Behind the Lens: An Exclusive Interview with Allan Mestel

Spotlight Ukraine’s Christine Mariconda recently caught up with Allan Mestel, seasoned photojournalist and historical photographer, about his next trip to Ukraine. Having covered his first three journeys extensively, we’re eager to delve into his upcoming plans and the organization he’s partnering with for this trip, United Help Ukraine.

    Partnering with United Help Ukraine

    For his upcoming trip, Mestel is collaborating with United Help Ukraine (UHU), a registered 501(c)(3) charity formed in 2014 by people who met at Washington DC rallies and other events in support of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in 2014.

    The mission of UHU is to provide the people of Ukraine with critical support that will enable them to survive in the face of adversity, to defend and regain their sovereign territory, and to rebuild and thrive well into the future. UHU is committed to maximizing the impact of charitable contributions that support humanitarian, medical, and psychological assistance to those affected by Russian aggression. UHU also raises awareness and advocates for Ukraine’s freedom, democracy, and independence.

    United Help Ukraine aims to be a leading voice and partner, working diligently alongside Ukrainian people and institutions so the nation and its people can heal and remain free, democratic, and independent. Since the start of the full-scale invasion, UHU has provided 63.8 M of aid to support Ukraine.

    United Help Ukraine is sponsoring much of Allan’s journey and has organized an interpreter named Stas, who is experienced in working with major news outlets. Allan will be traveling with Stas and documenting various programs organized by United Help Ukraine. These programs cover a wide range of activities, including assisting wounded soldiers, combat medic training, delivering supplies to frontline defenders, providing therapy for those
    suffering from PTSD, supporting orphanages, and aiding in the rehabilitation of injured children. With over 40 different programs, United Help Ukraine touches on various critical areas to address the diverse needs of Ukraine’s civilian and military populations affected by the war.

    Allan’s mission will focus on capturing the essence of these programs through reportage-style photography and individual portraits of key personnel, volunteers, and aid workers—the unsung heroes of the war. By visually documenting the activities and the faces behind them, he aims to capture something of the nation’s soul amidst its struggle.

    “United Help Ukraine’s programs cover a wide spectrum of support for Ukraine,” Mestel explains. “From wounded warrior projects to combat medic training, they’re actively involved in many critical areas.”

    UHU Supporting Defenders

    Ukraine Patriot: On the Front Lines of Humanitarian Aid

    Mestel will also be documenting the work of Ukrainian Patriot at the end of his journey, another exceptional nonprofit organization that plays a crucial role in delivering supplies, including weapons, boots, uniforms, and food, to those on the front lines. Their last-mile efforts ensure that essential resources reach the first-line defenders, often at significant personal risk.

    “These organizations are the unsung heroes of Ukraine,” Mestel emphasizes. “Their dedication and sacrifice deserve recognition, even if they don’t seek it.”

    In addition to showcasing the organizations’ efforts, Allan will continue his Portrait Ukraine project, photographing the individuals affected by the war. Through these portraits, he seeks to humanize the war, offering a glimpse into the lives of those caught in its turmoil.

    Motivations and Reflections

    Mestel’s commitment to Ukraine stems from a profound sense of injustice and solidarity with its people. He sees Ukraine as a nation striving to define itself amidst external pressures, and he feels compelled to support its struggle to preserve its independence and sovereignty.

    “I just find myself becoming immersed in the injustice of what’s happening to Ukraine,” Mestel shares. “It’s a brave nation standing up to a gigantic bully, and I’ve always hated bullies in every aspect of life.”

    Reflecting on his past journeys to Ukraine, Mestel recalls moments of heartbreak and disbelief, such as visiting a hospital in Serhiivka where he photographed graduate students who survived a devastating missile strike, many of whom were disfigured during the attack, and his journey to Izyum where he witnessed a mass grave of 449 people who were murdered during the Russian invasion in the city; they are buried in the mass grave site with many unidentified. These experiences serve as a constant reminder of the atrocities being committed and the ongoing suffering endured by the Ukrainian people. These memories compell Allan to continue his work to document the truth of what is happening in Ukraine.

    Mass Grave in Izyum

    As he prepares for his next journey, Mestel acknowledges the risks involved but remains steadfast in his commitment to documenting Ukraine’s struggle. For him, the heartbreak of leaving is equivalent to the heartbreak of not going; he sees his work as a means of keeping the world’s attention on Ukraine’s plight.

    Final Thoughts Before His Journey

    As Mestel gears up for his trip, he urges everyone to remember Ukraine and its ongoing struggle. Despite the shifting focus of global attention to other places in the world such as Gaza, the situation in Ukraine remains dire. “Just because it’s not making headlines doesn’t mean it’s not still happening,” Mestel emphasizes. “Ukraine needs our support now more than ever.”

    Coverage of Allan’s Journey and United Help Ukraine

    During Allan’s travels in Ukraine, we will cover his journey closely and highlight the impactful work of United Help Ukraine and Ukrainian Patriot. Stay tuned for updates on Allan’s continued journey and insights into the ongoing efforts to support Ukraine’s resilience in the face of war.

    How You Can Help

    United Help Ukraine Logo

    Your support can make a difference!

    Please consider contributing to United Help Ukraine, dedicated to providing critical support to the people of Ukraine, enabling them to survive, defend their sovereignty, and rebuild for a better future. Learn more about United Help Ukraine here: https://unitedhelpukraine.org/