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War Dreams

by Jean-Marc Caimi & Valentina Piccinni

What do you see when you close your eyes?
This simple question was asked to a group of mostly young soldiers at a military base near Donetsk, Ukraine, before they left for the front line of the Donbass war. A Polaroid was taken and their visions and dreams were personally noted in a diary. A photographic portrait against the backdrop of an inner landscape of emotions, hopes, fears, visions, personal reflections.
Mostly inexperienced and unfit for war, these people embarked on a life-threatening ordeal to defend their country. The military base was located in a former children’s summer camp, with flowered wallpaper and swings in the garden, a few kilometres from the strategic point of Pisky airport, where fierce fighting took place.
This project serves as a deeply personal documentation of the war, prioritising human subjects over the spectacle of the battlefield. By focusing on empathy and highlighting the surreal and tragic aspects of the conflict, we aim to provoke a visceral response and foster a deeper understanding of its impact.
We have been documenting the conflicts in Ukraine and its social transformations for 10 years, from the Maidan uprising to the most recent war.

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Yaroslav, 22, from Lviv.
Yaro, codename Lys (Fox), 22 years old. Usually people measure time in seconds, minutes or days. Here I measure time with the lives of those who give them away, for others to live. How many more?

Codename Marusya, 21, from Dnipropetrovsk.
I was thinking about the carpet but I was dreaming about peace.

Ilya Bohdanov, 26, from Vladivostok, Russia.
My inner dialogue is switched off. I’m concentrated in the middle of my chest, a little bit higher up and I see a bright red flash in my eyes.

Borys, 74, from Kiev.
I thought, why are they taking a picture of me and what will happen to Ukraine.

Maryan, 24, from Ivano-Frankivsk.
Mariam, 24. I was thinking about shelling of Moscow.

Denis, 19, from Kiev.
About mother.

Alla, from Bila Cerkva, Kiev region.
I was thinking about the fact that we will have no other time to live, to be friends with each other, to construct and to love.

Valeriy, codename Fincher, 27, from Khmelnytskyi region.
The young do not know how to die. The young do not need the keys of heaven.

Codename Khmel, 35, from Khmelnytskiy.
Khmel, 35 years old. Only a stupid man will express his anger loudly. I, on the other hand, will wake up and quietly revenge.

Anya, codename Bahira, 19, from Dnipropetrovsk region.
I was dreaming about the fact that I am already living in peaceful and free country, about the fact that we have already won and we were celebrating our victory. I was thinking about all people who were our enemies who became one nation one strong nation which cannot be conquered. Glory to Ukraine!

Orest, 50, from Khmelnytskyi.
Home, daughter, family, peace and quietness in Ukraine. Stability, at least among relationships of people. Glory to Ukraine!

Codename Krava, 40, Luhansk region.
I’m thinking about my beautiful wife.

Slavik, codename KPD, 24, from Khmelnytskyi region.
About tomorrow’s tasks.

Vlad, codename Franzus (French), 26, from Desna, Kiev region.
When they ask you to remember what you were thinking about, then you have a doubt, if these thoughts could have been artificial. But when the photographer asked me to be serious I started thinking that is very difficult for me to be serious or think seriously about those things from which other people can become jittery. Realizing this I became serious.
Franzus, 26.02.15

Ivanka, 21, from Ternopil.
I was thinking that when I have free time I will go to the mountains or I will go to the seaside.

Yosyp, 71, from Vinnytsia.
I was thinking how many young people are dying during this hybrid, KGB communist, Kremlin, unfair war against Ukrainian people. Young people who are dying while they need to get married, to have children and to reborn Ukrainian Nation. The Kremlin hydra will after all have a death end.

Codename Fenix, 26, from Sambir, Lviv region.
We’re all brothers and sisters on this God given land. Love each other.
Fenix.

Mikhola, 35, from Turnopil region.
To be frank at this particular moment I wasn’t thinking about anything. But I have a wish: I want to come back home alive in one piece. I don’t want to be taken prisoner. And I don’t want the things that are happening in Donbass, happen on my land. And I also wish that my war brothers are fine as well.

Ihor, 35, from Ivano-Frankivsk.
I have too many thoughts, I can’t write anything.

Battalion commander Chorniy (Black), 33, native city undisclosed.
We don’t have time to think, I am looking into the future with my eyes open, I believe and I know that everything will be fine with us.