The images are stark and gut-wrenching.
They alternately cause your throat to swell, your eye to tear, your stomach to resist nausea.
Police in Ukraine report that more than 900 bodies have been found as Russian troops pulled back from Kyiv, the capital. Most of them had been shot in the head, their bodies left in the streets or tossed into mass graves, apparently for the lone offense of being a distraction to Vladimir Putin’s henchmen.
That’s nothing compared to the carnage in Mariupol, where it’s been impossible to count the bodies of children, women and men who have violently perished as their homes, businesses, schools and hospitals have been bombarded by Russian weaponry.
David Hume Kennerly wrote about the inhumanity of it all in a New York Times essay titled “Photographing Hell.” A Pulitzer Prizewinning photographer who has documented horrors in Vietnam, Cambodia, Pakistan, India and Jonestown, and has photographed every president since Lyndon Johnson, Kennerly wrote about what his friends and colleagues have found while documenting war in Ukraine.
“As the advance on Kyiv stalled, Russian forces began to torture, rape and kill civilians in Bucha, survivors and investigators say.”
Particularly striking to him was a photo by Carol Guzy, who just a few years ago spoke in Crosby about the mental health toll she survived during a career in which she has won four Pulitzers for photographing disasters in Haiti, Kosovo and Columbia. Many likely remember her seminal photo of Haitians desperately passing a baby through a barbed wire fence to safety.
In Ukraine, Guzy photographed a man who had been killed, his bruised and bloodied face peeking out from a body bag, his eyes wide open.
“This image of a man with both eyes open is one of the most compelling and disquieting photos to come out of Bucha,” Kennerly wrote. “It’s an intimate and puzzling image of death, and I’ve never seen anything like it. What did this man see at the moment of his death? Whatever it was, his resolve remained.”
Just as emotional is Lynsey Addario’s photo in the New York Times of soldiers trying to aid a woman, her two children and a family friend whose lifeless bodies laid in the gutter of a Kyiv street.
The point of Kennerly’s essay is that photos like these, disturbing and alarming, are the documentation the world needs to understand what is happening and to be moved to some kind of action.
It’s working for me.
Perhaps it’s because my best friend since college is a third-generation Ukranian American who grew up in the Ukranian church in Wilton.
There also are heart-wrenching atrocities in Darfur, and Myanmar, and South Sudan, and Syria, and other places. But Ukraine stands out because it is being perpetrated by a merciless murderer with one hand on nuclear weapons launch pads.
And yet in the politically charged United States, there inexplicably are American apologists for Putin, people who believe Ukraine is the hub of a world cabal of money and human traffickers, and that Russian bombs have been aimed a nefarious bio labs. Some go so far as to suggest that it’s actors who are posing in body bags and that Kennerly’s photography friends are being paid off or blackmailed.
How sad that political cynicism can run so deep. How distressing that there are those who find ways to explain away the humanitarian crisis documented by Kennerly’s photography friends.
It is heartwarming and inspiring, though, to see that the entirety of the free world has extended a hand of support and friendship, supplied food and military might to the victim of unprovoked attack, and has offered shelter and beds to hundreds of thousands of people who have fearfully and tearfully fled a beloved homeland.
“The images of these atrocities were taken by trusted photojournalists,” Kennerly wrote. “They are the truth, and a record of the mendacity and brutality of the Russian military.”
And most of the world is watching with horror and disgust.