Award-winning photographer's powerful images of ordinary lives in war torn Ukraine go on show in Kraków
An exhibition of photographs showing Russia’s war in Ukraine through the eyes of ordinary Ukrainians has opened on Kraków's market square.
Over 90 photos by award-winning photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz focus on the emotions of ordinary people.
In the photographs at the International Culture Center, viewers will not see blood, destruction or burnt-out Russian tanks, but the stories of people living in the face of war.
Many of Mielnikiewicz’s photographs show people who, after much personal drama, managed to escape from Mariupol.
The photograph ‘Kiss’ is the centrepiece of the exhibition and shows a husband and wife crying with happiness.
Oleksandr and his wife had just arrived in Zaporizhia from Mariupol with their daughter, son and their pets – a dog and a rabbit.
“It was the first moment when all the fear and emotion subsided. They were drinking coffee,” Mielnikiewicz recalled at the exhibition opening on Friday.
“Oleksandr's wife suddenly gave him a kiss and they froze in an embrace. After a moment I asked Oleksandr if it was their first kiss in freedom. His wife answered: yes, the first."
Exhibition curator Monika Rydiger said: “These are ordinary people who were suddenly caught up in Russia's aggressive policies, and their lives turned upside down.
We show dramatic moments, such as funerals, but we also try to bring out something positive.”
The exhibition includes not only photographs from recent months, but also images from the photographer's earlier album Ukraine Runs Through It, which shows events, people and their stories from 2014 to 2019.
Rather than focusing on soldiers and their equipment, the protagonists of the exhibition are mainly civilians: women, children, refugees, volunteers.
“I am a kind of mirror that I apply to these people. I try to catch a private moment, a moment of their private emotion, and reflect it in a photograph. When I meet people, I feel along with them, I feel their pain, their loss,” said Mielnikiewicz.
The photos are displayed not only traditionally on the walls, but also as large-format panels and translucent fabrics, which allow visitors to get closer and move around the exhibits.
The exhibition is organized not only by the date and place of the photographs. Geographical coordinates are given as well as arrows and maps arranged on the floor to help visitors find their way around.
They suggest troop movements on maps and movements of internal refugees and escapees.
Mielnikiewicz, a Polish photographer permanently residing in Tbilisi since 2003, has been photographing areas affected by war for many years.
Her work has been published internationally by The New York Times, Newsweek, Le Monde, Stern, National Geographic and Wall Street Journal.
She is a winner of World Press Photo, the Canon Female Photojournalist Prize and the Caucasus Young Photographer Award by the Magnum Foundation.
In 2014, her first Book was released: Woman with a Monkey - Caucasus in Short Notes and Photographs. In 2019, her second book: Ukraine Runs Through It, was shortlisted among 20 best books by Paris Photo and Aperture.
‘In Ukraine. Justyna Mielnikiewicz’ can be seen from September 2 to November 6 on the patio of the International Cultural Center at Rynek Główny 25.