This photographer spent two years documenting life for the women forced to leave Ukraine

This photographer spent two years documenting life for the women forced to leave Ukraine - Arts and Culture - News

“Leaving Ukraine: A Photographic Journey of Resilience and New Beginnings”

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky imposed martial law and mobilized conscripts, instigating a prolonged defensive operation. With men aged between 18-60 prohibited from leaving the country, news outlets were inundated with images of women and young children fleeing Ukraine, often accompanied by elderly relatives.

British photographer Polly Braden was among the global audience moved by these distressing images, recognizing their connection to her own work, “Holding the Baby” (2022), which focuses on single parents. Inspired by this correlation and motivated to document the untold stories of these resilient women, she traveled to Moldova in March 2022.

“I wanted to capture what would happen to these women,” Braden shared with News Finder. “They would have to find housing, schooling, and employment to rebuild their lives. And in doing so, they became refugees—teachers, lawyers, pillars of their community suddenly uprooted.”

The resulting project, “Leaving Ukraine,” is an ongoing exhibition at the Foundling Museum in London, showcasing the experiences of six women Braden encountered during her time in Moldova: Lena, a law graduate; pregnant mother Anya; school friends Sofiia, Aliesia, and Yuliia; and Narine, who fled Ukraine with her children and a close friend.

Braden’s commitment to these women’s stories goes beyond their individual narratives. By exploring their new lives in countries like Italy, Poland, and the UK, she offers a poignant reflection of the communities they have joined. According to UNHCR reports, as of November 12, 2023, Moldova has welcomed over 973,000 Ukrainian refugees and more than 120,000 third-country nationals since the invasion. Of these, over 114,000 have chosen to remain in Moldova.

“I thought I’d meet people in a country and document their progress,” Braden revealed, “but none of them have settled; they’ve had to move because they couldn’t find work or housing, or struggled to enroll their children in school.”

Collaborative in nature, “Leaving Ukraine” offers an intimate glimpse of the women’s lives, featuring both still photography and moving images. From private moments in their homes to candid shots on public transport, Braden’s work captures the complex realities of starting anew amidst adversity.

Braden’s dedication to these women and their families extends beyond the lens, as she emphasizes the importance of understanding individual stories in shaping broader policies. “If we don’t look at the details,” she concluded, “decisions are made without consideration for those most affected.”

Polly Braden’s exhibition “Leaving Ukraine” is open at the Foundling Museum in London until September 1, 2024.