Ukraine calling

Perou in Ukraine

"These people are us: this could be us and my friends and family."


At the beginning of May, photographer and long-time ZOOT contributor Perou visited Kyiv to document the second medical convoy organized by Medics4Ukraine, World Extreme Medicine’s effort to deliver critical medical supplies from the UK to Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines. While there, Perou found the devastation the Russian army had left in its wake.

From ghostly towns of blown out buildings, to billboards and graffiti with emboldened messages, to the people who endured it all, Perou gives us a glimpse of the situation in Ukraine through his eyes.

Below is a selection of Perou’s images from his trip as well as excerpts from ZOOT`s conversation with the photographer.


Photos by Perou

Interview by Michaela Doyle


Luton to Poland, photo by Lucy Perou. “Not knowing much more than I was meeting Mark and advanced paramedic Luca at the airport in London, flying to Poland and driving into Ukraine, and that we’d hope to back Wednesday, I packed my cameras and a kit bag, said goodbye to my sons and off chipped. Lucy drove me to the airport where we said an uncertain goodbye.”


What compelled you to go to Ukraine?

Like many people, I’ve been getting progressively more upset, outraged and shocked by the living hell that Ukrainians are experiencing in Ukraine.

Like many photographers, I got involved with a charity print sale to raise funds for the Red Cross sending aid out, but I wanted to do more than that, although I was mainly just shouting and despairing at the news on TV.

When Mark Hannaford from World Extreme Medicine invited me to photograph the Medics4Ukraine convoy of emergency medical supplies going from England to Ukraine, I jumped at the opportunity.

“We rendezvoused with them [the four volunteer convoy drivers] quite late, shared some pizza and bedded down on camp-beds (provided by the German Red Cross) next to a fire-truck the fire-station kindly hosting us for a few hours before an early out.”
“Out at 5.30am for an early boost across the border to Lviv driven by SvL who used to work in events and marketing and now volunteers to drive between Poland and Ukraine, every day, taking over essential supplies. Swopped vehicles and met Ukrainian WEP colleagues ST and N, loaded up with kit and the 5 of us (including me, Mark and Luca) crammed into ST’s car and drove another 600km to Kyiv. Fortunately ST’s car is dual fuel and can run on LPG (gas) because there is almost no petrol, and if you can find some to queue for, you can only get 10 liters. We HAVE to make it to Kyiv before 10pm curfew.”


“Had not appreciated how between the cities, Ukraine is endless fields and forests it’s beautiful. Ukraine is the 4th largest producer of the wheat in the world.”


What was it like being there – empirically, physically, emotionally? What stood out the most for you? 

Before the war, I hadn’t really thought much about Ukraine: I had never visited before. I am geographically quite ignorant.

Unless you are actually there at the time, it’s hard to imagine the horror of living through a war and what’s happening in the moment. We mainly arrived in places a few weeks after events had happened. We were there seeing people trying to clear up blown up buildings and bury their dead. We saw people with PTSD. And heard their stories firsthand, but it was still possible to feel disassociated from it all: we weren’t there under fire (except as we were leaving Lviv, and the air raid sirens were wailing as cruise missiles hit key infrastructure there).

“Stopped 25km west of Kyiv to photograph some of the devastation in the Makariv-Kyi district where there was fierce fighting and the Ukrainians managed to fuck up and turn the Russians around. Artem, aged 13, and Dennis, aged 9, are playing on this blown out Russian tank that 3 weeks ago was full of Russian soldiers on their way to take Kyiv.”


In Makariv-Kyi district, “all down both sides of the street almost all the shops and buildings are destroyed.”


Building with shattered windows and bullet holes in the Makariv-Kyi district. “Kyiv is MUCH bigger than you could realise from watching tv news…. We manage to cross Kyiv, navigating slowly through roadside passport checks and roadblocks and make it to the doctor’s house who is hosting us tonight, in the countryside to the east of Kyiv. Just a few weeks ago, all the villages surrounding his were occupied by Russian soldiers.” 


I didn’t dwell on what might happen but I felt relatively safe. I wasn’t on the frontline and statistically I would have been very ‘unlucky’ to have been killed in an airstrike. (You think about statistics like this at these times.)

I feel a strong sense of disbelief: not that [it] is happening but that it COULD be happening in 2022. It seems so mental that any human could decide to send their people to war to die and kill other people to gain more ‘power’. Nationalities, borders, countries: it’s all so arbitrary: lines on a map. We’re all humans: we should be working together to live together. We don’t need greedy murderous, selfish bullies in our world.

“After delicious home cooked breakfast, drove back into Kyiv central. Photographed the World Extreme Medicine guys in various meetings with Ukrainian MP’s, ministers, senior doctors and military medial planners … although I’m just there to document the moments, it’s inspiring and interesting to meet these people and hear what’s going on, first hand.”


“There are billboards and signs everywhere. Here’s Mark and Luca from WEM with a sign that reads ‘THIS IS OUR LAND. WE WILL NOT GIVE IT UP!'”


