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Work / Photography

Unnerving photographs of a youth military camp from Ukrainian Maxim Dondyuk

Ukranian photographer Maxim Dondyuk’s series The Crimea Sich captures a young Cossack military-patriotic camp in the throes of breaking in recruits. An uncomfortable blend of childhood innocence and savage training, the photographs concentrate on the bond between the boys.

Living and training in the camp are children aged seven to 16 years old. Officers who have taken part in past conflicts train the children in both war and orthodox religion in preparation for military action. At first Maxim found it difficult to accept what they were doing. “They grow professional killers,” he explains. “But after two weeks I changed my mind. I realised they grow defenders of the Motherland. They get military practice and many of them go on to become army sergeants.”

The children playing chess together and jumping in the lake carefree is at odds with the camouflaged youths standing stoically with guns and brandishing knives in mock-combat in other images. Maxim was keen to convey this honesty in his photographs. “I’m not interested in stereotypes and always want to understand a situation myself… In the Crimea Sich camp I became one of the Cossacks, lived in the same conditions and came out with them on training.”

Despite this unity, Russia annexed the Crimea during Maxim’s time there. The camp who once all identified as Cossack, regardless of what country they came from, became either pro-Russian or pro-Ukranian. A microcosm of the wider conflict the camp’s future now remains unknown. But the images still represent a togetherness and camaraderie albeit under aggressive and regimented conditions.

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich

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Maxim Dondyuk: The Crimea Sich