Media front page that changed the life of a woman who suffered from war
A year ago, on Feb. 24, 2022, the full-scale war began. The world’s perception of the war in Ukraine was shaped by reports and photographs documented by journalists. The repository of the truth about Ukraine and the war in Ukraine — weareukraine.info, which began its work from the first days of the full-scale invasion, collected and tracked the front pages of the world’s printed media and the sentiments they covered. The front page online library contains 5,485 covers in 195 media. They represent the print media of 46 countries in 24 languages.
The first days — a state of terror but, at the same time, resistance, which showed the resilience of Ukraine — is exactly what the world saw about Ukrainians through the front pages. It was often not seen even by Ukrainians themselves, who soon became subjects of some of the world’s most famous pictures, saving their own lives, protecting homes, and becoming victims and superheroes at once. At the end of February 2022, editors worldwide faced the need to cover events in Ukraine. Access to hotspots was limited. Most world publications distributed everything that journalists and photographers managed to record in the first days, and this formed clear images of the contemporary events in Ukraine.
As we reflect on the year that has passed, we decided to remember and reveal stories behind some of the most notable covers which came to visually represent the reality of the war in Ukraine. In many of these photos, the world saw injured citizens, people in despair, their bloodied faces, evacuation procedures, and children who had to say goodbye to their parents, among other heart-breaking scenes.
We spoke to a photojournalist who first came to Ukraine in January 2022 to write an article about environmental issues caused by the conflict in Donbas. On Feb. 23, 2022, he and his colleagues traveled from Bakhmut to Kharkiv, considering it a safer place. They met war on the road, seeing flashes and explosions in Chuhuiv on their way to Kharkiv.
Wolfgang was one of the photographers who took pictures of Olena Kurylo, a Ukrainian dance teacher from Chuhuiv, whose bandaged, bloodied face has become perhaps one of the most famous images of the Russo-Ukrainian war: “We followed ambulances and police driving, and it turned out that a missile struck residential complex right next to the military base. Buildings were destroyed, windows were blown out; some sites were on fire.
The first person that we came across was Olena from this photo, she was walking towards us. My colleagues and I photographed her very quickly. We got her name and age, and we continued to work on the scene. What we had witnessed on location in Chuhuiv was surely what all of Ukraine looked like then. Trying to take in news online was the most chaotic thing imaginable. It looked like the whole world was falling apart.” Wolfgang said it was valuable to share stories of those who have suffered to invoke empathy for the horror they’ve experienced.
Olena was able to meet Wolfgang Schwan in person only in November 2022. In March 2022, Zhenya Gershman painted her portrait “The First Face of War” based on Wolfgang’s photograph.It was sold at the most prestigious American auction, Heritage Auctions, for $100,000. The money went to buying ammunition for Ukrainian soldiers. We talked to her and asked her to recall that day.
“My house was next to the airfield, where a powerful explosion was heard. Before leaving the apartment, I sat down on the sofa, and in a few seconds, I was covered with glass. The explosion was very strong. I understood that there was no need to panic, and I did not feel pain, my body seemed to be numb due to the release of adrenaline. I called my relatives and told them that I was injured but alive and went outside to get medical help. I saw guys with “press” signs, they were taking pictures of everything that happened near the house, but I didn’t realize everything at the time. And the very next day, acquaintances started calling me and saying that my photo was flying around famous media and television worldwide. I even got into the Russian news, where they said that I am an actress and it is not blood, but pomegranate juice on my face. Our home was destroyed, and I began to look for shelter and medical help. The British newspaper Daily Mail was one of the first to publish my photo. It was with them that I agreed to give the first interview. As a result, they became the media that decided to help me. They took care of me and found a clinic in Poland. I have undergone three surgeries for free there,” Olena recalls.
Today, although she has nowhere to return to in Ukraine, she uses her “tragic fame” to benefit her country — she talks about the war, attracting international support. In every auction and interview, she asked people to help Ukraine as much as they could. “I realize that I am known and heard, and I try to use this to ask for help for Ukraine. I didn’t have any money, but I sent money for the fees from my credit card. There were many things like that, but I don’t want to be proud of them,” added Olena. Being a refugee, she still dreams to find a new home in Ukraine.
Inga Vyshnevska, Anastasia Holumbiovska
Designed Vladislav Rybalko