Photos of Ukraine war, border controls in gripping exhibition
From chilling photographs of the first months of the war on Ukraine to a journey around Germany’s closed borders when the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe, Neimënster Abbey’s ‘Europe without borders’ exhibition is a moving account of some of the events dominating the news.
The exhibition is a collection of photographs by a team of four Berlin-based photographers focussing on issues of identity, security, the environment and democracy.
When the war broke out in Ukraine at the end of February, Ukrainian photographer Mila Teshaieva, who now lives in Berlin, travelled back to her hometown of Kiyv to document the “dramatic historical moment” through photographs. Her work, Ukrainian Diary, is a collection of photos she took from Kiyv from late February until April.
Photos include empty streets, bombed buildings, blown up bridges, lost dogs standing helplessly, crowds of people making their way to the central railway station to flee the war-torn country, and others sheltering underground.
One of the photos was taken in an underground bunker on 8 March – International Women’s Day – and shows a man who had been out to collect tulips to give to all the women in the bomb-shelter.
Along with her photos, Teshaieva has written a short text describing what was happening in each photo or why it was important to her. A woman gives her account of the first days of war, Teshaieva herself describes how she rescued a German shepherd dog who was alone in a bombed village. The words are moving and give a haunting account of what was happening in Ukraine in the early days of war.
As I make my way around the room in a circle, I come across the work of Heinrich Voelkel, who travelled around Germany for almost a month to document the country’s closed borders during the pandemic.
His work at times conveys a humorous side to the border controls in place to avoid people travelling from one country to the other in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. Many of the barriers look like they could easily be taken down to cross over.
Next up is the La Rada di Augusta project by Sebastian Wells, which takes viewers to Augusta – a vast coastal area in Eastern Sicily. Wells follows Augusta residents as they go about their daily lives in an area marked by one of the largest and most polluting petrochemical complexes in Europe.
Lastly, photographer Maurice Weiss takes viewers back further in time to the Second World War. One of his most poignant photos is of an elderly lady in France who kept rifles and pistols in her cellar in case war breaks out again.
The exhibition is gripping but, for me, Teshaieva’s Ukrainian Diary stood out for its heartrending documentary of the early days of the war on Ukraine.