Photographer Captures the Strength of Ukrainians in the Face of Suffering

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, American photographer Gavin Doran visited the country to document the human stories of individuals impacted by the war.

Doran published three photo collections that document the suffering of the refugees, families who sent their children, brothers and fathers to war zones, as well as the sorrow of those in Ukraine for the loss of loved ones.

“Every one of these [Doran] shows the effects war has on the nation in general and the people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals.” The description of the project reads. Volunteers help refugees get onto trains heading towards the Polish border and away from the war. Some get through that border easily while some wait for days. They have their lives and land completely changed. Many of them are mothers and their children, and many will, when and if they do return home, have both lost their homes and husbands and fathers.

Ukrainian soldiers assemble at L’viv’s railway station. Some smoke cigarettes and stare pensively into the distance. Others laugh with comrades. Many people say goodbye to their loved ones. But all board the train to the front lines of the war with Russia. Some of these men are likely dead by now. Those who didn’t have to die are fighting for freedom around the globe.

“Civilians and family attend a funeral for fallen Ukrainian soldiers at the Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in L’viv.

“These are the scenes from the Russian/Ukrainian war in March of 2022.”

Refugees

“I anticipated the invasion as Russian forces built their troops up along the Ukrainian border,” Doran tells PetaPixel. In the weeks before, I had bought equipment, including a bulletproof vest and helmets. Although I was aware that I could not bring much, I also knew that there could be a lot of consequences and it could prove to be very costly.

“My goal going there was to be a witness to history and to bring awareness to what I anticipated would be a massive refugee crisis. I flew into Poland on February 28th, 2022, and began at the Polish-Ukrainian border in a little town called Medyka. The treatment of students and people of color trying to cross into Poland was what I focused on. Some people waited for seven days, without food or water. Some were beaten.

” After spending a while there, it became clear that I needed to cross the border. So I boarded a supply train from Przemysl, Poland, into L’viv, Ukraine.”

To the Front

“It was tense [in L’viv],” Doran says. “Photographing is incredibly tricky. Eight men in full military gear and balaclavas surrounded me on the second or third day of my suspicions that I might be a Russian spy. Through a narrow corridor, they pulled me inside a building and made sure I knew where I would be beaten until I provided them with answers that I did not have. Luckily they started in a small dark room with just a few questions.

“Ironically, as I was trying to prove who I said I was, the detectives pulled up articles from years prior that I had written for outlets like PetaPixel and my photos in GQ. They were able to relax a little.

“After 2 hours, convincing both the police and the Ukrainian version of the CIA I was a friend, they fed me some excellent chocolate, we took a shot of American whiskey (all liquor sales were banned at this point), and they let me go. The detectives who initially arrested me have become great friends, and we text fairly frequently, determined to have a BBQ when the war ends.”

A Great Cost

“Experts across all serious Western news organizations came to a quick conclusion; Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, would fall in ‘days.’ To the world’s surprise, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s President and a former comedian, resolved to stay in the country and fight,” Doran’s project description states. A huge wave of volunteers came from all over the globe to help fight the larger, more powerful invading army. Months later, Ukraine still stands tall and has won major battles. It also began to shift from a defensive to an offensive stance in order to drive out the Russians with newly acquired weapons from NATO and the United States.

” Despite Ukraine’s remarkable success, this has not been without its costs. Thousands of men were killed in battle. Thousands more innocent women, children, and elderly slaughtered for doing nothing more than trying to live a peaceful and productive life.”

“The Ukrainian people are some of the strongest-willed people I’ve ever met,” Doran says. “They are intelligent, resourceful, and community-driven. It was a privilege to be able to see so many people who are resilient and have a clear purpose. I have no doubt they will win this war.

“That being said, many will suffer in doing so, and I urge you to please donate to the World Food Program if you’d like to help. I’m currently trying to go back to Ukraine to cover what will likely be an even bigger food crisis that is coming to its head in early July.

The global crisis stems mainly from a Ukrainian shortage of wheat due to Russian blockades. I’ve written a detailed blog post that outlines the issues. If you are an NGO/Editor who might be interested in partnering, please reach out to me via my website.”

Doran stayed in Ukraine until March 20th.

“March 23rd was my 30th birthday, and I flew to Los Angeles to be with my identical twin brother, Chase,” the photographer says. After seeing what I saw, it was hard for me to celebrate. It felt wrong. However, it was indeed beautiful to be around my family.”

You can find more of Doran’s work on his website and Instagram, which also includes behind-the-scenes from his time in Ukraine.


Image credits: Photographs by Gavin Doran

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