Warsaw photographer reveals intensely moving portraits of the women and children who have fled Ukraine
As refugee numbers continue to swell with each passing day, personal stories have become almost lost in the unrelenting blur of suffering.
But now a Warsaw-based photojournalist has shifted the focus back to the individuals with a series of intensely moving portraits of the women that have fled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Having first published his pictures on his Facebook page, Aleksander Majdański then posted 18 of these images to Bored Panda last week.
Since viewed over 50,000 times, they have struck a powerful chord with users through their heartbreaking tenderness.
Speaking to TFN, Majdański said: “Since the war began, I started photographing what was happening in Warsaw – that is, the influx of refugees. The sight though of people sleeping in train stations or gathered at refugee points was both incredibly sad and also horrifying. I felt I had to show these people a little differently, rather than looking exhausted and terrified.”
To do so, Majdański opted to photograph willing subjects in their new homes. “I had the idea to look for women who had already found somewhere to live; a huge number of Poles have opened their doors to welcome Ukrainians, so I felt it would be interesting to capture these refugees in a more settled environment – inside places where they could shelter and feel safely removed from the nightmare of the war.”
Taken largely in the satellite towns and villages outside of the Polish capital, the image evoke a range of emotions and are defined by their sincerity and sensitivity.
In one picture, a tearful 35-year-old mother clasps her daughter tightly. Just seven-years old, the child’s eyes gaze hauntingly at the camera; in another, a 36-year-old female looks on sadly as she holds a picture of her daughter and husband.
Unaccompanied by any captions other than the person’s name, age and city of origin, viewers are left to guess each individual back story. Looking bewildered, some women appear dazed, as if unable to comprehend their new reality.
But amid the darkness, there is also defiance, stoicism and resilience – there is even laughter.
Though looking pale and shaken, one woman lovingly holds her cat and dog tightly to her chest, her bond with her pets only strengthened through the trauma of the times; as if wiping away tears of joy, we see 25-year-old Myroslava grinning broadly; elsewhere, with the hint of a gentle smile, 16-year-old Maria cradles a bunch of tulips as if oblivious to the brutal madness of her circumstances.
And then there is 40-year-old Olga. Dressed in a smart blouse, and sporting a wide, carefree laugh, at first glance you would presume she had just left her office – not her country.
“As a photographer, I always focus on human emotions as that’s the most important thing to depict in a portrait,” says Majdański. “With this series, I wanted to demonstrate that despite the horror they had experienced, these people could still smile.”
Yet perhaps most striking of all are Majdański’s images of the children that have fled: dressed in a Peppa Pig jumper, 3-year-old Jarina clowns around for the camera, whilst five-year-old Katia grips onto her treasured toy unicorn.
“We can relate to these women and children, and I think that’s why people have reacted to these pictures in the way that they have – they could be our daughters, or mothers or sisters,” says Majdański.
“I think, also, the pictures have resonated with the public because this war is so close to us as Europeans. This is an absolute nightmare, and if we do not stop it now then it may spread even further.”