Front-line cameraman: Chechnya was worse than Ukraine
Estonian cameraman Ivar Heinmaa, who was recently in Donetsk and Luhansk for 10 days, said the scenes he saw in Chechnya in 1995 were worse.
“Both sides (in Chechnya) showed what they are really capable of. If one side pulled of an atrocity then the other side tried to show it can do it better and caused a bigger barbarity. Ukraine is not that bad,” he told ETV on Wednesday.
On the first day of his third trip to Ukraine, from where he recently returned, he was taken to a morgue full of bodies, he was then shown to a basement of the morgue which had piles of bodies and blood everywhere. He said he did not film the basement as it was too gruesome. In Chechnya people were tortured, while in Ukraine corpses of soldiers are cut open and filled with sand so they would not be as easy to carry away.
Heinmaa said it was easy to get to the separatist-held areas and travel with the separatists.
He said he is not completely emotionally cut off from the events which he films, but he has become less sensitive over the years. When he is filming in conflict zones he focuses on his job to get the picture and sound right.
The camera offers no protection in the battlefield, he said. In Serbia in 1993, snipers were targeting people with “press” written on helmets and vests. He usually does not have enough time to pull on a bullet-proof vest. Recently, near the Donetsk airport, he said a Ukrainian soldier gave him his vest, saying it had been battle-tested.
Heinmaa said that he has been to 99 countries, including five trips to the radioactive zone of Chernobyl and the tsunami-hit area around Fukushima. He has filmed in the Palestinian territories, Syria, Abkhazia and the former Yugoslavia, among other places. He does most of his work for Finnish television companies and is on the road 200 days each year.
He has written a book about his adventures titled “Where the hell were you now?”