“This sign reads ‘Ukraine is the leader of the free world. Proud of you.’ I really feel like Ukraine IS fighting for the free world and all Europeans: not just themselves i feel deeply that they need all the support we can give them.”


“Love that they have these signs above the roads, like here we might have ‘obstacle in road’. They have, ‘RUSSIAN SHIP, GO FUCK YOURSELF’.”


Driving through the countryside from Lviv to Kyiv I could see what a beautiful country and countryside Ukraine is. I’d also only seen Kyiv on the TV news. In person, it is a very charming city, some parts remind me of Paris with cobbled streets and beautiful architecture. Everyone I met was grateful for our support and welcoming. My prevailing thought was ‘these people are us: this could be us and my friends and family.’

“Here’s me and a Ukrainian special forces soldier who was just back in Kyiv momentarily, and met WEM to discuss what they need on the front-line (medically) and to take back some trauma boxes.”


“SAD BOYS: after a final productive meeting left Kyiv for the 600km drive back to Lviv.”


What has the war meant for you so far, as an “outsider looking in” up close?

As I met with many Ukrainians and heard their stories, the situation they are in has become personalised to me. We can see stories on the news, and from a distance go ‘oh: that’s terrible’, but when you know the people involved, it becomes much more personal. It makes empathy easier. I am more angry and keener to help in any way I can. As I would hope people would help me and my family if we were in the same situation. I will be returning to Ukraine with WEM next month.

“Stopped on the way to Lviv, at Berezivka, where we were shown around by a local lad. Here, a few weeks ago, the Russians had been assembling before a push into Kyiv, but they met fierce Ukrainian resistance and got fucked. Unfortunately they murdered and looted the villages there before they were turned around. Here [as told by a local couple and displayed on remembrance posters hung up around town], they killed the village leader and her family and dumped their bodies in the sewer. They killed another 50+ villagers too and dumped them in an open grave in the woods. Almost ALL the house are damaged: some completely wrecked.” 
One of many homes in Berezivka destroyed by the Russian army.


A field in Berezivka with wreckage from the fighting and landmines left by the Russian army.


In Berezivka, a garage with bullet holes and a shattered window, set against a moody gray sky.


What surprised you about being there? What was different from what you were expecting?

 I didn’t know what to expect before the trip to Ukraine. I didn’t know how much danger I was putting myself in and nor did my family, so everyone was a little apprehensive.

As a visitor who was able to get in and get out again and return home to safety, I was really just a tourist. This leaves me with some guilt but is also a motivation to do more.

“Sadly, the Russians shot down this Ukrainian fighter jet and it crashed into the village, instantly killing an old lady in her house and disintegrating into many other houses around.”


“The old lady’s house.”


Was there anything that was just as you were expecting it?

I had no expectations so nothing was as expected. As a stretch, the only thing that I was expecting was that I would find that the war was all real and not fake like some stupid people would like to believe.

Another destroyed home in Berezivka. “Spent a lot of the last few days going ‘fucking Russians’ to myself and out aloud.”


“This dog was shaking like it had PTSD, same as the young lad showing us around the village.”


What was one of the most challenging parts of your trip? And conversely, what brought levity?

It’s impossible to complain about anything on the trip when my home hasn’t been taken over by a hostile invading force, with soldiers raping, torturing and/or killing my family and friends and trying to destroy my culture and erase my national identity.

“On our way out of the country, had to stop in (also charming) Lviv for ST and N to collect their permits allowing them out of Ukraine so they could drive us back to Poland. No men of fighting age are allowed to leave Ukraine without special permission. As we were approaching Lviv, ST got an alert on his phone that Kyiv (where we had just been) had an air raid warning in Lviv, as i was enjoying this delicious borsch (beetroot soup with vegetables and pork) in a little local cafe the air raid sirens started there. Then thuds as missiles hit their targets. We ran out into the road to hear the haunting sound of air raids and see the sky filling with black smoke.”


“Managed to get out of Lviv before curfew and decided to drive 2 [hours] north to the next border which was apparently quite quiet. We arrived to 18km of lorries queuing to get across. Decided to walk over the border, although there were no pedestrians allowed there.”

On a personal level, I feel like I understand more about the situation there now. And also selfishly, I feel like I am doing something worthwhile, more than just photographing toothpaste commercials or photographing celebrities looking ‘nice’.

Somehow, we need to help the Russian people see the light and understand what’s really happening in Ukraine. And all the trolls that write on anti-social media that the war is fake need to wake up or fuck off.

Prof Mark Hannaford, founder of World Extreme Medicine. “There will be more convoys: as many as can be afforded so please think about digging in. Sadly this war won’t be over immediately and the Ukrainian people continue to need our help.”


To support Medics4Ukraine’s efforts, you can learn more and access the gofundme link to donate at the WEM website.

All images and caption quotes appeared originally on Perou’s blog entries from April 30 – May 4. Read more about him and his trip to Ukraine at his blog, Perous Secret Diary.


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