The Portrait Ukraine 2023 Project: Day 1

By David Graham
Reporting from Ukraine

Getting to Kyiv is more than a physical journey—it’s a voyage of human resilience, solidarity, and an incredible opportunity to shed light on the stories of the Ukrainian people.

The initial leg of my journey was a pleasant four-hour car ride. The real journey began as I boarded a 12-hour LOT Airlines flight from Miami to Warsaw. Just as we were set to jet off, a slight twist: a security issue required us to wait while bags were unloaded and checked. While the two-hour delay had the potential to sour moods, the collective patience and camaraderie among passengers was heartwarming. We shared travel stories, snacks, and even a few laughs, reminding each other that hiccups like these are merely footnotes in greater adventures.

Once we were up in the sky, the flight crew went above and beyond to lift spirits. Their diligent service and attention to detail turned what could have been an average flight into a memorable experience. Landing in Warsaw, I felt optimistic about the next phase of my journey: a 14-hour train ride to Kyiv. With Ukraine’s airspace closed due to the ongoing war, land routes are currently the only way in.


The train ride itself was an unexpected lesson in patience and history. The six-hour wait at the Poland-Ukraine border could easily have been frustrating. Yet it became a moment for reflection and conversation with fellow passengers. The technical reason for the delay was the need to change the train’s gauge to match Ukraine’s broader tracks—a historical vestige designed to safeguard against invading armies. It’s a relic of a bygone era that felt sharply relevant given the current conflict. Still, this stretch of waiting time gave me pause to appreciate the depth of the region’s history and the resilience of its people.

Finally, in Kyiv, I was greeted by an unusually warm sun—a staggering 35°C. It was as if the city was defying the circumstances, glowing fiercely in the face of adversity. The last two summers have been hotter and hotter here, and many places, including the train, had limited or no air-conditioning. The summer weather is due to break soon and start to cool off, but even this far north, you can see the effects of global warming even here.

The day culminated at the Ukraine Media Center. Registering there and meeting colleagues who will journey with me into the war-torn regions was uplifting. It reinvigorated my commitment to journalism and reminded me why I endured this journey: to help amplify the stories of the Ukrainian people. Tomorrow we make detailed plans and confirm schedules. Then we head toward the warzone to capture these important stories and images so people don’t forget why it is so important to continue support for Ukraine.

Press Center, Kyiv, Ukraine
Photojournalist Allan Mestel

The war has deeply impacted the lives of countless Ukrainians, changing the tapestry of their daily existence. I aim to serve as a conduit for their voices, letting the world know of their resilience, struggles, and hopes. For me, every hurdle in getting here was worth it because it brought me one step closer to fulfilling that mission.

Despite the heat, the waits, and the challenges, my spirit is not dampened; it’s fueled by the mission ahead. In the end, we do more than survive these journeys; we are shaped by them, propelling us ever forward toward the stories that need to be told. Because ultimately, we all are part of a larger narrative—one of hope, unity, and the indomitable human spirit.