Philly photographer documents Ukrainian refugee crisis

Ada Trillo, whose work hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, chronicled the journey 7 million Ukrainians made this spring.

Borodyanka, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022

Ada Trillo

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As a photographer, I have spent the past seven years documenting the exodus of refugees from their homelands to host countries. I’ve chronicled Honduran caravans fleeing gang violence in Mexico, and Mexicans enduring brutality on the US border.

My work follows the journeys refugees take when forced to leave their home countries, with an emphasis on how the events they escape create a stacked set of circumstances as they wind their way to safety. These are photos of sacrifice and danger, of resilience and spurts of kindness.

This mission is what led me to Ukraine as the Russian invasion sparked the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Upwards of 7 million Ukrainians fled their country in close to a hundred days this spring, the Russian forces turned cities to dust.

When I arrived in Przemysl, a Polish town near the border, on May 30, I was struck by how Ukrainian the refugees were treated with kindness upon arrival, receiving free coffee and meals as soon as they arrived.

Along with Poland, other European Union nations granted sanctuary to Ukrainian refugees, which allowed them to move freely and access health care, work permits, and education. This treatment was in sharp contrast to the reluctant, slow process for refugees entering the United States from the Mexican border.

From Przemysl, I headed to Lviv, Ukraine, and then Kyiv, which became my home base as I ventured into Irpin, Bucha, and Chernihiv — cities where Russian forces committed mass civilian executions, torture, and rape.

As I traversed those war-torn streets, I would see people cooking outside on portable gas stoves or campfires. They would often beckon and draw their hands to their mouths to mime asking me if I was hungry. The idea that kindness in its purest form could exist among all the pain, suffering, and violence comforted me.

When I headed back from Lviv to Poland, every available seat on the bus was used by the women and children fleeing the conflict. We waited 4 hours at the border for inspection and processing, but once we set foot in Poland, we were greeted by the sight of mobile kitchens staffed by volunteers from across the globe, a very different scenario from what the Central American refugees experience upon arriving in the US

My photographs show the sacrifices made to arrive at a safe land and the dangers faced on the journey to get there.

Irpin, Kyiv Oblast Ukraine, April 9, 2022. The charred remains of a Russian tank.
Ada Trillo
Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 8, 2022. At the Bucha cemetery, morgue workers unload the bodies of civilians killed during the siege of Bucha.  Bucha, just outside of Kyiv, was one of the worst hit cities and the scene of mass graves and probable war crimes.
Ada Trillo
Lviv, Ukraine April 3, 2022. Anxious residents travel on public transport in the city of Lviv.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv Oblast, Ukraine.  April 6, 2022. The bombed out remains of a house in beleaguered northern city of Chernhiv .
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. Firefighters and volunteers engage in the harrowing search for bodies under the rubble of residential buildings destroyed during the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. A firefighter takes a pause in the recovery of victims under the rubble of residential buildings destroyed during the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Ada Trillo
A street in Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 8, 2022. The aftermath of a battle between the Russian and Ukrainian armies.
Ada Trillo
Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 7, 2022. An exhausted child remains outside a residential apartment complex.  Hundreds of families lost their homes during the war and were left on the streets.
Ada Trillo
Irpin, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 5, 2022. A member of the Ukrainian civil resistance patrols the streets of Irpin after the Russian bombardment.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. A deep trench resulting from a Russian missile in the Chernigiv stadium.
Ada Trillo
Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 10, 2022. Ukrainian government personnel retrieved bodies buried in a mass grave in the backyard of a church in Bucha for forensic examination of war crimes.
Ada Trillo
Przemyśl, Poland April 1,2022.  Jana, eighteen years old, is heading on the train from Przemysl to Lviv so she can work and send money to her family dela in Poland.
Ada Trillo
Przemyśl, Poland April 1,2022.  Safe in Poland, exhausted Ukrainian refugees wait inside the Przemysl train station.
Ada Trillo
Przemyśl, Poland April 1,2022.  The long wait in Poland.  A young Ukrainian girl marks time inside the train station.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Volunteers work in what used to be a pizzeria and now serves as one of the centers helping the war victims in the town of Chernihiv.
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. Firefighters and volunteers search for bodies under the rubble of residential buildings destroyed during the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. The grim search for bodies.  Firefighters and volunteers climb through the rubble of residential buildings in search of bodies.
Ada Trillo
Bucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 8, 2022. A serious makeshift in the courtyard of a house.
Ada Trillo
Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 8, 2022. The remains of a tank of the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Ada Trillo
Hostomel, Kyiv Oblast, April 5, 2022. The Russians attacked a central international cargo facility in Ukraine close to the Antonov Airport.
Ada Trillo
Hostomel, Kyiv Oblast, April 5, 2022. A civilian observes the remains of the largest plane in the world destroyed by the war between Russia and Ukraine at the Antonov Airport.
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. A group of elderly residents prepared food on the street because they lost their homes in the war.  Borodyanka was hit particularly hard by Russian attacks, suffering the most massive destruction of any town in the Kyiv region.
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. The food supply of a group of elderly residents who lost their homes because of the war.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. A Ukrainian military tank circulates in the streets of Chernihiv during the war between Russia and Ukraine
Ada Trillo
Borodyanka, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine.  April 9, 2022. A group of elderly residents prepared food on the street because they lost their homes in the war.  Borodyanka was hit particularly hard by Russian attacks, suffering the most massive destruction of any town in the Kyiv region.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Volunteers work in a former pizzeria that now serves as one of the centers helping the war victims in the town of Chernihiv.  On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, marking 119 days of the war.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Volunteers and Ukrainian officials work in what used to be a pizzeria and now serves as one of the centers helping the war victims in the town of Chernihiv.  On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, marking 119 days of the war.
Ada Trillo
Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Volunteers work in what used to be a pizzeria and now serves as one of the centers helping the war victims in the town of Chernihiv.  On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, marking 119 days of the war.
Ada Trillo
The founder of the help center Iskra Dobra in Chernihiv, Oblast, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Volunteers work in what used to be a pizzeria and now serves as one of the centers helping the war victims in the town of Chernihiv.  On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine, marking 119 days of the war.
Ada Trillo
Medyka, Poland, on the Ukrainian border.  March 30, 2022. Food center for refugees arriving in Poland.
Ada Trillo

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