Heartbreaking story behind teens' graduation photos

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Ukrainian students robbed of a traditional graduation posed among the rubble and decimated buildings, wanting the world to see the destruction caused by Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Stanislav Senyk, 25, a Ukrainian photographer set out to document the graduating class of 2022 in the city of Chernihiv.

He was already planning on going to Chernihiv and he realised he could tell the stories of the school children, who are missing out on their graduation and prom, due to Russia's invasion.

Travelling around Chernihiv, Mr Senyk photographed around 40 students, with each class choosing the location and every place was "pretty much ruined".

Students pose at a damaged building for a high school graduation photoshoot, in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Source: Instagram/@senykstas/Handout via REUTERS
Students pose at a damaged building for a high school graduation photoshoot, in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Source: Instagram/@senykstas/Handout via REUTERS

Some students wore sashes to indicate they had completed their schooling while standing in front of destroyed buildings, among the rubble and next to tanks.

Mr Senyk told Reuters a teacher saw him photographing a group of students outside a ruined building and they were invited inside.

"We were outside this huge building, a ruined building, with rubble and a lot of stuff lying around," he said.

"She allowed us to go inside, even though she also came with us, and she was pregnant. So they just learned to live with it.

"There's no surprise or fear anymore. It's just routine."

The students didn't celebrate their graduation in the traditional way after  Chernihiv was destroyed by Russian forces. Source: Instagram/@senykstas via Reuters
The students didn't celebrate their graduation in the traditional way after Chernihiv was destroyed by Russian forces. Source: Instagram/@senykstas via Reuters

He said at one point he was photographing a group of teenagers near a tank and the group was comfortable around the machinery. One student even picked up some bullets and handed one to Mr Senyk.

On Instagram Mr Senyk said the students he photographed reminded him of veterans.

"They tell terrible stories without despair. They grew stronger, adapted and continued with their lives" he wrote.

Olha Babynets, 17, was one of the students Mr Senyk photographed. She wanted the world to see what the Russian forces had done to her neighbourhood.

The students helped photographer Stanislav Senyk capture the devastation of Chernihiv. Source: Instagram/@senykstas via Reuters
The students helped photographer Stanislav Senyk capture the devastation of Chernihiv. Source: Instagram/@senykstas via Reuters

Students emotional but trying to hold on

She said the students did not rejoice in the ruins and while she liked the experience she admitted it was "emotionally difficult".

"We wanted to show our pain, which is there and has never subsided," she told Reuters.

"It was difficult emotionally, but we tried to hold on. And I think we managed to do that."

Mr Senyk will compile the photos into a graduation album for the students and he is hoping to find an exhibition or auction where he can showcase his work and sell the photos to raise money for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Russian forces first started attacking Chernihiv on the first day of the invasion on February 24 and the offensive continued into March.

There were at least 98 civilians killed in the eight attacks carried out in the city, the Human Rights Watch said.

The bombing of an apartment complex in Chernihiv killed 47 civilians and another 17 people were killed waiting in a line outside a supermarket.

Information from the Ukrainian Department of Medical Care for the Chernihiv region said at least another 123 people were wounded, the Human Rights Watch reported.

The Ukrainian graduate's photos are in stark contrast to the recent graduation Russian president Vladimir Putin went to.

Putin spoke to graduates of Russian military academies at a lavish Kremlin reception on Tuesday, where he hailed Russian armed forces as heirs to the country’s “legendary” military traditions.

poses for a photo with graduates of the country's higher military schools during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 21, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin posed with graduates of Russia's higher military schools at a lavish event at the Kremlin. Source: AFP via Getty Images

Russia's latest attack 'cruel and cynical'

On Tuesday, about 500km away from Chernihiv, 15 civilians were killed by Russian shelling, following weeks of relative calm.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attacks in the Kharkiv region were especially “cruel and cynical” because they brought no clear benefit to the Russian forces.

The Russian army is deaf to any rationality. It simply destroys, simply kills, and in this way it shows its command that it is not really standing in place,” he said in his video address.

Workers stand outside a partially destroyed educational and laboratory building of a college hit the day before by a rocket in Kharkiv on June 21. Source: AFP via Getty Images
Workers stand outside a partially destroyed educational and laboratory building of a college hit the day before by a rocket in Kharkiv on June 21. Source: AFP via Getty Images

Russia's attack in Ukraine is now concentrated in the east, in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions which make up the Donbas.

There, where pockets of resistance are denying Moscow full military control of the region.

The Russian military currently controls about 95 per cent of the Luhansk region.

But Moscow has struggled for weeks to overrun it completely, despite deploying additional troops and possessing a massive advantage in military assets.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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