Photographer Brett Lloyd Lenses Ukraine After Two Years of War

After Two Years of Full-Scale War, Photographer Brett Lloyd Captures the Resilience of Ukrainian Life Today

Model Karyna Mazyar and cadets of the Ivan Bohun Military High School in Kyiv, February 2024. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

Appearing as Vogue Ukraine’s March 2024 cover story, evocative photographs by Brett Lloyd lays witness to Ukraine’s resilience as a nation rebuilding amidst two years of full-scale conflict.

The talks with photographer Brett Lloyd began well before the war. Back then, we were dreaming up a shoot for an upcoming edition of Vogue Man. Those plans halted on February 24, 2022, when Russia launched their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. As male citizens were lining up to enroll in the army, we temporarily folded that title. Last fall, Brett and I met in Paris to discuss another idea: Could he come to Ukraine and photograph what he saw for Vogue? Without hesitation, Lloyd was ready to go.

In late November, Brett and his assistant embarked on a 24-hour journey from London to Kyiv via Warsaw. (There is no air travel in the country; to get inside, one has to take a train or drive a car.) This was his first visit. We agreed that the photo essay should not be about fashion. Instead Brett wanted to meet real people, to hear real stories and to document the strange reality of Ukrainian life, in which sorrow and joy, trauma and hope go hand-in-hand. We mapped out his travel across the country at war (a logistical maze full of tricky negotiations and government protocols).

Oksana Rubanyak Xena, writer and platoon commander of a brigade of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, photographed in Kyiv, February 2024. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

Our team started in Kyiv. Brett first met Hanna Vasyk, a 38-year-old art manager turned army medic. She arrived on set directly from the Southern frontline, noticeably stressed and tired. “I think I have PTSD” she warned our executive fashion editor Marta Bertman, who oversaw the project on the ground and accompanied Brett on his route. Still Vasyk was happy to come. She sat for a portrait, on top of a table in Vogue offices, dressed in a khaki uniform, her jewelry—earrings, rings, necklaces—and her army medallions. “I felt her strength but also her fragility,” Brett says.

Bohdana Golub, a jiu-jitsu master (Europe 2022 champion) and military volunteer. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

The team continued their tour around the Ukrainian capital, which was unexpectedly alive. Brett went to a local motorcycle club. He shot its heavily-tattooed owner, Artem Grot, in a hangar. The 24-year-old national jiu jitsu champion and army veteran lost his left foot in the war zone four years ago. He still competes. The images of burnt cars and muddy trenches you see in the portfolio are from the training center in Kyiv where Ukrainian defenders prepare before heading to the frontline.

Students of Honey Badger BJJ Kyiv Family jiu-jitsu club.
Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

As the temperatures in Ukraine grew colder and the days gloomier, Brett with the team drove to Kharkiv, a major Ukrainian city that has been shelled non-stop by the Russians since the start of the war. At a rough estimate, a quarter of the city has been ruined.

One morning Marta sent me a snap of the team having breakfast at the roadside cafe in Kostyantinivka, an industrial town that’s about a 15-minute drive from the frontline. The cafe belongs to a Georgian couple, who despite the immediate danger, refuse to evacuate. They wanted to stay and care for the Ukrainian troops that were heading to the front. In the coal mine town of Toretsk, nearly leveled to the ground by constant shelling, Brett met a local Orthodox priest, who also decided to stay. Every day he moves between damaged local churches—some with missing walls and ceilings—but he continues to serve his parishioners. “After going through military checkpoint after military checkpoint, I think over 15 in total, we found such community spirit in the villages we visited,” Brett remembers. “The markets were busy … the older people continuing with their daily lives, shopping and visiting church. All this happening to the sounds of war in the background. Seeing the locals acting calmly also influenced my level of calm. I didn’t see any distress in their faces so I carried on.”

Сadet of the Ivan Bohun Military High School. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.
Model Karyna Mazyar and cadets of the Ivan Bohun Military High School. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

Brett came back to Ukraine early February. This time he wanted to focus on the lives of the civilians and members of our emerging creative scene. On Instagram, Lloyd found pictures of The Witch of Konotop, a sold-out production by the hip director Ivan Uryvskyi that is making waves in Kyiv. He went to the Franko drama theater to photograph the cast in full costume on stage of the phantasmagoric setup. Brett trained his lens on a number of creatives: Danylo and Denys (both 20), a gay couple with their hair dyed the Ukrainian national colors of yellow and blue; Oksana Rubanyak aka Xena, a 21-year-old writer, who published two books of poetry and now serves as a military commander. Then there is Karyna Mazyar, an upcoming model from the city of Zhytomyr, who we felt embodied the unbreakable spirit of the Ukrainian youth. You can see her on the cover, accompanied by young cadets of the Ivan Bogun lyceum, the  country’s most prestigious military establishment. 

Model Darya Makarova and her boyfriend military officer, code name Grizzly. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

“Amid the terror of this war I met people with such kindness and creativity,” Brett says. “I hope this story translates the message of hope and resilience. I want the international audience to know how alive Ukraine is right now.”

Shamil Konbutayev. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.
Cadets of the Ivan Bohun Military High School. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.
Cadets of the Ivan Bohun Military High School. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.
Oksana Rubanyak Xena. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.
Titov Danilo and Denis Pidenko, students. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.
Сadet of the Ivan Bohun Military High School. Photo: Brett Lloyd, Vogue, Ukraine.

This article was originally published on Vogue Ukraine.

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