Photographer Captures the Strength of Ukrainians in the Face of Suffering

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, American photographer Gavin Doran traveled to the country to document the human stories of war-affected individuals.

Doran posted a three-part photo series that captures the plight of refugees; families sending their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers to the front; and Ukrainians mourning those who paid the ultimate price to defend their nation.

“In each, [Doran] explores the impact of war not only on the country in the macro, but on the individuals who pay the ultimate price for the ideals they hold dear,” reads the project description. “Volunteers help refugees get on the train to the border with Poland and away from the war. Some easily cross this border while others wait for days. Their lives and their lands have been completely turned upside down. Most are women and children and many, if they return, will have lost their homes, husbands and fathers.

“Ukrainian soldiers gather at L’viv train station. Some are smoking cigarettes and looking thoughtfully into the distance. Others laugh with comrades. Many say their final farewell to loved ones. But all are getting on the train to the front lines of the war with Russia. By now some of the men you see here have probably been killed. Those who didn’t are still fighting for those you see in these photos and for the very principle of freedom in the world.

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

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


“I anticipated the invasion as Russian forces were building up their troops along the Ukrainian border,” Doran said. PetaPixel. “In the previous weeks, I bought gear, body armor, helmets and other supplies. I knew I couldn’t contribute much, but anything could happen, and deciding to leave out one thing instead of another could be very consequential.

“My goal in going there was to be a witness to history and raise awareness of what I anticipated to be a massive refugee crisis. I flew to Poland on February 28, 2022 and I started at the Polish-Ukrainian border in a small town called Medyka. I covered the treatment of people of color, mostly students, trying to cross the Polish border. Some waited seven days in freezing weather, with no food. , with no water or place to go to the toilet. Some were beaten.

“After a few days there, I decided it was time to cross the border. So I boarded a supply train from Przemyśl, Poland, to L’viv, Ukraine.

In the front

“It was tense [in L’viv]”, says Doran. “Photographing is incredibly tricky. On the first or second day, I was suspected of being a Russian spy and I was surrounded by eight men wearing balaclavas and full military gear. They shot me into a building through a narrow hallway, and I was sure that was the part where they’d beat my ass until I gave them answers I didn’t have Luckily they started in a small dark room with only a few questions.

“Ironically, as I was trying to prove who I said I was, detectives dug up articles from previous years that I had written for outlets like PetaPixel and my photos in QG. It calmed them down a bit.

“After 2 hours of convincing both the police and the Ukrainian version of the CIA that I was a friend, they fed me excellent chocolate, we had a glass of American whiskey (all sales of alcohol was 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 barbecue when the war is over. .

A great cost

“Experts from every serious Western news organization came to a quick conclusion; Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, would fall in “days”. To the surprise of the world, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s president and former comedian, decided to stay in the country and fight,” Doran’s project description reads. “With his decision came a massive wave of volunteers not only from Ukraine but from all parts of the world, to fight the bigger and stronger invading force. Months later, Ukraine is still standing tall, winning major battles and starting to move from a defensive position to a more offensive position in an effort to drive out the Russians with freshly acquired weapons sent by the United States and NATO.

“Yet, despite Ukraine’s surprising success, it didn’t come for free. Thousands of men were killed in action. Thousands of other innocent women, children and elderly people slaughtered for doing nothing but trying to live a peaceful and productive life.

“Ukrainians are some of the most determined people I’ve ever met,” says Doran. “They are smart, resourceful and community-oriented. It was an honor to meet so many people with such resilience and clarity of purpose. I have no doubt that they will win this war.

“That being said, many will suffer, and I urge you to donate to the World Food Program if you wish to help. I am currently trying to return to Ukraine to cover what will likely be an even more severe food crisis arriving in early July .

“The global crisis is mainly due to a shortage of Ukrainian wheat caused by Russian blockades. I wrote a detailed blog post that outlines the issues. If you are an NGO/publisher who might be interested in a partnership, please contact me through my website. »

Doran remained in Ukraine until March 20.

“March 23 was my 30th birthday, and I flew to Los Angeles to be with my identical twin brother, Chase,” the photographer said. “I couldn’t celebrate after what I had seen. It was wrong. However, it was really beautiful to be around my family.

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

Picture credits: Photographs by Gavin Doran

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