Before the war, the work of Kyiv-based documentary photographer Alina Smutko focused on politics, sports and social justice. Her work has taken her to many areas of Ukraine, including the disputed Russian-held areas of Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk.
Alina has now taken on the role of war photographer. She spends her days chronicling stories of innocent people hit by bombing, refugees fleeing, and charity workers trying to provide aid.
According to the United Nations, more than 12 million people in Ukraine had to leave their homes. An estimated 6 million are believed to have fled to neighboring countries, with another 6.5 million displaced within Ukraine itself.
Photographers like Alina have decided to stay and document the crisis, putting themselves at great risk. She hopes that photographing the war will tell the world what’s happening in Ukraine, and she said she wants her work to “win against Russian propaganda.”
“It makes our voice louder as a country,” she said. “The more pictures we have, the more we suffer for the world and the more the world helps us.”
But Alina added that she is angry that some people question the authenticity of photos or label injured people as actors. These tactics were an integral part of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign about the war.
A Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9 left at least four dead and 16 hospitalized. A photo appeared on many front pages the next day, showing an injured pregnant woman being carried from the hospital.
Other newspapers carried an image of another pregnant woman, covered in blood, walking down the stairs of the bombed building.
But the Russian embassy in London responded by tweeting that the women pictured were actresses, falsely claiming the hospital was a legitimate military target hiding supplies.
Alina said she fears fake news theories are already so pervasive that news outlets and photographers can do little to combat these forces. “A lot of people don’t understand that because Russian propaganda has been working for a very long time and it’s already irresistible,” she said.
“We photograph a pregnant woman from Mariupol who is bleeding because Russians attacked the hospital where she was. Russians immediately respond by saying, “Well, that’s not true,” “this woman is an actress,” or “the hospital is a military base,” she added. “What about the photographers who took these pictures of Mariupol? They risked their lives, but others only devalued their work. They were called liars even though they were well known professionals from world famous news outlets.”
The war in Ukraine was a battle on several fronts. One of them was social media. The photos of the invasion, which were posted on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Telegram, were instrumental in persuading large parts of the world to support Ukraine financially and militarily.
Heartbreaking video of a young girl hiding in a basement singing along to “Let it Go” from the film Frozen touched many. Insights into these powerful images have helped Ukrainians portray themselves as survivors fighting a powerful aggressor with no moral authority.
But the massive influx of these photos has also meant that images of war and destruction have now become commonplace. And it’s a challenge for war photographers to keep their work relevant.
“We see pictures like this everywhere now. In the past there might have been one or two incredible images from a war zone, but now it’s different due to the development of photo technologies and easier access to the theaters of war,” Alina said.
Photographers are also aware of the importance of keeping the momentum of support behind Ukraine alive by bringing new, impactful stories from the front lines. But the plethora of photos being shared threatens to weaken that support.
“A really small number of us understand that viewers are already tired of seeing the images of destruction,” says Alina. “The more we make, the more tired they get.”
But this dilemma also played heavily in Ukraine’s favor. It has personalized a global conflict and amplified the voices of those who might otherwise have gone unnoticed. “Fortunately, the Ukrainians have their voice and can explain what is happening. Not even the people of Syria had such attention from foreign audiences,” she said.
It is clear from Alina’s work that she not only spurs support for her country, but also reminds the world that her people are still resisting and surviving. Every day, Alina posts a photo on her Instagram account to remind the world that the country is still fighting. They read: “Kyiv is still standing”.
You can see more of Alina’s work on her website and Instagram Account.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/photography/ukraine-war-photographer-russian-propaganda-b2077592.html A Ukrainian photographer’s fight against Russian propaganda