Ukraine: Christmas carols at the front
For the last six years, some 30 students from western Ukraine travel 1300 km to the frontline of the conflict in the eastern part of the country, bringing the Christmas spirit to the soldiers stationed there.
Following an old folk tradition called Vertep, they go from house to house to sing Christmas carols and perform a short play based on the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus. In Ukrainian culture, Vertep performers are regarded as messengers of the Christmas spirit who bring happiness and peace to all the homes who welcome them – even in wartime.
Since the beginning of the war in 2014, thousands of Ukrainian servicemen and servicewomen have had to spend Christmas on the frontline, far from home and loved ones. The students come from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and bring humanitarian help as well as Christmas cheer.
“I love being here and sharing moments of happiness with those people. However, it is also bittersweet, since being here means that the war is still ongoing.” — says one of the girls from the group.
The Vertep Choir performs in front of soldiers at the old culture house, near the frontline in Tarasivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Ukrainian servicemen watch the performance of Vertep, students theatrical group in Tarasivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Members of Vertep are waiting behind the scenes at the old house of culture in Stanytsia Luhanska, Luhansk region, Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers watch the performance of Vertep, a theater group made up of students. Stanytsia Luhanska, Luhansk region, Ukraine.
A girl from the choir looks at a soldier of the mechanised infantry in Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Members of Vertep have lunch in the military camp in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Students perform in an abandoned farm building near a position of the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian servicemen watch the performance of Vertep in an old farm building in eastern Ukraine.
Students leave the old factory building where they performed in front of soldiers in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Vertep choir rehearses their repertoire while on the road to another performance.
Members of Vertep relax near the tour bus before the performance in Herasymivka village in the Luhansk region, Ukraine.
Members of Vertep hang out behind the scenes of the performance in Tarasivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine.
One of the main characters of Vertep – King Herod with a Ukrainian soldier in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Students portraying Joseph and Mary performing in front of soldiers in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Girl from the choir hugs aUkrainian serviceman to show respect and gratitude. Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Irynka Hromotska is a freelance photojournalist. For almost two years she’s been traveling through more than 30 countries while working on documentary photo projects. Since September 2018 she is pursuing master’s degree in journalism at Ukrainian Catholic University. The main subjects of her projects are women and children, as well as the issues of national identities and human rights told through life stories.
All photos copyright Irynka Hromotska