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