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"The war tore apart our families, but it cannot separate our hearts"

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

At the start of Russian invasion of Ukraine, Yana, a thirty eight year old lawyer from Kiev, and single mother to 14 year old Sofiia escaped the conflict with their pets, Arnold the cat and Luka the dog. They travelled for two months into the unknown via Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Latvia – picking up a ride in a mini-bus from Poland once they had received their 6 month UK visa. On arrival in the UK, Arnold and Luka were placed in quarantine on the South coast to be reunited with their owners at some point.

On route to the UK - via Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Latvia to pick up a lift in Poland

Clearly fragile the mother and daughter spoke of the experience of leaving everything behind “you think houses and cars matter but when it comes down to it, a warm hat is more important”. They spoke with passion and genuine concern about their pets Arnold and Luka whom they consider to be family. Their ability to find safety did not happen via big charities but from the tightly bonded network of Eastern European friends and family that due to their own circumstances have been spread across the globe “the little friendships and connections we make sooner or later can be life changing” said Jurate their interpreter and also my friend.

My first meeting & photography session with Yana & Sofiia in Ipswich, Suffolk April 2022

Jurate introduced us to one another in late April, a week after they had arrived. I explained that my motivation for taking photographs was to create an image about Ukraine as a part of my Refugee Stories project. The purpose of this project is to express something of the human experience and emotion of being forcibly ejected from your home and everything you know. I hope through continued exhibition, this collaborative project will inform and educate and help create an understanding that, as feeling people we share far more similarities than differences.

Please click on the link to view more of this work.

Sofiia misses her friends very much and shared with me a number of keepsakes, cards and photographs her friends gave her before she left, she continues to receive information with those still there and others that have escaped.

My initial collages

Once I viewed the photos alongside watching the unfolding horror on television and social media, I decided to try and somehow merge both. When I photographed them, I felt the deep connection between mother and daughter and for reasons I hope you understand decided to tear the image. Intially, I physically stuck it to my TV and photographed the news through torn section. I shared these with Yana and Sofiia over Whatsapp who said it was OK to carry on but that the images felt emotional for them. It was through continued trial and error that I finally arrived at an image I felt worked and asked them if they could find words for the image. I contacted Epson UK who again offered their help and I went about bonding the image to OSB - a material used in construction and reconstruction.

"The war tore apart our families, but it cannot separate our hearts". Yana & Sofiia 2022

There had not been an opportunity to exhibit Refugee Stories for 2 years because of the pandemic however, I showed the series again at Weird & Wonderful wood in Suffolk. It was also an opportunity to share the image with Yana too which was emotional for all of us.

We met again at my studio in Stonham Aspal for both to add their words to the piece. We talked at length about how things have been for them and how the reporting of the war on our main stream television is not revealing how the russian forces are advancing in rural areas of Ukraine and the very real fear that the war will not stop advancing further into Europe "Putin is like my cat when he plays with mouse, first he puts his paw on it to see if he is going to be stopped, then he puts another paw on it and waits, then he devours it".

Another major anxiety is that Yana's parents live close to the Donbass region and although they intend to stay, the problem is if they decided to escape, the cost of petrol would prohibit them - it is a terrifying waiting game, communicated via Whatsapp. "we don't watch the news anymore, I hear the news from my parents".

In the meantime, Yana and Sofiia have moved in with a family in Suffolk. Yana has found a job but continues to support her team in Kyiv, to help hand over her responsibilities to the person who has taken on her role. Sofiia has enrolled in a new school and said she had made some new friends and awaits the arrival of her pets and also her Ukrainian friends due to arrive in the UK soon.

Inside Out - Yana and Sofiia's artwork photographed in Suffolk 4-6-22 © Gilllian Allard 22

Thanks to Stan for assisting : )

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