In lieu of a thousand words, I spent the last year taking thousands of pictures of Ukraine and its people under fire. I took them in the field alongside war crimes investigators and military intelligence units, while I was teaching law at Taras Shevchenko University.
I began to take them in greater earnest, as if Ukraine’s existence depended on it, when Fox News started saturating the airwaves with disinformation and elected public officials like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tommy Tuberville grew emboldened to parrot Kremlin-sponsored narratives.
My first impulse was to photograph physical destruction, but grew hardened to the sight of ruins and rubble, and began searching for less obvious images, for which the broken bridges—such as the one Americans all saw on TV, demolished to stop the Russian advance at Irpin--are a metaphor.
Broken Bridge at Irpin the Monument to the Refugees captured on the nightly news fleeing from the Russian invasion.
That includes the story I heard over and over in the country formerly intermingled with Russia as part of the Soviet Union. I am talking, for example, about Oleksandra in Kyiv, who can no longer speak to her sister Vlada in Moscow because Vlada agrees with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. She believes the Russian state’s TV propaganda line that Ukraine is ruled by Nazis who threaten Russia as a NATO proxy rather than her own sister.It is a story familiar to Americans who can no longer hold a family conversation at the dinner table without arguing whether Trump is the country’s savior or Putin’s puppet. I did, however, try to photograph the yearning to bridge these gaps, as Ukrainians carrying on with weddings and high school graduation processions, trying to lead normal lives in wartime.
Dasha’s High School Graduation at the Philharmonie, Khmelnystky.
Imagine such a thing when the largest totalitarian regime on earth comes to take all your territory, your language and your culture to boot, kidnap your children and change your form of government so that you, too, can be a citizen of a country where journalists are thrown out of windows and political opponents imprisoned, poisoned with Polonium, or gunned down on the street - on the orders of a president who acts with impunity.
Then imagine the country carrying the torch for the free world so paralyzed by false dichotomies and off-stage demagoguery, that Congress cannot pass an aid package to prevent the destruction of Ukraine by an unending Russian onslaught.
Yet Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene cites Kremlin sources to call the defense of Ukraine corrupt. Senator Tommy Tuberville says he sees no likelihood of further Russian aggression once Ukraine is subjugated.
Tetiana’s World Russian destruction of the State Tax University at Irpin
To combat this Putin-parroting influence operation, I took my pictures to help bring the truth about Ukraine home to America. The Broken Bridges in Ukraine exhibition opened at the University of Alabama Gallery in Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama-Huntsville Salmon Library.
The exhibition continued its journey to Selma, Alabama, the landmark beacon of the bridge crossing that forced America to live up to the true meaning of its creed, and where the bravery of the Ukrainian people stood on display in the presence of giants like my friend, John Lewis.
The photographs of Ukraine’s devastation and struggle for freedom are now on display in Troy, Alabama, just down the road from the factory where Javelin anti-tank guided missiles are manufactured - waiting for Congress to pass an appropriation to help Ukraine defend itself.
I hope the images from Ukraine will help shock Americans back to reality, and resoundingly remind us of what we believe in. With any luck, we will re-incorporate the same drive for self-determination the Ukrainians have shown into our own nation-defining love of freedom.
I went there with an idea that the US can save Ukraine. After a year of witnessing the brave example of its people united in defiance of the world’s greatest tyranny, in contrast with my country’s own divided indecisiveness, I’m starting to think it is Ukraine that can save America.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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