Gert Jochems - Photographer documentary, portraits, commercial

Kamikazedrones

At dusk at six o'clock in the morning, Kasper, Sasha and Khohol are taken to their position near Bachmut. At this time it is already too light for night cameras and it is still too dark for day cameras. At the beginning of the fighting, the place where they will spend their day was Ukrainian, then Russian and since last summer Ukrainian again. The place is still full of Russian trash and uniforms. And next to the walking path also two corpses of Russian soldiers. There are probably still some in the bushes, but they can't get there because it is full of mines.

The three soldiers have five FPV drones with them. In their case there are five kamikaze drones.

The drones they work with were all put together by volunteers for several hundred dollars. Khohol's job is to attach an explosive to the drone. Today they do it with common 400 gram grenades intended for grenade launchers. To increase the deadly effect, he has taped a kind of plastic cup full of scrapnel. On his tablet, Sasha has access to all images of all drones that are currently in the air, so that they can help them search for targets themselves. Their first target that day is a group of seven Russian soldiers who, as it turns out during the flight, are too far away. Due to the cold, the battery did not last long enough. The drone crashed, but don't worry, it fell into enemy territory. The second target is a Rapira cannon. But shortly after they send the drone into the air, a Russian helicopter arrives nearby to carry out a missile attack. In any case, it disrupts all signals before it flies somewhere.

The trio only goes outside when they let their drone fly. At all other times they hide in their man-sized bunker with three layers of beams. They are picked up just after four o'clock when dusk falls. In less than a minute, all their equipment is in the car, which then drives as fast as possible over muddy roads full of deep holes. It is quiet in the car again. They know this is the most dangerous time of their day. As soon as the car is back on the safe road after fifteen minutes and accelerates, Khohol asks if he can put on some music.

Soldier morale

It is not easy to ask soldiers on the front line whether they are still motivated for the war that has now been going on for almost two years and with no end in sight. You cannot go to them without the press officer of their brigade and the commander will almost certainly join the conversation. The soldiers cannot speak freely. Yet it is clear that the soldiers at the front know very well why they are there. They often present victory as a sacred cause.

This soldier is brought in with several grenade fragments in his body. This soldier survives, but in the operating room next door, another soldier who was also injured in a bombardment dies at that moment.

Andre Bolukh, who was a neurosurgeon before the war and is now captain of a medical unit, and whose job is, among other things, to judge whether soldiers are really ill and therefore cannot go to their position, says that he often has to stop soldiers from going , because they don't want to let their comrades down. Even though, the doctor confirms, many soldiers are gradually exhausted. And yes, he says, it is true that at the beginning of the war there were many volunteers and that there are much fewer now. However, this does not automatically mean, as several conversations with soldiers have shown, that they are waiting for a possible new mobilization law.


Kashel, an infantryman on the Lyman-Kremina front with a Kalashnikov as his only weapon, says what many other soldiers also hear. "If someone is not motivated, he is just ballast for us. It is impossible to rely on such a person in a fight. We here know each other inside and out and we know that we will always have each other's back." His fellow infantryman Leon adds, "you have to imagine that in the trenches anyone can be killed at any time, by a bullet, a projectile, a drone, a bomb. You have to get used to that and that is not possible with the right attitude. For me it worked out little by little and now I go to my position just as if it was my job.” Kashel: “It is thanks to us that those scared boys in Kiev can continue their nice lives. But after the victory we can ask them what they have done for the country.” Olexander, the commander of Kashel and Leon, “at work I used to have a colleague who went to fight in the Donbass. When he returned from there I found it very difficult to talk to him. It was as if there was a wall between us "One can predict that if we return, it will be the same because the others will probably be ashamed of us."