At the beginning of June, photographer and long-time ZOOT contributor Perou visited Ukraine to document the second medical convoy organized by Medics4Ukraine, World Extreme Medicine’s effort to deliver critical medical supplies from the UK to Ukrainian hospitals and to soldiers on the front lines. While there, Perou found the devastation the Russian army had left in its wake.
Perou gives us a glimpse of the situation in Ukraine through his eyes. Below is a selection of his images from his second trip as well as excerpts from ZOOT`s conversation with the photographer.
Photos by Perou
Interview by Michaela Doyle
Lviv to Kyiv
How did you feel during the month you spent in UK since you are back?
It was really surreal the morning after I returned home. The sun was shining and as usual, I was able to walk across the road from my house to buy some fresh bread, and everything was normal: there were no air raid sirens wailing, no soldiers on the street, no road blocks. And I was struck by the weird parallel universe that at the exact same time, total horror was happening in a country just a short flight away.
Can you tell us more about SvL and her volunteer work driving between Ukraine and Poland?
I used SvL instead of her full name because I am conscious of her security in an uncertain situation.
She’s amazing. Ever since the war started she’s driven between Poland and Ukraine, sometimes twice a day, and sometimes taking many hours to cross the border.
She’s involved with an unofficial network of people who source essential supplies for family, friends, or friends of friends and get them to where they need to be. That might be bulletproof vests, night vision, nappies, diesel: anything she’s asked for. Completely voluntarily. This is how she came to work with World Extreme Medicine: she’s been ferrying us across the border, too. Her brother is in the National Guard; he wasn’t a soldier until this war started. And SvL had a successful career in marketing before the war.
What was it like to be in Lviv?
It’s completely possible to imagine that there is no war in Ukraine when you are in Lviv. It feels like a really charming European city with people dining al fresco in cobbled streets. There are air raid warnings and little fuel about, but really, it was possible to imagine that I was on vacation in a lovely city. I will be happy to return there with my family when the war is over. When the Russians have been fucked off back to Russia, I will tour Ukraine not wearing a bulletproof vest and be thrilled to be there.
How did things change in Ukraine since your first trip?
Since my first trip, some Ukrainian people are returning home, if they can, especially to Kyiv. The roadblocks in Kyiv are still up and manned, but they aren’t stopping every car passing. Some people not directly in the ‘red zone’ appear to be more relaxed or less engaged with the war effort. Battle fatigue is a problem for sustained conflicts. Russia hasn’t made swift progress like everyone imagined. And other world leaders pontificate about sending weapons, but they are certainly taking too long to arrive.
What is the mood on the streets in Kyiv?
Business. Not as usual, but there are people there getting on with things. In Kyiv [as compared to Lviv], it feels more like this is a country at war. There are a lot of soldiers about. But maybe the city is 70% back now? Last trip it felt like there was only 30% of people there.
How did your trip influence your perception of Putin’s war in Ukraine?
Like I’ve said, I just can’t believe this was a solution to anything. Putin is just like many power-crazed, insecure men before him.
Borders, nations, countries are all arbitrary lines on maps. We’re all humans. Greed, fear and ignorance is driving so much bad in the world. I despair.
And all I can do is shout at the TV or pick up my camera.
You describe Luca and Mark of World Extreme Medicine (WEM) as well as Pavlov at the children’s hospital in Kyiv as “dudes”. What is a “dude” to you
Ha! You know, after I photographed Jeff Bridges, I realised The Big Lebowski was a documentary about Jeff bridges (THE dude). It’s old language isn’t it? The kid’s don’t use it any more.
To me, it means a good man who I admire. Luca, Mark and Pavlov are pretty much heroes to me. Pavlov is a lovely doctor, and he is paid to look after children but you can tell he REALLY cares for them and that he’s great at what he does.
Luca works really long, hard shifts as an NHS advanced paramedic in England and has a young family, and in his SPARE time (when most people would be sleeping) he is voluntarily and unpaid, putting together aid convoys and traveling to Ukraine to teach soldiers and medics how to stay alive.
What a fucking dude!
And Mark, who founded WEM funds the whole #Medics4Ukraine operation, so 100% of funds raised go to medication and medical equipment.
If these guys and the others involved in WEM didn’t decide to do #medics4ukraine, it wouldn’t exist, and the medicine, equipment and training wouldn’t be there. Anyone who wakes up and goes, “Right. I’m going to use my skills to do something to help people” is a DUDE.
Men of action. Inspirational men with good hearts doing good things for other people. This might NOT relate to Jeff Bridges in or out of The Big Lebowski, but it is how I see Mark, Luca and Pavlov.
Many images and all caption quotes appeared originally on Perou’s blog entries from 7-14 June. Read more about him and his trip to Ukraine at his blog, Perous Secret Diary.
Check out ZOOT’s Perou in Ukraine – Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 for more photos and commentary on his trip.