Photo project

The Right Man: Volunteers in Ivan Chernichkin’s Project

On an assignment from Bird In Flight photographer Ivan Chernichkin went to a military camp of the Right Sector that is commonly known as the special forces division of the ATU (Autonomous Territorial Unit of the Ukraine) and discovered a chasm of contrast between one’s anticipations and reality.

Ivan Chernichkin, 32 years old

Ukrainian photographer, lives in Kiev. Graduated from Art Photography Department of the High School for Cinema and Television under the aegis of the University of Culture. Photojournalist since 2004, contributes for New York Times, Daily Telegraph, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Vogue, Russky Reporter, Ogonyok, Vokrug Sveta.

On my way to a military camp of the Right Sector (a battalion formed of volunteers fighting on the side of the Ukrainian army in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine – editor’s note), I was pretty much sure that what I would see would be a kingdom of idiocy that the Ukrainian army has been for the past 23 years. An absence of roads and a grey landscape behind the window only strengthened my anticipation of seeing dismal things. A rusty gate, a shabby checkpoint, people with ‘Kalashnikov’ machine guns all around – everything was just like in Desna or at an interior troops base.

The first striking thing was that it was a kids’ play area. That is, it had been for kids before fighters of the volunteer corps converted it into their base. I found it difficult to associate the colourful posters with fairytale characters with the military. The cognitive dissonance was intensified by sudden gunshots and the resulting moderate panic.

The larger part of the camp inhabitants turned out to be Russian-speaking – something I could hardly imagine. Because for me the Right Sector was firmly associated with tales of brutal nationalists who don’t count till three before they shoot your brains out.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have any heartwarming conversations with the fighters. Once I found myself in the training ground I couldn’t bring myself to ask permission to take a few pictures. I was pretty certain they would say no. Surprisingly, thirty minutes later, the guys with machine guns were posing in front of my camera.

The larger part of camp inhabitants turned out to be Russian-speaking – something I could hardly believe. Because for me the Right Sector was firmly associated with tales of brutal nationalists who don’t count till three before they shoot your brains out.

My personal expectations and their total indifference to my experiences in that camp gave me the idea to do the “Associations” series that would show the personality of the situation, and much less of the Right Sector “fighter.” The starting point for me were the children’s posters I could see all around the camp because for most of us childhood is the period of total safety, serenity and comfort. I asked the Right Sector volunteers to associate the slogans on those posters with their own experiences and emotions. That simple game helped me to do very simple portraits – of normal people, not soldiers.


39 years old. Odessa.

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“My grandmother’s house in a village in Central Ukraine. And that wattle and daub house that still stands. It’s summertime, there’s a pond close by”.


25 years old. Rovno.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-1”, “text”: “” }

“Poetry, literature, fine art, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali. Inspiration, sleeplessness. Litres of coffee”.


42 years old. Lviv.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-2”, “text”: “” }

“You have to be honest with yourself and other people”.


25 years old. Kiev.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-3”, “text”: “” }

“Children’s magazine”.


47 years old. Berezhany, Ternopol region.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-4”, “text”: “” }

“I have six children. We call the youngest one Light Bunny”.


24 years old. Nadvornaya, Ivano-Frankivsk region.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-5”, “text”: “” }

“I need to help someone. Someone needs my help”.


20 years old. Kherson.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-6”, “text”: “” }

“A sea of sunflowers, girls in embroidered shirts. Ukrainian food on the table: borsch, dumplings, salted lard and garlic. Ukrainian army and volunteer corps and armed forces — that is the main pride of the Ukraine”.

Andrei Petrovich, colonel

54 years old. Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-7”, “text”: “” }

“We have made a mortar a separate fire unit. And every mortar was given its arc of fire: the main one and a supplementary one. The adversary won’t come in a single file when they attack. They come in groups of two, three, ten people. One mortar is enough for ten people, it has the radius of fragment range of 400 metres. The war has modified our work. We had to have a creative approach to our mission.And that’s what we did!”.


43 years old. Ternopol.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-8”, “text”: “” }

“My friend”.


63 years old. Kiev.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-9”, “text”: “” }

“Ecological disasters happening all around are the consequence of human activity. So we need to treat nature with care and respect. Our country, our nature is part of planet Earth”.


20 years old. Dnepropetrovsk.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-10”, “text”: “” }

“It means to safeguard, to take care of one another”.


30 years old. Rokitnoe, Rovensk region.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-11”, “text”: “” }

“The well-being of our family, the well-being of the Ukraine”.


68 years old. Kobylyaki, Cherkassk region.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-12”, “text”: “” }

“If one has the spirit, one has the power”.


22 years old. Kharkiv.

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“alt”: “Ivan Chernichkin-13”, “text”: “” }

“This is my country”.

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