A Photojournalist’s Intimate View of Ukrainians Living in Sydney

Photographer Thomas James Parrish We are Ukrainians The photo project focuses on both Ukrainians who have lived in Sydney, Australia for years, as well as those who arrived as refugees after Russia invaded the country earlier this year.

In We are Ukrainians, the vivid colors and dark, introspective eyes of the subjects in Parrish’s photos draw a kind of hypnotic gaze and fixed attention from his viewers. Capturing the diversity of stories and photos through the lens of his film Mamiya C330 and Portra 120, the Australian-based photojournalist skillfully captures the complex moods and varying degrees of emotions of Ukrainians now residing in Australia.

Both a photo diary and a story, the snapshots of We are Ukrainians aim to communicate the different challenges of being on the other side of the world and having to witness conflicts in one’s homeland, while sharing the experiences of those who have recently escaped this homeland.

Parrish’s work is fueled by a passion for creative storytelling and a desire to explore and document social issues; he aspires to promote reflection and positive social change with his works.

“I hope this series provides insight into the struggles currently facing members of our society and serves as a reminder of the relevance of a conflict we can choose to believe has minimal immediate significance,” said Parrish speaking with PetaPixel.

Older Ukrainian in traditional dress

Each photo is titled with its subjects and accompanied by their words and stories of resilience and sacrifice.

In the photo titled Ksenia, for example, the subject is seen standing defiantly against the backdrop of active protest behind her. She grapples with her complex emotions around the news of the initial invasion of Ukraine and the response of her neighbors.

“I live above a public swimming pool and there are kids splashing around and laughing and the first few days I was resentful, like, how can you have fun? How can the world just go on This is so unfair Then my mind just kicked up too hard and I woke up one day and I was like it was good to get back to work My mind just decided it was too hard to deal with, so we’ll just go back to the comfortable everyday things, and I hated it because I didn’t want to not feel it, it was numb.

Young Ukrainian woman during a demonstration
Ksenia, 30, moved to Australia from Kyiv with her family when she was 4 and has since visited and vacationed frequently to visit friends and family. Photographed during a protest for Ukraine at Martin Place.

In the photo titled Maksym and Katerynathe couple express their frustrations with the politics of war and their estrangement from Ukraine.

“It’s helplessness. The first emotion is to be helpless. Almost nothing can be done from here. Just share news and check information and send money to volunteers to buy medicine, ammunition, etc. […] Then it’s rage and probably hate because the Russians could have prevented this from happening a very long time ago, even when Putin first cheated to stay president.[…]It is mainly about hatred and helplessness.

Young Ukrainian couple in their apartment
Maksym and Kateryna, both 25, moved to Australia from Odessa in southwestern Ukraine a month before the war started to study at Macquarie University. Photographed in their flat in Macquarie.

In the photo titled Anthonythe subject regrets not being in Ukraine at the moment.

“Absolutely, I would love to be there. I’m supposed to be there. I had a flight that was canceled due to the war. So I should have been there already. I think about it every day and I would really like to be there, that’s why I stopped working and I do everything I can to help the community. I work with humanitarian and military efforts. Helping our military, working with everyone who comes here from Ukraine, helping with visas and helping people on the ground.

Young Ukrainian man

In the photo titled Anastasiathe subject reflects on his heritage and current life in Australia.

“There is a huge aspect of survivor guilt. Why am I here and why is my family still here? Why of all people did my great-grandparents leave and give me the opportunity to be here? I might as well be here right now. For my great-grandmother to have walked from Ukraine to Germany on foot, taking 2 years, and during this time she gave birth without anyone around her. For her to do this, the pain she went through to make sure I wasn’t here right now. It’s an intense thing to think about.

Young Ukrainian woman in a white shirt in Australia
Anastasia, 21, has lived in Australia all her life as her great-grandparents fled Ukraine during the Holocaust. Photographed in Hamilton Park, Turramurra.

In the photo titled Tarasthe subject wears a bright Ukrainian outfit and reflects on the loss of his life.

“I have friends who are soldiers, and obviously they don’t give out much information at the moment because they are involved in the war. So they can’t film and write on Instagram at the same time. But I know a guy, my good friend, he died a few days ago. And the other guys who fight, they say they’ll never give up. So what I’m really proud of is that they are so strong and even though they understand that we are over-armed, we are overpowered by Russia, they still want to fight.

Young Ukrainian man in traditional dress
Taras, 30, moved to Australia 2 months before the war started. He grew up in Turnopil before moving to Lviv in western Ukraine. Photographed in his flat in North Sydney.

In the photo titled Olgathe subject’s vibrant hair basks in the sun while discussing propaganda frustrations.

“Imagine the town you grew up in, this beautiful historic town, getting bludgeoned, getting destroyed and the whole country becoming a war zone. It’s really hard. And what’s even harder is to dealing with Russian propaganda saying it’s all fake and dealing with people who cling to it.

Ukrainian girl with shiny hair
Olga, 32, was born in Kharkiv, north-eastern Ukraine, before her immediate family emigrated to Australia when she was 13. Photographed in Hyde Park

In the photo titled Mar’yanathe subject cradles his violin in the natural light.

“I play in a Ukrainian music ensemble that I created a few years ago. Playing the violin helps me feel close to my country and my culture. At each concert I feel that the public learns more about my country through songs written generations ago, it is deeply moving. So I continue to spread the message of Ukraine through my music.

Ukrainian woman holding a violin
Mar’yana, 44, moved to Australia 20 years ago. She grew up in Zaporizhzhya in southwestern Ukraine. Photographed at her home in French’s Forest.

And in the final photo titled Vladislavthe subject wears traditional attire and shares his thoughts on the conflict unfolding in his homeland.

“Why does Russia hate Ukraine? Well many reasons for that. We think the empire has a “phantom pain” […] the empire has had phantom pains since independence from Ukraine.
Another reason is that the empire is not strong, but it is not yet completely broken either, and so it will try to take revenge on those who break away from them. They cannot accept being broken and they resent Ukraine. And most importantly, without Ukraine, the Russian Federation cannot be the Russian Empire.

Older Ukrainian in traditional white and blue outfit
Vladislav, 58, was born in Odessa and received his higher education in Kyiv in 1990. He first moved to Australia in 1996. Photographed in his garden in Artarmon.

Read all the full stories and see more photos from the series on Parrish’s website.

Picture credits: Photos by Thomas James Parrish

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