Cloud of dust and debris from an explosive
The Ukrainian military explodes anti-tank and anti-personnel mines in Dolyna, Donbas.

In Ukraine, Brutality Lingers

Pictures of life in wartime

Paolo Pellegrin has been covering conflict zones for the past two decades, in places including Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. As he leaves on each assignment, Pellegrin’s thoughts turn to familiar concerns: Did I forget to turn out the lights? Did I leave the oven on? But then, unlike the rest of us, Pellegrin begins to consider what he describes as “putting yourself on the edge of an abyss.” He goes because he’s driven by a sense of responsibility. “There’s a relationship to image-making and history,” Pellegrin told me. A photograph “creates a record. It holds a memory.”

Pellegrin told himself that the battle to retake Mosul, Iraq, in 2016 would be his last trip: He now had young kids he needed to think about. But when Russia invaded Ukraine, he reconsidered. “How this ends will shape not only Ukraine but also large parts of the world,” Pellegrin said.

Pellegrin has been to Ukraine four times since the conflict began, making pictures of the front lines, the offensives, the retreats, and the evacuations. His photographs, selections from which accompany Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent cover story about the stakes of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, make a distant war more tangible. The war, in its physicality, feels of another era, filled with human waves, tanks, trenches, and scattered pieces of twisted metal.

In the photographs below, Pellegrin focuses his lens on another aspect of the war: how the conflict reverberates off the battlefield. On the front lines, Pellegrin feels, there is an order to the fighting—one side shoots, and the other shoots back. But in civilian spaces, the shells still fall. Soldiers recovering in a clinic in Kharkiv, civilians trying to survive and maintain some semblance of a normal life, the duties of war—Pellegrin captures moments that reveal how brutality lingers.

In an undisclosed location in the Kharkiv region, soldiers undergo trauma therapy before returning to the front lines.
old man standing outside near buildings
An elderly resident walks to a food-distribution center in Chasiv Yar, Donbas.
a couple outside with a blanket of goods on the ground: a line of people waiting for food
Left: An elderly couple sell their possessions along the roadside in Kostyantynivka, Donbas. Right: People stand in line waiting for bread in Kostyantynivka, Donbas.
An elderly woman in Lyman. She lives with her family in a semi-destroyed apartment building with no heat.
On March 14, 2023, an apartment building in Kramatorsk was devastated by a Russian air strike.
diptych offset
Top: Men walk through a shelled apartment in Kramatorsk. Bottom: Natalya, 74, in her home in the village of Oleksandrivka. The village was occupied by Russian forces at the beginning of the war and then liberated by the Ukrainian army.
A soldier and his girlfriend embrace in a trauma-treatment center in Kharkiv.
a young woman holds a gun in a living room talking to another woman
Medics from Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital, an organization made up of civilian health-care workers, spend the night in a safe house. They wait for a call to go evacuate wounded soldiers from the front lines.
Top: A soldier with a Ukrainian mortar team outside Bakhmut. Bottom: One of several deposits of Russian shells in Kharkiv, on March 16, 2023. The Kharkiv office of the prosecutor collects Russian shells as evidence of war crimes.

Residents of Lviv pay respects to a fallen soldier. Such processions have been a regular, sometimes daily, occurrence since the start of the war.

Trenches built in town for safety
Trenches in Kramatorsk, Donetsk