Israel: A Russian Photojournalist's Notes

Dmitry Kostyukov (LJ user kostyukov), a Russian photojournalist, is currently on assignment in Israel. In August 2008, he was covering the war in South Ossetia, and here is a 6-minute slideshow of the photos he took there:

Since he posted this selection on his blog while already in Israel, one of his readers asked an obvious question (RUS):


Drawing some parallels [between the two conflicts] or is it just a sudden memory?

Kostyukov replied:

No hidden intent here, no subtext… everything is simpler. First, the war reminded me of the war (although I never really forget about it), and, second, I've sent off [a number of Ossetia pictures] to [the World Press Photo contest], so there is a reason to post it all here.

In his posts from Israel, however, Kostyukov does mention the previous conflict, noting how different it was working there and, yes, drawing some parallels, too. He also provides some general insight into the work of a war photographer. Below are three excerpts, translated from Russian.

Jan. 12, 2009:


A strange war… in the midst of civilization, in the midst of a wonderful world. As if it's happening in the middle of a fairy tale town. Does not resemble Ossetia at all. Here, they are transporting tanks to positions on trucks, driving on asphalt, because it's faster this way, of course. There's war here, and WiFi nearby, cozy restaurants and hotels. On a country road, a [self-propelled artillery vehicle] is re-positioning, and a farmer on tractor is watering something on a nearby field.

And the people are used to war, ready for it. Here, there are bomb shelters in every house, cafe, gas station. There are shelters along the road. Israelis know how to act correctly, which radio station to tune in to to learn about danger, they know where to run to…


In Gaza now there must be pure hell, I guess. Seeing how much of everything is falling there now, it's scary to imagine being there yourself. They are not letting [anyone] in and out of Gaza now. We have only one photographer there, I guess. He calls us and you can hear by his voice that the pressure is growing. A missile hit the building next to our Gaza office.

On the Israeli side, all the journalists stand on two or three hills from which one can see well the areas under fire. […]

The main difficulty is that journalists aren't allowed to work with the army. […] Soldiers don't care whether anyone is photographing them or not, it's the military police that's taking care of that, and they are asleep until 8 AM. That's why everyone is gathering pictures to last them the whole day from 6 AM to 8 AM, and then they get their long-range lenses out and observe the bombings.

I guess in this war I am in a position of those journalists who were in Georgia on the [Gori] side – everything is closed off […].

Jan. 17, 2009:

[…] The most disgusting thing is that the editors keep calling, saying things like, “Hey, what are you doing over there? Find us a soldier with a flag standing next to a tank!” Damn, there's nothing like that here! There are some people, but it's a huge territory, the army is moving, and we don't have the right to be here at all. […]

But today we've met this couple. They live right next to the border. The guy said right away that he was ultra-right. He said the following… All that our army is doing here, it's all [really lightweight]. We kill 1,000 – that's very little. They give birth to 500 children in one night. Forty thousand should be killed. […] We should invite Mr. Putin over. Hire him and pay him 2 million a day. And it wouldn't be too much of an expense. He'll quickly do what needs to be done. And we'll be able to leave peacefully for the next 20 years or so.

I'm not going to talk about how ‘slightly’ surprised I was. Of course, there are enough fools everywhere, but how come Putin has become the reference point for the ultra-right? I'm not an expert in the history of the Jewish people, but I suspect that many Jews fled to Israel from the Soviet regime, the repressions, etc. And now there are people in their country who are saying things like this?

Lately, I've been hearing about Russia in the following context, more or less: you journalists are always lying, but tell us, why the U.S. [is allowed to do what it's doing] in Iraq and Afghanistan, why Russia [is allowed to do what it's doing] in Georgia and Chechnya – while we aren't allowed? I hear this “why Russia is allowed” more and more often in all kinds of places. Not just here.

Soldiers and ordinary civilians are often asking: “Why are you lying? Why are you showing Israel from such a negative perspective? What have we done to you? Why aren't you saying the truth?” God, in such moments I just don't know what to say, because we always hear stuff like this.

In Gaza I'd be told the same thing. Why are they killing us? Why are you talking so little about it? […]

In Ossetia, though, it hurt especially badly. We were doing all we could. Dozens of photos every day – tears, dead people, ruined houses, constant commentary… not many journalists were doing this. And still, I was always hearing that we were shit.

We returned and my friends started saying that I didn't do my job well. That, like, it's hard to understand what we were doing there when the whole world thinks that Russia started it first. Why weren't we showing how terrible Georgia was.

Later, I was in Gori and people there were jumping on us again, saying: Why are you lying? Why aren't you showing how tough it is for us? Why aren't you saying how terrible Russia is? A crowd of women started showing the traces of a missile blast to me. They started asking me to take a picture of it. I lost control and said that they hadn't seen Tskhinval and what it was like there now. I think it's easy for you to imagine what and how they responded to me. It's good that there were soldiers nearby.

Perhaps there are professions that are always drawing harsh words and yet everyone continues to use those services. Doctors, the police, teachers, politicians, journalists. And there are reasons to be saying harsh words, of course, but it's also clear that in these professions there are always situations when it's very easy to make a mistake. And sooner or later everyone makes a mistake. But this does not justify us, perhaps. […]

Jan. 19, 2009:

We got nearly shot to death today. Now I have this strange feeling. Keep thinking that a few more seconds and that would've been it… More often than not, journalists do get killed in silly ways. We didn't notice a camouflaged checkpoint, and we stopped only when the safety lock was off and the gun was a few meters away from our heads. Strange, but in a situation like this, all you see are the eyes [of the person about to shoot]. I don't know about myself, but my colleague […] turned white as a sheet in one second. In Georgia, a TASS photographer [Aleksandr Klimchuk] was killed in such an absurd way – he replied ‘Gamarjoba’ [‘hello’ in Georgian] […] to a greeting of the Ossetians. And with me, it's like nothing special has really happened, but in about ten minutes I was shaking so much inside as if I'd drunk ten cups of coffee.

Kostyukov's photos of the Israeli troops’ pullout are here and here.

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