Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, more than 10 million people have been displaced, including 3.7 million refugees abroad and 6.5 million Ukrainians who have left their homes to seek safety elsewhere in the country. The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, uses the term Internally Displaced People, or IDP for short. It refers to all Ukrainians who find themselves sleeping temporarily at friends, relatives, in humanitarian centers, schools, gymnasiums, churches, or other public places designated to receive them. Most of the time in the west of the country, away from the bombs, where also the war seems more distant.
The west of Ukraine is precisely the region that photographer Ismail Ferdous, special correspondent for Blind, has chosen to cover for the last 3 weeks. In Chop, a small town of 9000 inhabitants, in the Transcarpathian oblast, near the Slovakian and Hungarian borders and 642 km away from Kyiv, the inhabitants welcome relatives, friends and acquaintances. Some come for a few days, to rest and go further west, others stay longer.
The city hall, with the support of educational institutions and local volunteers, has set up shelters for temporarily displaced people in the school and kindergarten, each of which can accommodate about 200 people. According to the mayor of Chop, during the 3 weeks of the war, the population of their community has increased by 1.5 times.
A kind of rotation takes place every day. Families have to say goodbye: while women with children and the elderly have the opportunity to leave for countries members of the European Union, men between 18 and 60 years old have to stay to defend their country, waiting to be mobilized, and join the front.
A few kilometers away is the village of Kontsovo. And its school, also requisitioned to accommodate those in need of a home. As soon as the war broke out, the education department called the students to warn them to stay at home and prepare the premises for the refugees.
The school has a kitchen, but no cooks. So the city council is using food services, a food supply rethought from scratch. “Everything I’m doing now, I’m doing for the first time. It’s nothing like the work we did before the war,” the director explained. On this day, 65 people are housed at the school. They have three meals a day. The school teacher leads classes for the refugee children, they learn poems and songs, the teacher films them and sends the recordings to the soldiers on the front line.
That’s where Ismail Ferdous found a stage, with curtains in the colors of Ukraine. This place, usually used for children’s shows, takes on a symbolic meaning, and becomes the scene of a series of photographs. The 10 groups of people that the photographer has made pose have 10 different stories, and their portraits reveal as many feelings. Fear, disbelief, but also pride and determination. These are the Ukrainians, where they are, as they are.
A family, from Chernihiv.
Volodymyr, Olga, Yaroslav, Yegor Belkovy, and Olga’s sister, Halyna Sydorko with her son Maxym. On the first day of the Russian attack, they packed their bags and headed west, realizing that the farther from the border with Russia the safer. They traveled for 7 days, spent the nights in dormitories, refugee shelters and basements. Eventually, they ended up at the school in the small village of Kontsovo, in Transcarpathia. They currently plan to stay here, while it is safe, warm, and there is enough food. Volodymyr registered with the military enlistment office and is waiting for further orders.
Boguslava Borysenko, with her son Ilya and sister Sviatoslava, from Kyiv.
They arrived at the school on March 10. In Kyiv, they spent their time in the basement, hid from the explosions, and were very afraid. They arrived by train and the volunteers at the station sent them to the school. They plan to go abroad since it is safer there, but they still do not know where.
Kovrak Anhelina and Zhenya, from Kyiv.
The have been living in a refugee shelter school for two weeks. They decided to leave when the neighboring house burned down. Kovrak tried to get into the territorial defense unit in Kyiv but the unit was full. His brothers are fighting on the front line. He has a “white ticket” and a certificate from the military enlistment office in Uzhhorod. They are thinking of going to Slovakia “to find their own place” and a job that would support themselves. Before the war, Kovrak worked in IT, Zhenya did not work.
A family, from Kharkiv.
Anya and Tanya, two sisters, with their mother Valya and children Vova, Misha, and Masha. They left Kharkiv on March 6. The father serves in the Ukrainian armed forces and told his family to leave as the city was heavily shelled then. They got to the shelter by train and bus. There was no light or heating in the train, there were crowds at the stations, chaos, and several times they almost got lost. In Kharkiv, the son with a disability was not allowed on the train, and his grandmother got lost at the train station, but was found later. They did not have a place to spend the night in Lviv, with a lot of people everywhere. They found a tent where they could keep warm, but they could only get the children in, as there was not enough space for everyone. They then reached Transcarpathia while standing on a train and got to the school in Kontsovo. They will try to stay here for as long as possible and are incredibly grateful for the warmth and comfort. They try to be helpful, volunteer and are looking for work.
