‘Compelled towards verse’: how a survivor of Russian airstrike found meaning in the assault

Poet and photojournalist Anastasia Taylor-Lind was present in a Ukrainian restaurant during a tragic event where 13 individuals lost their lives and 60 others were wounded. On 27 June, a Russian Iskander missile targeted a busy pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk, an eastern Ukrainian city. Among the victims were four children, and numerous people were left with critical injuries. The restaurant, known for its popularity among locals and international journalists, was filled to capacity at the time of the missile attack.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind, a British-Swedish poet and photojournalist, was in the restaurant that day with her translator and friend Dima. They were in Kramatorsk to document an ongoing project funded by the National Geographic Society, which focused on reporting the environmental consequences of the Donbas war.
At 7:32 pm, the high-speed missile struck its target. Taylor-Lind recalls hearing its approaching sound and, with only a split second to react, preparing to take cover. However, she could only manage to close her eyes before the explosion occurred. The blast injured her arm and leg with shards of glass, while food plates were scattered, causing uncertainty whether the splatters of red on the tables were blood or tomato sauce. Emergency responders arrived at the scene, and a sight of a large crowd gathered. Rescue efforts managed to save around a dozen individuals from the wreckage.
Among the casualties were two 14-year-old twin sisters, Yulia and Anna Aksenchenko, who were about to complete their eighth-grade studies. Additionally, a 17-year-old girl lost her life, and a baby sitting near Taylor-Lind’s table suffered severe head injuries.
Four days after the blast, the Ukrainian novelist Victoria Amelina, 37, succumbed to her injuries. She had been seated at the table to Taylor-Lind’s right.
While Taylor-Lind had spent ten years documenting the Donbas war from 2014 onward, her previous encounters with violence were as an observer, witnessing its impact on others’ lives. This incident marked the first time she experienced the horrors of war on a personal level. It took her time to process the pain and trauma, and months later, she turned to writing poetry as a response.
In her own words, Taylor-Lind explains, “I never inhabit the voice or experience of others in my poems, so the only way that felt right was to approach the strike from my own closely observed perspective. I write poems about things I can’t photograph, things I hear or feel or think, which can’t be expressed, or have no place to be expressed, in images.”
In April 2014, Russia supported separatist proxies in the Donbas region, leading to the seizure of government buildings and triggering a response from the Ukrainian military. The resulting long conflict claimed the lives of over 10,000 individuals. Moscow’s full-scale intervention in Ukraine in 2022 was partially justified by their claim, dismissed by the UN, that Ukrainian military action in the Donbas conflict amounted to genocide.
Taylor-Lind’s poem, published by The Guardian, serves as a medium for unraveling her fragmented and delicate memories. She arranges them chronologically in the first person and present tense. Through her poetic expression, she found solace and a deeper understanding of the events she and others endured on that fateful day. It aided her in comprehending “what had happened to us and what I experienced.”
Taylor-Lind adds, “There is so much I am unable to articulate about my own experiences of reporting through my photographs. And that frustration has pushed me towards poetry over the years.”

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