Gert Jochems - Photographer documentary, portraits, commercial

Chasiv Yar, the only way to Bachmut.


Bachmut, 23/03/2023

Svyatohirs'k, 02/10/2022.

Story, The Arej batallion, Zaporidja Oblast, 18/02/2023 :

No way back for them.

The 129th Brigade of the Territorial Defense of Ukraine consists of 7 battalions, all volunteers. One of the battalions is called Arej, named after the Greek god of war. Konstantin (40 years old and on the far left of the meeting photo) is deputy commander in the Arej battalion, responsible for training the soldiers. His surname is Moskalenko, "Feel free to put that in the paper too, I'm not afraid." Until just before the Russian invasion, Konstatin was an anti-corruption journalist at a Kiev news website.

Last May, the Ministry of Defense officially recognized the group as part of the Ukrainian army. Since then, the army command decides where to take up positions at the front. Currently it is in the province of Zaporizhia, the exact place cannot be written down. The approximately 500 Arej volunteers, like all other volunteers who register with the Ukrainian army, have to sign a contract at the start. From then on there is no going back for them. The contract is not canceled until victory has taken place. Because the Arej soldiers are officially recognized by the army, they now also receive a salary every month. “They don't earn bad money, but they can only keep 20% for themselves or their family, the other 80% they have to give to the battalion,” explains Konstantin. “We only get machine guns from the army, everything else we have to take care of ourselves.” He shows two boxes containing sniper sights, “$2,000 each, we bought them ourselves.” Because Konstantin has also been a crime journalist for a long time and was therefore familiar with the criminal environment, he knew who to address there to get weapons and even grenades. But the main weapon of the battalion are three wagons with grenade launchers mounted on them, captured from fleeing Russian soldiers. This is called a 'trophy' in military jargon. Konstantin's home town of Kryvy Rih donated 5 trucks and 10 pick-up Jeeps to the battalion. But many small donations also come in. Konstantin points to his shoes, stockings, thermal underpants, trousers, t-shirt and sweater. It's all donated.

Cautiously I ask Konstantin if there have been any casualties in the battalion. He starts counting on his fingers and pronounces unintelligible first names. It turns out there are twelve. Konstantin now looks into my eyes for a long time. He manages to keep that one tear invisible to me, but still grabs a cigarette and asks to interrupt the conversation.

The day before the meeting with Konstantin, the battalion had invited me to a target practice. As a final question, I want to know why soldiers have to do target practice while they are in practice every day? “If there is a need to shoot, it goes so fast that it must be automatic. Brains should not be involved in that.”