Ukrainian photographers drop off their cameras for sandbags and suitcases


Sergei Volkov is an award-winning Ukrainian photographer whose wedding and portrait images scored 80 or more in WPPI The Annual Photo Contest and hung in the print gallery at WPPI 2022 in Vegas. For the past few weeks, however, he’s put his camera down and picked up sandbags instead. The photographer is one of millions of Ukrainians displaced by the invasion of Russian troops which began on February 24. Irina Djoul, an art photographer, fled kyiv with her two children. The three of them carried his camera, a cat, two backpacks and suitcases across four countries, including five kilometers (3.1 miles) on foot.

© Irina Djoul

the largest military movement in Europe since 1945 comes barely two years after the start of a global pandemic. making it the second time Volkov has had to close his business in less than three years. But, for the father of a 6-year-old child, the closure of a business is overshadowed by concern for the safety of his family and fellow countrymen.

[Read: How Photo Industry Companies are Helping as the War in Ukraine Rages On]

“I don’t even know when the photography industry will be able to return to its former state,” Volkov says. “Today the most important question is ‘Will Ukraine exist?’ If our people endure, we can restore this monstrous destruction. The only thing that cannot be fixed are the crippled destinies of thousands of people. Too high a price for the freedom of the Ukrainian people.

Children with suitcases leaving Ukraine with a long line of cars in the background.
© Irina Djoul
children on a train fleeing Ukraine.
© Irina Djoul

While the Rivne-based photographer spent his time loading sandbags, setting up military road checkpoints and lending financial aid, others traveled for days to get their families to safety. Dzhul spent six days traveling with her two children, aged 12 and 9, by car, train and even on foot to Amsterdam, which is nearly 2,000 kilometers from kyiv.

Six days after the start of the war, Dzhul made the decision to evacuate with her two children. His mother and stepfather stayed. “Bombs exploded nearby, walls shook, a siren wailed,” she said. “I didn’t want to be there anymore. My nerves and my psyche could not handle it.

[Read: Support for Ukraine: A List of Resources]

The first leg of his journey involved 10 hours of driving and standing in the hallways to reach Lviv. At the Polish border, the three of them – plus their cat – walked five kilometers and waited in line for four hours before a woman offered them a place in her vehicle. The family met Volkov’s nephew and later traveled to Warsaw. The trip from Vasava to Berlin was by train, which meant nine hours on a standing-only train. By the time the three of them reached the hotel in Amsterdam, they had spent an entire week without leaving the room, all sick with fever.

Dzhul managed to carry his camera on the trip, but not his computer. “These are terrible emotions,” she tells me of her journey. “You can’t think of photography because you’re saving your children.” She says she hopes to find work in the Netherlands.

Volkov echoed similar struggles to take the camera. “After the outbreak of the war, I never picked up the camera. I try to help our army in any way I can. I helped with physical strength, loaded sandbags, helped set up road checkpoints, [and]financial aid.”

Volkov also welcomed his brother, his sister-in-law and their two children from kyiv. He said he planned to take the women and children to Europe if troops advanced towards his home in Rivne, in the west of the country. His parents live in Genichesk, the first city occupied by Russian troops, and are now completely cut off from the rest of Ukraine, he adds. As he was talking with Rangefinderan airstrike hit a mariupol maternity.

The war has also sparked outrage among Ukrainian photographers living in the United States. Paul Von Rieter, a California-based wedding and portrait photographer whose father is Ukrainian. His legacy and recent events have inspired a photo session with a Ukrainian model during the WPPI.

“A range of emotions flooded our family, especially in light of past photos that were taken in Ukraine,” says Vitaly Manzouka California-based wedding photographer whose mother is Ukrainian.
“…We connect with photos because by nature they make us feel something. It just hurts even more when the people in these photos are in pain. »

Through the Christian Organization Good Calling Ministries, where he serves as chief financial officer, Manzuk has worked with his family to bring relief to those in Ukraine. The organization transferred funds directly to Ukrainian families in need and imported an armored vehicle which now helps orphans and the elderly in kyiv. The organization also helped a local bakery increase from 200 loaves of bread a day to 1,200 loaves to give to families in kyiv who had run out of food.

“Photographers can help in many ways,” Manzuk says. “First, pray for peace and for this senseless slaughter to stop. Ordinary people always lose in war. Second, talk about it, don’t become desensitized to hearing about it daily on the news. Ukraine is full of kind people, families and children who have been thrown into an evil abyss of war and the people need our help. Third, an impactful and meaningful way for photographers to help us by donating money to organizations that are on the ground helping those in need.

He added that donors should ensure they are working with a reputable organization. Because of the challenge of shipping items, he says many organizations are in need of monetary donations to purchase needed items as the crisis approaches.

“Just because Ukraine is thousands of miles away doesn’t mean you can have a real impact on the lives of injured Ukrainians with your financial donations.”

For other non-profit organizations that help Ukrainians, visit this list of ways to support Ukraine.


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