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A Bradenton photographer uses his camera to humanize the Ukrainian refugee crisis

Allan Mestel will be exhibiting his photographs in Sarasota later this month to raise money for charities working with Ukrainian refugees.
Allan Mestel
Allan Mestel will be exhibiting his photographs in Sarasota later this month to raise money for charities working with Ukrainian refugees.

Of the roughly four and a half million Ukrainians who have fled the violence in their country, more than half have sought shelter in neighboring Poland.

Allan Mestel spent a week capturing images of refugeesescaping the Russian invasion of their country.

"The flow of people never stopped, day and night," he said. "And 98%, women and children. Imagine the nightmare of having to leave husbands, fathers and brothers."

Mestel, who has also photographed people living in migrant camps on the Texas-Mexico border, says he has never seen migration on such an enormous scale. But his aim was to capture personal stories in his photographs.

"Each individual's story is an enormous tragedy and you get much more of an emotional connection with an image if you're seeing a face that you're focusing on, as opposed to a massive sea of humanity," he said. "To see somebody's eyes, to see the pain in an individual's eyes and get some sense of what that person is feeling."

Man at train station in Medyka, Poland.

The photographer says despite the despair he witnessed, he was also moved by the massive humanitarian efforts, and not just from established aid groups.

"There were individuals, small groups of people, who had just taken the initiative," he said. "Groups from the U.K, Belgium and Switzerland who had rented mini vans, filled them with supplies and without knowing what they were going to find, just headed for the border and pitched in wherever they could."

Mestel would like for his photos to somehow make a difference too.

"Ultimately, I hope they can be leveraged for the good of the individuals that I'm photographing," he said. "The more that people who are not seeing what I'm seeing, that are not there, I would like them to empathize and hopefully be spurned to some sort of action. There's things that we all can do, without going over there, to help."

Mother and child embrace in crowd
Allan Mestel
Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland after fleeing their homeland, being invaded by Russian troops.

A fundraising exhibition of Mestel's images of Ukrainian refugees in Medyka, Poland opens Fri., April 22, at 8 p.m. at 580 Central Ave. in Sarasota.

A cooperative event with Allan Mestel Photographyand Dream Large.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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