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 while I put my University of Georgia law degree to work volunteering with war crimes investigation and military intelligence units, as well as teaching law at Taras Shevchenko University.
In the beginning, I took them when Americans were still virtually united in their support for Ukraine against Putin’s naked aggression, before opposition became a MAGA article of faith.
I took 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 influence operations.
I first had in mind photographing the physical destruction but grew hardened to the sight of ruins and rubble, and began searching for things that are harder to see, for which the broken bridges — such as the one we all saw on TV, demolished to stop the Russian advance at Irpin — are a metaphor. That includes the story, 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 Russian state TV over her own sister that Ukraine is ruled by Nazis who threaten Russia.
It is a story familiar to Americans who can no longer hold a family conversation at the dinner table. I did, however, try to photograph the yearning to bridge these gaps, such as Ukrainians carrying on with weddings and high school graduation processions, trying to lead normal lives in wartime.
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 doesn’t even need immunity.
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 Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene cites Kremlin sources to call the defense of Ukraine corrupt. Sen. Tommy Tuberville says he sees no problem of further Russian aggression once Ukraine is subjugated.
To combat this Putin-parroting influence operation, I took my pictures to help bring the truth about Ukraine home to America. They are now on display in Troy, Alabama, just down the pike from the factory where Javelin missiles are manufactured — waiting for Congress to pass a Ukraine appropriation.
I hope the images from Ukraine will help shock us 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 America can save Ukraine. After a year of witnessing the brave example of its united people, in contrast with our own divided indecisiveness, I’m starting to think it is Ukraine that can save America.
Attorney Stephen Humphreys is a New Orleans native who spent the last year volunteering with Ukrainian military intelligence and war crimes investigations. He also teaches law at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv.