Ukraine calling

Perou in Ukraine: June – part three

"Perhaps my photos of these places are just shadows"


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

On your blog, you refer to your “need” to go to Ukraine. What is it that is drawing you back?

Yes, it feels like a “need”, like as a photographer I have a “need” to make photographs every day.
I am compelled to return to Ukraine to do whatever I can with my limited skills, because I feel like the war is a great injustice. It didn’t need to happen. Putin and Russia’s actions are simply wrong, and it feels unacceptable to me that in this supposed age of civilisation, this barbaric action could be considered. Little man Putin feels like a bully, and bullies need to be stood up to.
I’m not a fighter (I’m a lover, baby) but I do feel like if Ukraine were my country and these were my people, I would pick up a gun to defend my family. So, is my camera my weapon? I don’t think so. I am not using my eyes to attack: I’m more interested in rebalancing the bullshit, propaganda and stupidity displayed over the Internet. People telling me the bodies lying in the street in Bucha were actors playing dead is almost as offensive as there being dead bodies in the street in Bucha.
The battle for the truth has to be fought.
Some people have commented that I am ‘brave’ for going to Ukraine, which I am uncomfortable with because I am definitely not brave. There are brave people risking their lives for others: people going to rescue trapped civilians in the middle the fighting, soldiers prepared to risk their lives for their country and country-people. So many stories of bravery coming out of Ukraine now. The risk I place myself in is low. There is more risk than me staying at home and doing nothing. But staying at home gets nothing done.



Apartment block bombed by the Russians in Hostomel. “Two of the soldiers [who participated in the WEM training], Andreii and Yurii, who were both students a couple of months ago, offer to tour us around Hostomel, Bucha and Irpin city, where, if you’ve seen any news recently, you will know was the location of many hideous war crimes and the horrifying torture, rape and murder of civilians.”
“In Hostomel, where the Russians tried to take over the airport early on, we met people making scrim nets for camouflage.”


Scrim net still life: a trailer with a Ukrainian sticker.


Scrim net up close. “Burberry.”


“Even though I am here, it’s hard to imagine how frightening this felt just a couple of months ago when the Russians were here, and the sounds that were heard. I’m frustrated that my pictures feel like still lifes: they’re almost silent. There needs to be the most catastrophic terrifying screams and explosions tearing through these images, like shrapnel through bodies.”


Another view of the bombed apartment block in Hostomel.

When talking about photographing in Ukraine on your blog, you said, “I’m frustrated that my pictures feel like still lifes: they’re almost silent.” This is such a poignant statement. Can you speak further on this?

I have a strong sense that the photos I am producing in these places, where there have been fierce battles and horrors happening, do not—and cannot—communicate eloquently what happened there.
I used to say of all my photos: “they’re just residual traces of where I’ve been, what I’ve done and who I’ve met”. And I suppose this is still true, but I am frustrated because I feel I should be able to produce pictures that help people understand what it was like to be there then. Not now.
I’m working through it, but maybe it’s a limitation of photography that I can’t fix. We can only photograph what we can see.
Probably the only way is to be there then, in the middle of the horror, photographing it as it’s happening. Perhaps my photos of these places are just shadows?


“T-64. Sadly, this is a Ukrainian tank.”
Art found among the destruction in Hostomel.

How was it being in Hostomel, Bucha and Irpin, knowing what had happened there from the media? What did you feel while walking around?

Following in Bono’s footsteps, and at the same time as an (apparently) famous Georgian singer was touring there, three days before Macron and co., it occurred to us that we didn’t want to be “war tourists”. But I think it’s really important to see these places and scenes with our own eyes, and photograph them for the people who can’t see them with their own eyes.
I have a dear friend in Tokyo who shocked me the other day saying, “if YOU tell me it’s true I will believe you, but I won’t believe the mainstream news here.” I believe we should bear witness to what we have seen and to try to rebalance the lies about what happened there.
Maybe first-person accounts are more trusted than news networks. But I personally believe there is trustworthy news available to us: especially when it isn’t state-owned.
Seeing these places for ourselves also helps us contextualise what we are doing in Ukraine [with WEM]. These pictures of places and horror also contextualise the portraits of people I met.

A bombed supermarket in Hostomel.


Piles of shattered glass outside the supermarket in Hostomel.


A destroyed billboard stands mangled against the sky.


The exterior of a gas station bombed by the Russians.


Another view of the destroyed gas station.


The cafe at the gas station.


A different view of the gas station.


Destroyed glass factory in Hostomel.


A quiet street in Hostomel.


Hostomel dog.



Destroyed apartment block in Irpin.


EU flag hung from a bombed out window in Irpin.


Another destroyed apartment block in Irpin.


The entrance to the Central House of Culture in Irpin. “The Russians came in and deliberately destroyed the cultural centre here. They are deliberately trying to erase Ukrainians and their culture. And the Russians claim Ukrainians are ‘Nazis’. It’s beyond ironic.”


Statue outside the Central House of Culture, which was one of the first cultural centers built after World War II.


Close up of damage to the exterior of the House of Culture.


The staircase lined with rubble inside the Central House of Culture.


Inside the Central House of Culture, where the roof was destroyed.


The football pitch next to the Central House of Culture in Irpin.


Close up of the damage from a bomb dropped at the football pitch.


A destroyed private residence in Irpin.


A bombed pharmacy in Irpin.


Another destroyed residence in Irpin.


Car window shattered by a bomb blast on a residential street in Irpin.


More destruction in Irpin. “This was the bowling alley.”



Destroyed shopping center in Bucha.


Bombed sporting goods store in Bucha.


We’re concerned, as we cross paths with a famous Georgian singer and her security detail, on a similar tour of Bucha and Irpin, that we are ‘war tourists’ but I think it’s really important to see these things for ourselves: it gives us the context and motivation for doing what we are doing and being in Ukraine at this time, and the people here want to show us what has happened. We need to bear witness we need to try and address all the idiots that rant online about this all being staged: that the corpses on the streets in Bucha were actors playing dead. And it’s not over; the war is raging ferociously on the east and south and could return here, too. Russia MUST be stopped.


“This was the bridge the Ukrainian army blew, which kept the Russians from advancing to Kyiv. Bucha is so close to Kyiv: they got just 15 miles away.”


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

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 1, Part 2 and Part 4 for more photos and commentary on his trip.


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