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Russian War in Ukraine

Dnipro, Kharkiv, Zaporozhzhia


On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale military invasion into the Ukraine. This armed conflict caused over nine hundred civilian deaths and forced millions of Ukrainians to flee to neighbouring countries.

According to the United Nations, more than 10 million people have been internally displaced by the conflict while casualty figures are as-yet unknown, though evidence of massacre-level civilian casualties is emerging.

People from the besieged city of Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Volnovakha, Berdyansk, Kharkiv and other parts of eastern Ukraine flee under unrelenting bombardment to relatively saved cities as is Zaporozhzhia and Dnipro.

This photographic series invites you to meet some families who managed to escape the brutal siege of their towns and cities.

Dnipro Darya poses with her two children Fiadora (right) and Sasha in the hotel where they found shelter.

They are from Kharkiv. When the Russian shelling started they moved to an underground garage. When the shelling stopped, Darya went to their apartment on the fourth floor to cook. When the shelling intensified, Darya was scared to go to their apartment. After five days living in the garage, they decided to leave for Dnipro.
«The worst were airplanes over our heads», she says. They plan to continue to the west to reach the Polish border. Darya’s husband will drive them to the Polish border, but he will remain in the Ukraine, as men are not allowed to leave the country.

Kharkiv Anya with her child in her arms in the Kholodna Gora metro station where they have found shelter after they fled shelling by Russian forces in the residential northern Saltivka district.

«I stay in Kharkiv, I will not leave my husband who is in the emergency unit State Emergency Service (SES). I live with other people in this small room which used to be an office. I almost don’t go out on the street, the explosions are heard every day, all day. Here in the basement they are at least less loud.»

Pischanka (Peschanka), Ukraine The Sytnik family is from Kharkiv, where they escaped shelling by Russian forces on the 28th of February, 2022.

Larysa Sytnik (41) (third from left) said:
«The situation became very difficult. There was a four-hour queue just for one piece of bread. We left everything there, in Kharkiv. When we arrived in Dnipro, a stranger helped us, they let us live in their apartment, while they lived in a cottage. We didn’t know what to do in Dnipro. Where to go, to leave to the west by train. But there were long queues at the train station. Then we found Eko-Hotel Lis Na Samari (Russian for At the Samari). I am originally from Chernobyl. When I was a little girl, I did not understand what was happening and did not see danger. But today it’s different – I am an adult, and I am scared of shelling. There are still many people who can’t leave Kharkiv. Our friends are hiding in cellars when the shelling occurs. For us it there is no tomorrow, there is only today».

Oxana and her husband will stay for a while at a Christian church called Door to Heaven where they have found shelter in Dnipro.

«How will we continue to live? Our house is fine, untouched, but we do not know if we will come back, and if we come back home, if we return, there will not be work, there will be only ruins. We did nothing to anyone, we lived contentedly, we worked, we were happy. We lived beautifully, we just wanted to live, and now we are homeless. I don’t know what we will do next, we arrived at Dnipro, where people walk down the street, restaurants are open, everything is in the shops. In Mariupol there are only ruins, everything is destroyed. We didn’t want to leave, my mom stayed there as well as my husband’s mom. My brother is stuck there too, with his wife and son. We don’t know how they are. We are from the same city, but we couldn’t even go to them to find out if they were still alive. We left everything there, our family, our life. When our neighbours began to leave, we also left. We left in fear. No one can imagine such fear.»

Dnipro Julia, a second-time refugee, in the kitchens at a Christian church called Door to Heaven where she has found shelter.

Her first experience of being a refugee was in when the separatists occupied her home city of Luhansk in 2014. She didn’t agree with the forced separation from Ukraine, so she moved to Berdyansk, a city controlled by Ukraine. When Putin began the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, she says she didn’t think she would leave Berdyansk.
«Ukrainian soldiers left the city to go to Mariupol, Russian forces arrived during the night, and took over the city. They took down the Ukrainian flag from the city hall. We demonstrated everyday against the invasion», she says.
Eventually Yulia left the city, when there were no more products in shops, when there was nothing to eat and there was no gas to heat apartments. For now, she is in Dnipro.

Dnipro Alexander Mushkin (70) is from Volnovakha. He arrived in Dnipro from Volnovakha with the help of volunteers and a priest on March 3, 2022.
Alexander is waiting for a train to go to the west of Ukraine.

