“Beware the Ides of March” Julius Caesar
Photographs and text y Jérôme Sessini
In 2014 until 2017, I worked in the Russian-speaking regions of Donbass, in Donetsk, Luhansk, Mariupol… Russia was clearly supporting the pro-Russian separatists, and the Russian media was showering Russian-speaking civilians with propaganda against the Ukrainian government and against the Western media, but still, the russian-speaking civilians were paying with their lives. I photographed civilians victims of Ukrainian army artillery. I was guided by this feeling of revolt and injustice that I know too well, each time common people are killed, injured, torn apart, by wars that are beyond them…
Every time I was coming back to Kyiv from the Donbass war zone, my Ukrainian friends asked me questions tinged with reproaches:
-“Why are you going to photograph these crazy people? (Russian-speaking Ukrainians), they want to be Russians so they can go to Russia!!”
– “But because they are victims of a war, civilians die under the bombs of the Ukrainian army..”
– “It’s propaganda! It’s the pro-Russian militiamen themselves who are bombing the civilians!”
In short, any discussion became impossible, I had the strong impression that there were two Ukraines, deeply divided and irreconcilable.
After 8 years of war, the Kremlin’s propaganda reaches its climax: “Our Russian-speaking Ukrainian brothers are victims of a genocide in the east of Ukraine, the country is a Nazi junta which exterminates the Russian-speakers.”
The unthinkable happens, Vladimir Putin’s army invades Ukraine, then follows murders, torture, rapes in Bucha, Borodyanka and in all the innumerable towns and villages which have the misfortune to find themselves in the way of the Russian tanks.
This conflict made me face an important examination of conscience. By testifying in 2014 to the condition of the Russian-speaking populations in eastern Ukraine, did I feed Russian propaganda?
Jérôme Sessini is one the world’s most prolific and respected names working in the sensitive field of conflict zones and has been dispatched to war-torn countries like Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Libya for international publications. As well as reporting on the frontlines, he has covered social issues such as the drug-related violence on the streets of Mexico, the anti-government protests in Ukraine and indigenous minorities in Cambodia facing forced eviction. Through his work, he is constantly learning, adapting and evolving.
Since 2018, Sessini has been documenting the opioid crisis in the United States, where he has travelled to Ohio and Philadelphia to create intimate portraits of the people and places ravages by drug misuse. In 2017, Sessini travelled to remote villages in Cambodia with Samrith Vaing, documenting the life of indigenous minorities facing forced eviction. In 2016, Sessini documented the Kurdish Peshmerga offensive against Islamic State (IS) in the city of Bashiq before crossing the region to cover Iraqi forces pushing towards Mosul.
His work has been published by prestigious newspapers and magazines, including Newsweek, Stern, Paris-Match as well as Le Monde and the Wall Street Journal. It has been shown in multiple solo exhibitions around the world including the Visa Photo Festival in Perpignan, at the Rencontres d’Arles, the Bibliothèque Nationale François-Mitterrand, as well as with the French Ministry of Culture.
Sessini become Magnum Photos nominee in 2012 and a full member in 2016.
Photo Essay edited by Managing Editor Alejandra Martínez Moreno.