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
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.
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).
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.