From Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine–A Memoir
(St Paul, MN, June 2023) — Acquiring in an exclusive submission that includes film rights, Elva Resa Publishing will publish Snapshots Sent Home: From Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine–A Memoir by US Army combat veteran and photographer JT Blatty, with a February 2024 release.
In her memoir, JT shares her search for purpose following US combat deployments, her journey to Ukraine in 2018 to photograph and record stories of the Donbas volunteer soldiers, and the love of a soldier and an entire veteran community that compelled her to stay as a new war began.
“I first met JT when she won a writing contest we sponsored in 2018,” says Elva Resa’s publisher Karen Pavlicin. “I was immediately drawn in by her story and her writing. Her life has taken many turns since that point, making her memoir even more compelling and universal.”
Like many post-9/11 combat veterans, JT struggled to regain her sense of purpose in the first years returning home. Then a chance meeting with a former West Point classmate in 2018 changed her trajectory. He was taking part in an International Summit in Ukraine to help develop the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and invited JT to tag along.
As a documentary photojournalist, JT was drawn to Ukraine by the familiarity of war and those who serve in wars. She found the Ukrainian soldiers to be a tribe of revolutionaries, ordinary men and women, most without military training, who in 2014 self-deployed to the War in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
As she embedded with these soldiers to document their stories, JT found herself becoming part of their community. Her story began to blend with theirs in a universal bond of combat veterans.
“I’ve laughed with them, cried with them, drank far too much alcohol with them, raised glasses in memory with them,” says JT, “and after February 2022, when they again rose to fight and inspired the world, I realized that I had become one of them.”
Over five years, JT captured their oral history and portraits on the front line in bunkers and forests, and in Kyiv flats, creating a photographic/audio archive. Her Frontline/Peace Life collection, featuring the portraits and recorded stories of Ukraine’s 2014 revolutionaries, exhibited in Chicago and New York City in 2019-2020 to bring attention to the Donbas conflict, and was scheduled to open in Kyiv in March 2022 but was canceled due to the invasion. The exhibit now serves as a memorial tribute to many who volunteered once again and died defending Ukraine.
As the world shifted around her, JT’s memoir also changed focus.
“I started writing this book on journal pages in Afghanistan in 2002. And for over a decade I struggled to understand what exactly the journey was that I wanted to share,” says JT. “When I first came to Ukraine, I began writing again, not realizing at the time that what I was writing was in fact the new chapter one, and that this was the journey I wanted to share. The full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022 sent the ending I had imagined into an abyss, but perhaps this journey was never meant to have an ending.”
That new first chapter introduces readers to Yuliia Tolopa, known as Valkyrie, who left Russia at age 18 to fight for Ukraine. It’s immediately clear that Valkyrie will be a central character in the book—and JT’s life.
I watch Valkyrie from the backseat of the camouflaged vehicle we’re riding in, my knees pressed against a Soviet-era rifle, wooden stock and barrel, that’s stuffed into the back of Sergei’s seat. … I’m on a high, lost in translation with a Russian and a Ukrainian, neither of whom speak two cents of English.… Valkyrie keeps switching the music; she never lets a song end. She passes a bottle of Stella back to me for another sip. … Earlier, at a gas station restaurant, she ripped her unit’s Velcro patch from her shoulder sleeve and stuffed it into her pocket, a blatant and conscious decision that she’s going to drink and break the rules tonight.
Sergei, Valkyrie’s driver and comrade, keeps singing her real name, “Yuuuuuuliya,” half scolding and half in adoration, a “What are you doing now, crazy one?” type of voice, as she switches to yet another song. I laugh and look at Dylan; he turns to me, smiling, because she’s wild, angry, full of fire. She hides the beer at her feet as we slow down at another checkpoint to exit Toretsk, the frontline town where her unit is based, the city center home to a war-destroyed, former town hall less than two kilometers from the front line. We drive through, slow down and brake again as we curve around a series of ditches and craters created by the war’s mortars and artillery shelling. As we pick up speed again, she jacks the music back up, finds another song on her phone, lights another cigarette, and shakes her long hair loose. The headlights of a car driving in the opposite direction briefly accent the wavy amber of what looks more like the mane of a lion in the night.
About the Author
JT graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2000 and served six years as an active-duty US Army officer, deploying with the first troops into Afghanistan following 9/11 and again into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After completing her US military service, she pursued freelance photography and writing as a career, working as an editorial contributor and a FEMA disaster reservist photographer following an internship with National Geographic Traveler.
JT attended the 2018 Writeaway in Tuscany, on a full scholarship sponsored by Elva Resa, Books Make a Difference magazine, and Writeaways, where she began to incorporate her Ukraine experience into her writing. She received a 2021-2022 Ukraine Fulbright scholarship to finish Snapshots Sent Home, while continuing her photojournalistic work in the Donbas.
She is the author of the book Fish Town: Down the Road to Louisiana’s Fishing Communities, and her work has been published in numerous publications, including Bloomberg, National Geographic, PDN Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, Connect Savannah Magazine, The Daily Beast/ Newsweek, The Oxford American, New Orleans Advocate, CNN Photos. JT is represented by Redux Pictures.
ELVA RESA PUBLISHING LLC is an award-winning, mission-driven, traditional independent publisher based in St. Paul, Minnesota, specializing in quality resources by, for, and about military families. Elva Resa’s mission is to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
MEDIA: Please contact Elva Resa PR at 651-357-8770 or pr [@] elvaresa.com for author interviews and notification of advance reading copies.
For inquiries about film, TV, translation, international, and other subsidiary rights, please contact rights [@] elvaresa.com.
Snapshots Sent Home: From Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine–A Memoir by JT Blatty is scheduled for release in February 2024.
Author bio and headshot: https://elvaresa.com/author-artist/jt-blatty/
Author photo credit: Dmytro Lavrenchuk