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Ukraine: Many questions remain after return from war zone (photos)

By Ty O'Neil
This Is Reno photographer and video journalist Ty O’Neil, whose passion lies with documenting conflict zones, traveled to Europe to document the war in Ukraine and its impacts. This Is Reno will continue to follow Ty’s efforts in Ukraine as he is able to send them.

My time in Ukraine has come to an end for the time being, though I hope to return.  

The war continues and Ukraine’s famously muddy spring, known as Rasputitsa, has arrived. The season is so dreaded it is likely what pushed Russia to invade Ukraine when it did, with Russian troops attempting to move as far as possible on frozen ground before the thaw. Now, the weather may keep the war at a terrible stalemate until drier summer months come. 

I saw and experienced many things in my travels in Ukraine, from seeing destroyed homes to being turned back by the Ukrainian army so that we were not under fire from Russian troops. During my time in the northwest city of Lviv the sound of air raid sirens and occasional gun fire became normal.  

In Kyiv the sound of artillery and window rattling explosions were treated without any surprise. In Boyarka I met with and talked to locals whose homes had come under fire from Russian missiles. They’d been lucky enough to survive the experience.  

A woman in Boyarka, Ukraine shows the window in her home that was blown out by shrapnel from a Russian missile strike. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

While updates on the war are interesting, visually striking and important, the conversation now must begin to shift to what might be the long-term implications of Russia’s war on Ukraine.  

Higher gas prices are taking a toll on everyone. A halt to grain exports from Ukraine and Russian could threaten global food resources. The irradiated city of Pryp’yat’ and Chernobyl’s reactor #4 have been directly affected by the war. Even the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came under fire. All of these pose threats with impacts reaching far past Ukraine’s borders.  

What of the political ramifications of this war?  

Let’s say Russia pulls out of Ukraine completely sometime in the summer, claiming to have accomplished the goals of their “special military operation.” Then what? Will the United States and Europe end their sanctions? Will Russia again be allowed to sell their oil to the global market?  

What of Ukraine? How can a country that has held off one of that largest militaries in the world recover from the war? How do they rebuild not just the infrastructure but the people? How can they continue on peacefully knowing that their enormous neighbor to the east may be ready to kill them at any moment.    

With more than four million people having fled Ukraine and many more displaced within the country, what are they to do? It’s one thing to host a refugee family for a month in one’s home, but what about two months, three months? Or worse yet, what if this becomes like Syria where Russian intervention has been going on since 2015?  

Poland has taken the vast majority of refugees and is doing its very best. In the major city of Kraków, National Public Radio reports Ukraine refugees now make up 20% of the city’s population. This is unstable for Poland to handle for the long term.      

Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes, either within the country or as refugees to nearby countries. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

Ukraine has made it clear that they will never forgive Russia. As Ukraine recaptures territory around Kyiv, horrific images and stories of murdered civilians lining the streets of small towns have come to light. The cruelty to civilians seems to mount by the day.  

We have seen the destruction and inhumanity this war has brought to Ukraine. It is not something that Ukraine can simply live with and move on. This war will change the future of Russia and the EU forever in ways we cannot know. Ukraine is just the nation forced to bear the suffering.  

War is something you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, the loss it leaves within you. There are questions of why: why some has done this to your country, to your people, to your home, to you. They are unanswerable and make the soul ache. 

I don’t pretend to have answers, but I know that we — the world — need to begin facing these questions now.  

I hope my images and stories have shed some light on the war for the readers of This Is Reno and I hope to return to Ukraine to continue my work when I can. 

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