AP PHOTOS: Images of war in Ukraine from cutting-room floor
Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic images from the war in Ukraine.
Photographers covering the war in Ukraine have shown the world its calamitous toll over and over: an injured pregnant woman carried away on a stretcher, a father saying goodbye to his fleeing wife and child through a train window, dozens of people sheltering under a damaged bridge.
There are thousands of heartbreaking images, however, the public has never seen.
Digital technology has made it easier than ever to take more photos and distribute them in an instant, forcing news organizations to be even choosier about what gets published. Photographers in Ukraine might shoot as many frames in a week as they would have in an entire year of another war in Europe, the one in Bosnia.
Some photos are discarded because the composition is off or the focus isn’t clear. But many powerful images never reach an audience simply because, with deadlines looming, another was chosen instead.
This is a selection of photos that The Associated Press didn’t publish when they were taken. Months later, the photographers have revisited their work and picked out frames that they think deserve to be seen.
Emilio Morenatti’s image of a well-heeled woman weeping as Kyiv was bombarded the day after Russia’s invasion drove home how the war had upended the lives of millions of Ukrainians.
Morenatti says it was the first time he fully grasped the danger that civilians would face in the conflict.
“This woman — she’s in shock like I am in shock,”
In the photo that was published on Feb. 25, 2022, the woman is overcome with emotion. In the new one, she is almost begging. Morenatti, though, still feels the first photo he sent was the right one to capture the immediate chaos.
Many images that don’t get published show the moment before — or after — the one that did get beamed around the world. At the remove of a few months and without the urgency of breaking news, some photographers reconsidered their decisions.
Natacha Pisarenko initially selected an image of a boy running through a field of flowers, past a bombed-out building. Now, she has chosen one where the boy pauses. One represents how children sometimes seem oblivious to the horrors around them. The other implies they are very much trying to take them in.
“I don’t like this idea that we get used to things so quickly,” she said.
Several photographers unearthed images on their hard drives that focused on different people from those they had initially highlighted. Evgeniy Maloletka chose one in which he trained his focus on the doctors — rather than their patient — who are forced to dole out care in a hospital hallway, so crowded were the wards.
“I don’t like this idea that we get used to things so quickly.”
On the day he followed volunteers helping people flee their homes, David Goldman chose a photo of an elderly man being lifted from his bed. But now he has come across one in which the distress of the man’s wife commands attention.
“What caught me about her expression is she’s almost pleading with the outside world,” he said.
“What caught me about her expression is she’s almost pleading with the outside world.”
ZOOMING IN/ZOOMING OUT
Photojournalists strive to choose images that clearly encapsulate what they have witnessed.
When Rodrigo Abd entered Bucha, days after Ukrainian forces retook the Kyiv suburb and discovered bodies scattered in the streets, he knew his primary task was to convey the scale of the killings under Russian occupation. One of his photos that was published showed a mound of bodies.
Months later, Bucha has become a byword for the horrors of this war, and he saw an opportunity to zoom in to tell a more personal story. A close-up of a hand evokes for him the suffering of the person who was killed.
Many of the photos in this selection are graphic — and photographers documenting war are constantly forced to grapple with how gruesome their images can and should be. They do not want to sanitize the horrors they’re seeing, but they know that an overly grisly photo may be counterproductive.
“Sometimes you think if you send something too strong, the readers will not look,” said Bernat Armangué.
He remembers thinking that a photo of a woman crying over her dead husband felt too raw on the day. But months later, he was grateful to be able to share the couple’s story again.
Sometimes pulling the lens back is the best way to aid understanding.
“Sometimes you think if you send something too strong, the readers will not look.”
Morenatti’s photo showing people fleeing was taken with a long lens — a tool he generally shies away from because he prefers to capture people’s expressions. In hindsight, he realized the image still telegraphs their desperation. He imagines all the things they could not carry with them.
In the race to get images published, sometimes photographers miss what they have.
When they return to their photos, “all of a sudden you notice things that were blocked by the emotional state you were in when you were shooting,” Vadim Ghirda said.
Felipe Dana initially sent other, wider shots of a scene of a wounded woman in Kharkiv. Returning to his images, he noticed for the first time that she was on the phone in one photo, a detail that highlighted the emotion of the moment. The tighter framing also underscored the anguish in her expression.
Ghirda has taken lots of photos of death and destruction — but he always aims to “show people horrible situations without standard horrible details.” An image of people fleeing Kyiv captured a moment that Ghirda says was one of the most affecting of the war for him.
“I always try to show people horrible situations without standard horrible details.”
The use of motion blur conveys the urgency: The platform for the train to Lviv, in Ukraine’s west and safer than the capital, changed moments before departure, and people panicked as they rushed to get to the new platform.
Some photos were initially held back by the photographers for ethical or security considerations: to avoid revealing a checkpoint’s location or a wounded soldier’s identity.
“Real war differs from what we see in movies, it’s a million times more horrific.”
During the first months of the war, Efrem Lukatsky found himself shocked by the “wild senseless cruelty” unfolding before him, much of it perpetrated by Russian soldiers. The horrors documented in his images from the time made him fear for his family in Ukraine, and he worried that the photos might distress the relatives of their subjects.
Now, Lukatsky feels he can’t hold them back any longer.
“Real war differs from what we see in movies, it’s a million times more horrific,” he said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine