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Courtesy of 

Maxim Dondyuk

LEICA Fotographie International / BarTur Photo Award: Photojournalist of the Year


Maxim Dondyuk

On the Shield

Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, Ukraine

We worked on this story with GEO magazine in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions in Ukraine. Together with a writer we spent two weeks with a Ukrainian Cargo 200 unit finding and identifying the remains of dead Ukrainian soldiers to bring them home from the battlefields to their families. The issue is an extremely sensitive one for both people and the army. The total number of dead today remains a military secret. According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the enemy must be ignorant so that Ukraine remains unpredictable and its population cannot be demoralized. Usually, the bodies of fallen defenders are taken from the battlefield by the soldiers of the unit or medics, but in some situations, it is impossible, due to constant shelling or other reasons. In this case, the evacuation from the frontline areas is officially carried out within the framework of the humanitarian project of the Armed Forces of Ukraine "On the Shield". Previously it was called "Evacuation 200”, but in order not to repeat the Soviet coding "Cargo 200”, it was changed to “On the Shield”. The phrase "With a shield or on a shield" was used in ancient Sparta. It had a metaphorical meaning - a call to win, achieve a goal, or die with honor. Although the name had been changed, the mission is the same: there are thousands of dead, and someone has to recover them, identify them, and bring them home to their families. Searchers collect information from military units, relatives, residents of cities and villages, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the National Police. If it is difficult to identify visually, then a DNA examination is carried out. During search operations, the bodies of Russian soldiers are often found too. They are transported to storage facilities and prepared for exchange.

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