In the early spring of 2022, seventeen families unexpectedly arrived at the former Convent of the Annunciata in Abbiategrasso, a well-known town west of Milan, the capital of Lombardy, Italy. The fifty-one people, including fourteen minors, weren’t ordinary people. These were people fleeing the burning cities of Ukraine: Mykolaiv, Kherson, Lviv, Odessa, and Kiev. The refugees also hailed from the Donbass and from the unknown villages close to the Russian border.
They traveled thousands of kilometers to escape the violent bombings and missile strikes. The more affluent set out on their own means of travel to a place of safety and hospitality, while the others completed their journeys instead with public or makeshift transportation.
The operators of “Lule”, a social cooperative that has been operating in the western area of the province of Milan since 1996, having been entrusted in an emergency by the municipal authorities for the assistance of refugees, had to face the arduous mission of caring for people exhausted by the long pilgrimage on the roads of the European Union.
Journalists should avoid preconceived notions on what to expect and document when creating documentary reportage. The story often is not clear until well after you arrive. When, a few days before Christmas, I set foot in the structure that housed Ukrainian refugees, I saw faces looking for hope. These are the images I wanted to focus on and tried to record, step by step, in a visual testimony.
Through the experience living in close contact with these refugees, I had the privilege of touching the nationalist pride of the Ukrainian people first-hand. Through the eyes of the children, I intercepted profound gazes, at times too harsh for the innocence to which they still belong. Contrary to other similar situations which I have experienced over the years in heated areas of the world, I did not catch any sadness in the dialogues conducted in front of the steaming cups of coffee offered to me.
The women never hesitated to show me the photographs and videos saved on their smartphones that portrayed their husbands or boyfriends, engaged in the trenches to repel the Russian enemy. The war that Ukrainians are fighting, whether they like it or not, is a people’s cause. They will fight to the end, without compromise.
As has happened on other occasions, thanks to photography it has been possible to record in history a fragment of life that accompanies man in the third millennium. I made these images so I will not forget. If I hadn’t taken them, the wind would have carried away the memory of these refugees. Despite the diplomatic and supportive efforts made by other countries, the war in Ukraine goes on. Sadly incessantly.
Journalists should learn to turn the page when a reporting mission ends. Detaching yourself from these situations is a must, but it’s not always that easy. I will keep the memories of the moments lived among these people fleeing the war for a long time. I will keep the memories of eyes the color of the sky, searching for a world of peace.
All photographs in this article are credited to Giovanni Mereghetti / UIG.
All images in this article and across the Kaleidoscope blog site are available for licensing. Please contact UIG at email@example.com