NPR photographer Claire Harbage shares her experiences of documenting life in Ukraine for the past year, amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
Last January, I visited Ukraine for the first time — before the Russian invasion — and I ended up spending over half of the year there. On numerous trips, I traveled back and forth across the country, covering thousands of miles and getting to know the place and the people. I've worked with incredible teams of local journalists, producers and drivers, photographing the effects of war.
This has given me the time to get to know not only how the war is being waged on the frontlines but how the current conflict has changed the lives of everyday Ukrainians in ways that are economic, cultural, environmental, psychological and personal. I've seen huge challenges for people and covered a lot of heartbreaking stories. But I've also experienced people overcoming those obstacles with resilience.
In the past year, I've seen how the conflict has affected lives in Ukraine and how quickly those effects have spilled over into the rest of the world. I photographed the sudden migration at the beginning of the war — the flood of people who left through Lviv and on to Poland — and I even later followed some to their new homes in Europe and the U.S. And I've photographed the slow return of others as areas have been liberated and as people have grown more accustomed to living in a conflict zone.
I've worked on some really thoughtful stories with amazing NPR reporters, digging into issues involving the environment, education, labor, energy and global trade. The war has changed the lives of Ukrainians, but the strength and resilience that remains as people struggle through this experience has also been a constant part of the story.
When humans are at their worst, waging wars against each other, it's amazing how easy it is to also find humans at their very best at the same time. While covering this conflict, I've seen examples of both of these extremes. I spent days photographing the arduous work of Ukrainian crews exhuming hundreds of bodies from a mass grave site in Izium. And on other days, I was fed meals by shell-shocked grandmothers living in war-damaged apartment buildings who didn't have heat, but nonetheless wanted to share their generosity.
With experiences like these repeating themselves over and over, a year has passed and I'm still returning to Ukraine to keep following the story as it unfolds. And while I've seen the country and the people change from what it was when I first arrived, and I've seen a lot of dark things, I've also found beauty in the place and the people here. There are even moments of joy, as Ukrainians continue to live their lives despite the difficult circumstances.
This story was edited by Emily Bogle and Zach Thompson. Photo editing by Emily Bogle.
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