Yana Kononova


Documenting Ukraine Grants

Invisible Wounds

Since November 2022, I have been working on a long-term study of the post-concussive states of Ukrainian servicemen who are suffering from long-lasting psychophysiological trauma due to Russia's incessant artillery fire. Many of them are not professional soldiers, but went to the front as volunteers after civilian life without the appropriate skills. 
The idea for the study grew out of previous documentary work on war, which focused on the dystopian image of modernity, and of an interest in the ambivalent nature of technology, which is embodied both in the hopes of progress and in the horrors of technological wars. Delving into the topic, I thought about the phenomenon of an explosive wave, which is purely artificial in origin and does not occur in the natural environment.
The first mentions of the trauma caused by the impact of a blast force date back to medical journals of the early 20th century. The term ‘shell shock’ first appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet in February 1915. It covered two conditions to which troops fell victim: organic injury from blast force, and neurasthenia, a psychiatric disorder inflicted by the terrors of modern warfare. The massive cannon fire of previous ages, and even automatic weaponry unveiled in the American Civil War, were nothing compared to the new artillery firepower used on the fronts of the First World War. The shell shock phenomenon was often described in medical notes, memoirs and letters of that era. Such monstrous technical innovation caused instinctive fear; it appeared that some kind of dark invisible force had passed through the air and was inflicting frightening damage to men’s brains.
The contemporary medical dictionary distinguishes three degrees of severity in mine-explosive injury: concussion, contusion and compression. My research looks at the mild severity of injury. Its insidiousness lies in the fact that a blast wave passes through the brain, destroying its structure at the micro level. A concussion resulting from a mine blast injury is different from other cases of concussion; it may not be picked up on brain scans, but it leads to a wide range of consequences developing over time, among them emotional instability, loss of sight and hearing, memory problems, desire to self-isolate, and others. ‘Forest Glade’ physicians call it an “invisible wound” and a “clinical chameleon.”
My work consists of portraits of hospital patients, which I’m taking with a large-format film camera using black and white film; writings––poetic reflections mixed with theoretical contextualization; and a movie composed from the traumatized combatants’ testimonies.
The project is implemented in partnership with the “Forest Glade” Veterans Mental Health and Rehabilitation Center of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.

Grant on behalf of:
Radiation of War

I started working on the Radiations of War series in March 2022. Since then, I’ve been staying in areas that were occupied by Russian troops, or territories where hostilities have occurred. I also travel to places that have experienced the terror of Russian missile campaigns. In these places, I take pictures on my medium format camera of atrocities, destroyed civilian infrastructure, the activities of various Ukrainian services, the bodies of fallen warriors and the victims among the civilian population.

I didn't have any experience of being a war correspondent before the invasion, so these trips became an intimate encounter face-to-face with pain. It was as if the war had barbarically perforated holes in the Earth, through which pain was inflicted in an endless stream – blending planetary and human aspects of existence, and forming an unbreakable bond between the living and those who died terrible, unjust deaths. The term ‘radiation’ alludes to that composite, to the polluted nature of the experience of war, to the fact that in its perception there is always something beyond visual information – some kind of hum, some kind of trembling – that changes our sense of space. It passes through memory, through the body, beyond the body, through generations. 

My artistic approach sits between impartial observation – of bearing witness and documenting – and of  capturing some more symbolic gestures that foreground the existential dimensions of technical warfare, violence and genocide. These images speak to the consequences of trauma for human existence, as well as to our wider planet.

Grant on behalf of: