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A photojournalist in Ukraine heads toward deadly conflict to humanize war

Maksim Chepchenko near a burning home in in Irpin, Ukraine, after Russian bombings on Saturday.
Marcus Yam
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Maksim Chepchenko near a burning home in in Irpin, Ukraine, after Russian bombings on Saturday.

For the past three weeks, Marcus Yam has been capturing harrowing images of the war in Ukraine, as he pulls long hours in the face of unpredictable and deadly attacks.

Yam, a photojournalist and foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times, is covering the conflict in the capital of Kyiv. The biggest challenge for photojournalists in the region, he said, are the military bombardments.

Local residents, recover, pack and clean out their damaged homes in a residential building caused by what authorities said is a Russian bombardment, in the Vynogradir district of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022.
/ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Local residents, recover, pack and clean out their damaged homes in a residential building caused by what authorities said is a Russian bombardment, in the Vynogradir district of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022.
A woman breaks down in tears as she realizes she is getting to board an evacuating train. Hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children rush to evacuate on one of the last trains out of town as the sounds of battle Ð gunfire and bombing Ð fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces draw closer to the city of Irpin, Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022.
/ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A woman breaks down in tears as she realizes she is getting to board an evacuating train. Hundreds of civilians, mostly women and children rush to evacuate on one of the last trains out of town as the sounds of battle Ð gunfire and bombing Ð fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces draw closer to the city of Irpin, Ukraine, Friday, March 4, 2022.

While out in the field, "We were just sitting ducks half the time, waiting for artillery to land around us," he told NPR's Scott Simon.

Heading into war zones "goes against every instinct we have," he said, but that "we as photographers, as photojournalists, try our very, very best to capture human emotion."

Firefighters investigate what Kyiv officials claim is a Russian bombardment on an apartment building in the Obolon neighborhood of Irpin, Ukraine, Monday, March 14, 2022.
/ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Firefighters investigate what Kyiv officials claim is a Russian bombardment on an apartment building in the Obolon neighborhood of Irpin, Ukraine, Monday, March 14, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers cross the Irpin river, after it was destroyed to prevent Russian tanks from crossing it, in Irpin, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022.
/ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ukrainian soldiers cross the Irpin river, after it was destroyed to prevent Russian tanks from crossing it, in Irpin, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

The deaths three journalists this week — Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski; a Ukrainian member of his crew, Oleksandra Kuvshynova; and documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud — are a grim reminder of the dangers of covering conflicts from behind a camera.

Yam, who knew Zakrzewski, described him as a "very kind soul."

"He looked out for all of a lot of people that he considered friends," he said. "Going into Ukraine, he gave me advice on security issues, on evacuation routes and ... resources that were available to him."

A rocket hits a residential building as seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.
Marcus Yam / Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A rocket hits a residential building as seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.
A woman bicycles past debris in a neighborhood that was bombarded by Russian forces in Irpin, Ukraine, Sunday, March 13, 2022.
/ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A woman bicycles past debris in a neighborhood that was bombarded by Russian forces in Irpin, Ukraine, Sunday, March 13, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers smoke as they defend themselves against Russian forces, in Irpin, Ukraine, Sunday, March 6, 2022.
/ Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ukrainian soldiers smoke as they defend themselves against Russian forces, in Irpin, Ukraine, Sunday, March 6, 2022.

Ashley Lisenby and Matthew Schuerman produced and edited the audio version of this story for broadcast.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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