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