Volnovacha is the last town in front of the port of Mariupol. People there are surviving without gas and electricity. Because of heavy fighting attempts to organize a humanitarian corridor has repeatedly failed. «I don’t see well. If my sight will be better, I would go to fight for Ukraine. I have sworn allegiance to this country, so I will be faithful to it. Yes, I’m Russian. But what kind of Russian am I when the Russians, my brothers, are shooting at me now? People who are favour of Russian threaten us that they will turn us in to them when they come. I escaped with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. I hope that my sons will also be able to leave when there will be a safe humanitarian corridor. You know, my sons are with the Ukrainian police, and are working on checkpoints. You see, Russian-Ukrainians are serving Ukraine and fighting for it. But I don’t want them to fight anymore. I want them to leave, I want them to live».

Dnipro Valentyna (70) came to Dnipro with her daughter and grandson. They are from the Kharkiv Kholodnoyski district.
«We fled Kharkov because our house was hit by a grad. We were hiding at that time in a 1 x 2.5 metre corridor. We are all alive, but the first floor is missing. The neighbouring entrance is simply no longer there, this happened March 2nd. Two people died. I don’t know why our building was hit, there were no Ukrainian soldiers in there. I don’t know what to do, what kind of future I can expect. Our apartment is no longer there, maybe God will show me the road. For now, I am stay in a Christian church called Door to Heaven in Dnipro».

Dnipro Tolya holds her eight-month-old son at the Door to Heaven (Dveri v Nebo) Christian Church where they found shelter after arriving that day from Berdyansk. “It took us 12 hours to get to Dnipro. The road is terrible, there were many Russian checkpoints. There was no green (humanitarian) corridor, so we decided to leave ourselves. We were in a convoy of five or six cars. Half of the family was already waiting for us in Dnipro. We all arrived safely, thank God. We spent almost an hour driving next to mines, the exit from the city was difficult, there was lots of shooting but not at us.”

«It took us 12 hours to get to Dnipro. The road is terrible, there were many Russian checkpoints. There was no green (humanitarian) corridor, so we decided to leave ourselves. We were in a convoy of five or six cars. Half of the family was already waiting for us in Dnipro. We all arrived safely, thank God. We spent almost an hour driving next to mines, the exit from the city was difficult, there was lots of shooting but not at us.»

Zaporozhzhia Yelena (bottom front of photo) is the head of a public organization that works with disabled children in Berdyansk in the Zaporozhie region. Yelena’s autistic son Kyril sits behind her, Svetlana a mother of Misha who has cerebral palsy is on the left.

«We have a lot of children with autism (PAS) who respond to loud noises, they are upset by this unknown situation. It was very stressful during the sirens when we had to move to a bomb shelter, which was far worse than prison for children. It was difficult for both children and parents. Berdyansk, our city, has been occupied by the Russians, probably since the third day of the war.  Russians disconnected our television, gas, and internet. We went without electricity for most of the time. We look after 60 children, this means 60 families, half are still in Berdyansk. We did not “suffer” like the people in Mariupol, I was thinking whether to leave  or not. The roads are absolutely terrible, and humanitarian convoys must go through Vasylivka, where there are many Russian checkpoints and they hold people sometimes for up to four days. They just don’t let them go… but today we really decided to leave…»

Dnipro Zlata (9) is from Severodonetsk and her family found shelter in the Dnipro Business Apartments.
Zlata’s parents went every year for Zlata’s birthday to Egypt where Zlata swam in the Mediterranean Sea.

«I was sitting in the basement, I had toys and there were also my girlfriends. We had TV and we could watch cartoons. I also spent time with my parents. We were in a bomb shelter for one or two weeks. I heard explosions, they were very loud. There were eight or ten people (in the bomb shelter). We lived on the fourth floor, sometimes we went to our apartment to wash and cook, but when the first explosion would happen, we would run to the shelter. It was the most difficult to run up and down the stairs. I think we’ll be back in the summer, and I’ll go to the sea to swim – and also celebrate my birthday which is on June 3rd

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Iva Zimova

Iva Zimova, Czech and Canadian born in 1956

. I first developed my photographic eye in Montreal, where I studied photography at Dawson College. But Dawson Collage teaches commercial photography, and in any case I found that I was more comfortable wandering the streets with my camera than being locked up in a studio.

 Montreal’s streets were not enough for me, however, so I started to travel to different places. I became resolved to document the lives of people who are persecuted or neglected. In 1998, during the war in Kosovo, I encountered the Czech NGO, People in Need, and since then I have contributed to their efforts with my work. It’s very important for me to be involved in the environment that I am photographing. To be accepted by the people I photograph and to become one of them is a part of what I do. This takes time, but it allows me to be a privileged witness of social occasions and rituals that would otherwise be off-limits: births, baptisms, spiritual ceremonies, weddings and funerals. I always carry my cameras (one digital and one film camera) with me in my backpack. The pack becomes a part of my body and if I don't have it on me, I feel like I'm missing something. To have my cameras with me at all times gives me the opportunity to photograph anything that I find interesting, at anytime. I am represented by Panos Pictures.”

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