk explained that students from each class who volunteered for the photo shoot suggested different locations, and that none of the locations were repeated throughout the shoot, showcasing how widespread the damage from the war is in Chernihiv.

"Not a single location was repeated, not once were we in the same place," he explained.

Senyk is making keepsakes for the students.

Senyk explained that he will be compiling the photos into albums for each of the students. But he also hopes that he will find a gallery or auction house that will show and ultimately sell the photos, so he can donate the money to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Similar moments are being chronicled in other parts of the country.

Earlier this year, photographer Abdullah Unver also captured a series of moving images when he photographed students in Kharkiv, dressed in their prom attire and surrounded by burned-out buildings, including their own school, which was struck by Russian ordnance on February 27.

"We had imagined a different ‘last bell’ for our kids, but it is what it is, and we want to have a celebration for the kids," said geography teacher Olena Mosolova at the time.

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