Portrait Ukraine 2023
This is the latest blog from our Portrait Ukraine 2023 series, following the journey of photojournalists Allan Mestel and David Graham through Ukraine and providing a firsthand view of current events on the ground. Through the art of powerful portraiture and personal storytelling, they convey the profound impact of the war in Ukraine—revealing its devastating and harsh reality on individuals. Yet, amidst this, they also uncover inspirational stories of resilience, courage, hope, and the unwavering resolve and spirit of the Ukrainian people. Click here to get the backstory on the Portrait Ukraine 2023 project and to read more from this series.
On Our Way to Kharkiv and the Devastation Up Close
By David Graham
Day 3 Reporting from Kharkiv, Ukraine
I arrived in Kharkiv yesterday, a city that has been through so much in the past year. The city was heavily shelled by Russian forces in the early days of the war, and many buildings were destroyed. But even amid all this destruction, people were starting to rebuild their homes and businesses, but the damage was everywhere.
Discovering Resilience Amidst Hardship
Witnessing these people’s struggles was heart-wrenching. However, amidst the adversity, their strength shone brightly. They shared stories of survival, recounting their experiences during the shelling.
Capturing the Essence Through Photography
Photojournalist Allan, my partner on this journey, captured the essence of the area and its people through his impactful images. His genuine care for those we met was evident. I had the privilege of conducting interviews with several of the people we met, and many of them still had their cherished pets to show us, which was a bright spot during a very difficult day.
Departure with a Heavy Heart and Uplifted Spirit
I left Kharkiv with a heavy heart, but was also uplifted by the indomitable spirit of the people I encountered. Their kindness, openness, and willingness to share their stories left an indelible mark. I am amazed at their resilience and ability to cope with all the difficulties in their lives, prompting reflection on my own circumstances. I left Kharkiv thinking about how incredibly lucky I am to live in the US.
Some facts about Kharkiv:
Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, holds a population of over 1.4 million. It is a major industrial hub and a cultural center in the northeastern part of the country, close to the Russian border. While it bore the brunt of Russian shelling in the early stages of the full-scale invasion, the city has since emerged from the shadows of war, a testament to the resilience that defines its people.