How to Jump on Tanks and Plant Watermelons in a Shell Hole.

Stories of Resistance from the Old Khata Project — A Documentary Photo Project about Ukrainian Villages

Anna Ilchenko
Photo and video: Anna Ilchenko
August 9, 2022
Old khata project is a documentary photo project about Ukrainian villages, folk architecture, and war experience. It was started in 2021 by Svitlana Oslavska and Anna Ilchenko.
Fanciful lions in the Odesa region, glazed verandas in the Luhansk region, wooden carvings in the Chernihiv region, and shyndli roofing on houses in Zakarpattia. All these unique architectural details of the Ukrainian regions are disappearing due to European style renovations and the desire to make housing more comfortable. And now they are disappearing because of the war.
The authors of the Old khata project show how the war affected the lives of Ukrainian villages and changed their inhabitants, as well as why Ukrainians will defend their land to the last.
Life was divided into before and after February 24, and the Old khata project has changed too. Last summer and autumn, journalists Svitlana Oslavska and Anna Ilchenko visited almost all regions of Ukraine to document the architectural features of rural houses and the lives of their residents. The goal was to collect material for a short stories photo book.
We photographed rural houses all over Ukraine to preserve their appearance, at least in photographs. Previously, traditional folk architecture disappeared due to European renovations, and now — due to the war. The invasion delayed the publication of the photobook, but it is still waiting to be published, as there will now be a separate section dedicated to the war.
This spring, the Old khata project began traveling around liberated villages to photograph the aftermath and record people's stories: how they had been affected by the war and how they had resisted the Russians. We were in Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions, recording the stories of immigrants from the Kharkiv region in Western Ukraine. Now we are returning from the Mykolaiv region.
Here is a short but eloquent story of Motria Derkach from Yakubivka, Chernihiv region, about how to plant a vegetable garden during the war.
"The shell exploded in the garden, there is a huge hole! I planted watermelons in that hole so that the land is not idle."
Motria Derkach
Several villages, which we visited in the summer of 2021, are now under occupation, and some have been completely destroyed.
These are houses from Oleksandrivka in the Kherson region. Most likely, they were destroyed, and the village is now under occupation.
Old khata project also tells about how Ukrainians do not lose their humor, resist the Russians on their own land and live in spite of everything.
Maria Napalko from the village of Lukashivka in the Chernihiv region tells why a Ukrainian will die, but will not give up.
Maria Napalko
"I think that as soon as our guys go to crush their troops, let them chase the Russians to Moscow, to the very lair of Putin. So that they not only do not come but also forbid their children to attack Ukrainians. A Ukrainian — he will die, but he will not surrender. Let him remain naked, he will crush them. I myself will not allow my neighbor to control how I live. You live how you want, we live how we want. We like it. It happened, I visited Chernihiv, I looked around - and my soul rejoiced. Flowers are planted, so much beauty everywhere. The tables bend from food шn case of celebration. What else is needed? Work hard and you will have what you want. And they came and destroyed it."
We sincerely admire it. Because to jump on a tank and shout "Glory to Ukraine!" to the Russian troops, one must have great strength. The inhabitants of the village of Pidlypne in the Sumy Oblast did not lack it. They surrounded the column of equipment and eventually forced the Russians to bypass the village by other roads.
We found this video on one of the Telegram channels. At first, we did not believe that it was real and decided to find the people from the video. So Old khata project met Yevhenia Serdyuk from Pidlypne, who told how the villagers had driven out the Russian soldiers.
Video: Yevhenia Serdyuk
"They started calling everyone in the village, and in just 15 minutes, about 500 people gathered. They came from other places in minibuses and cars because there was a rumor that we were slowing down the convoy. So I was standing at the window, looking at how men from everywhere ran through my yard on bicycles, on mopeds, on whatever they can. And I was wearing an old hat, an old jacket, I put on my son's shoes, and I also ran. They pointed automatic weapons at people — and people were no longer afraid. Adrenaline must have worked. Already in the evening, I realized that anything could have happened — they could shoot us. Well, we stopped them. And they drove back, all the way to the pond. And then dogs walked among people. They walked and barked. They did not run in different directions, did not run to the tanks, but walked with people, at their feet, and barked."
Yevhenia Serdyuk
Not only people suffer from war, but also nature and animals. The story of Nina Tkach, whose bees were killed by explosions, is precisely about this. And also about the love with which people talk about their animals from bees to cows.
Stories often repeat themselves. More than once we were told that the house was saved by a tree. The same thing happened in Lukashivka.
"The apple tree saved the house. If it weren't for it, they would hit the house, and there would be no home. Now, as long as I live, I will not saw it, I will let it grow. And I will hang a sign, it will be like a monument," says Mykola Arenchak from Lukashivka.
Mykola Arenchak
The liberated villages we visited are slowly recovering from the occupation. People are repairing their homes, if they survived, the gardens are already bearing fruit, but residents are still afraid that the Russians will return and they will have to experience this horror again. And there are hundreds of villages that have been under occupation for the fifth month.
"Make a wound — it won't heal in a day. So it's true. We need time to get through this. I believe in Ukraine. You see, the whole world stands for us," Valery Ostapenko from Vyshneve, Chernihiv region, concludes optimistically.
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