A family, from Izyum.
Natalia and Evhen, with their children Anhelina and Maxym, and their mother Valentina (not in the picture). They arrived on March 10. They packed the things promptly, under fire. Nothing was packed in advance. “No one could believe that this could happen,” they said. They forgot many important things, including passports. They got there by car, it was difficult to find petrol and accommodation. They spent the nights in the car or on the floor in kiosks, on mats, in the cold. They say they were lucky to leave, the next day the bridges were blown up. They still contact relatives and friends in Izyum. The city dwellers have been without heating and water supply for 2 weeks now. Their town is small, only 40 000 people live there, but it is cozy and quiet. Natalia was the art school director. They do not know where to go next, they may need to go abroad, but they do not want to leave their father, and the grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease. There is nowhere to return. The father is currently volunteering to drive and transport refugee families to the border. So far, they are warm and relatively safe.
A grandmother with her grandson, from Kyiv.
They arrived by train on March 11, and the volunteers at the station directed them to the school. The boy’s mother and father stayed in Kyiv. His father is a volunteer, and his mother worked at the post office. Explosions are often heard in Kyiv, and the boy, who has a disability since birth, “deeply perceived the situation and was very afraid.” They have no further plans. The grandmother is retired, the boy went to a specialized school and now he studies with the other children. They learn songs with the teacher, who records them and sends them to the soldiers in the East.
Vika and Denys Borovski, and their 9-year-old Nikita, from Kyiv.
Denys worked as a middle manager; Vika was a stay-at-home spouse. They decided to run away when the explosions came close and have been living at the school for more than a week now. They got to Uzhhorod by train, and there the volunteers sent them there. Denys must enroll in the military enlistment office. Vika is thinking of going abroad with her son. She is afraid that her husband will be taken to war.
Roman, from Chernihiv.
He, his wife, and their son spent the first week of the war in Chernihiv at home. Explosions became more frequent; a bomb fell 150 meters away from the house and destroyed a cinema. That is when they realized it was time to go. They traveled by car, stopping at night, and picked up a grandmother who was on vacation with his sister’s kids in the Carpathians. On March 9, they all came to school together, spent the night there and went to the border, planning to go to Budapest and then to Munich. Roman said that he was registered in the Sharpe 3D application and he received a letter from them offering help. He replied and Sharp 3D organized a place to stay for them. In a few days he plans to return to Chernihiv to pick up his mother and grandmother and send them to his father in Paris.
Karina Syabro with her children Karina and Zhenya, 4 and 7 years old, from Izyum.
The family hid from shelling in the basements, first at their neighbors’ and then in their own. The younger girl was able to sleep and the elder one was sitting with her mother all the time and could hear everything: planes flying over the houses, shootings, explosions. She says the walls in the basement were shaking. They spent the last 2 days, when shelling was heavy, in the church. Karina couldn’t stand it; she told her husband that she was afraid of something happening to the children and so they got in the car and left. They left under fire, were afraid, bent down in the car. Ukrainian soldiers told them which way to go was safer. They became short of fuel quickly, and all gas stations had no gas anymore. Eventually, they ran out of fuel in the middle of a field. Karina was standing on the road and crying, asking passing cars to help. One car stopped and pulled their car to the nearest town – Lozova, where they left the car and boarded a train. They spent the night at a bus station. A volunteer drove them to the school from Lviv in his car. The day after they left, Karina’s mother called and said that Russian tanks were driving through the streets, and that acquaintances who were trying to leave were shot. They haven’t been able to contact any relatives for more than a week. They don’t know what to do next. Karina’s husband is helping others and volunteers, while she stays with the children. They plan to stay there so far, as long as it is safe.
Alina Lyakh, and her children Diana and Damir, from Kharkiv.
She, her husband (not in the picture), and their children arrived on March 3. In Kharkiv, they hid from airstrikes in the basement, from where they immediately rushed to the train station without even packing things. The station was crowded. In the panic, the elder boy was dragged onto the train, and the others were left on the platform. Alina started screaming, and by chance, they were all together dragged inside the train car. There were 15 people in the compartment, it was impossible to sleep, the children fell ill. Alina’s husband came to the school with them, helped them to settle down, and returned to Kharkiv to get their belongings and a car. Alina still doesn’t know what to do next. She is very afraid that her husband will be taken to the war, and that she will be left with two small children. If her husband is drafted, she will go abroad.