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Courtesy of 

Nanna Heitmann

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

Excellence in Photojournalism

Nanna Heitmann

War is Peace

Ukraine and Russia

"War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength"
“Power consists in tearing the human mind to pieces and reassembling it in new forms of one’s choosing.” George Orwell, 1984
The conflict in Ukraine is being fought with bullets and artillery, but it began years ago on Russian television. For a long time, state television was the main source of news in Russia, with only a few independent and often digital channels offering any degree of balance. However, since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the last critical media outlets have been shut down and social media platforms blocked. As a result, many Russians are now living in an alternative reality in which the Russian army is supposedly “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” Ukraine while waging a war against the “collective, fascist West” as part of this so-called “special operation.”
On February 24, 2022, I documented the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where Russian tanks rolled into the Russian-backed separatist Donetsk People's Republic. Before I left Moscow, I photographed the last public anti-war protests in the city. Since my return in June 2022, I have been striving to create a historical record of the events that unfolded around me in order to capture the great gap between the reality of the war in Ukraine and the distorted perception that prevails in Russian society. How can the majority of a country follow its leader to death blindly and without question?
The war has taken a heavy toll in the country's poorest regions, where the US says up to 200,000 Russian soldiers have died in the conflict. The army carrying out Putin's “special operation” has a strikingly large number of young men from ethnic republics. This is partly a result of economic inequality and the lack of opportunity in many areas outside of wealthy metropolises. The republic that, according to official figures, has suffered the most war deaths - and where poverty, a martial tradition and relative loyalty to Moscow intersect - is Dagestan. I have attended funerals where family members were deeply traumatized by the loss but largely maintained a patriotic façade. The parents in particular asserted that their sons had died fighting Nazis.
Throughout the summer, Moscow seemed to be spared from the war and there were lavish celebrations. But in the fall the war reached the capital and mobilization began across Russia. More than 300,000 men were sent to the front, ill-equipped and unprepared. “These men are like toys in children's hands,” said Ekaterina, who we met at a recruiting point and whose husband was about to be shipped off to a training camp outside Moscow. "They're just cannon fodder." She wished he had evaded the draft because it would have been better for him to spend a few years in prison than return home dead.
As the war in Ukraine continues, lessons and extracurricular activities centered around military themes and patriotism are being offered across Russia. These efforts are part of a broader campaign by the Kremlin to militarize Russian society, raise future generations to worship the army and reinforce President Vladimir V. Putin's narrative that "once again a real war has been unleashed on our motherland."

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