OSTKREUZ exhibition ‘After the Escape’ portrays the lives of Ukrainian refugees - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

OSTKREUZ exhibition ‘After the Escape’ portrays the lives of Ukrainian refugees


Organized by Berlin-based OSTKREUZ Photographers Agency and in collaboration with partners such as Vitsche Culture and Records of War, ‘After the Escape’ is an exhibition and event project dedicated to documenting the experiences of Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is entering its third month in June, and the different social, economic, and political impacts can be observed across Europe and the world. Artists and creative communities are joining forces to document the war and create safer platforms for those impacted to share their stories, traumas, and hopes. 

A month-long exhibition and event project, ‘After the Escape’ is centered around documenting the experiences of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. In addition to presenting written intimate accounts accompanied by portrait photography, the exhibition seeks to create avenues for dialogue and exchange between residents, journalists and documentors, and the Ukrainian community in Berlin through special events and performances

The exhibition also features photographs captured by OSTKREUZ photographers Mila Teshaieva and Johanna-Maria Fritz, who have been in Ukraine since the start of the war. Sitting on a train between Kyiv and Odessa, Johanna shared some personal accounts with us about her ongoing work in Ukraine. 

‘After the Escape’ runs until June 6, 2022 at the historic Zionskirche in Berlin-Mitte. The final concert is happening on Sunday, May 28, 2022, in cooperation with Mavka & Jazz Aid Ukraine.

  • Johanna, how have you maintained hope and resilience since the start of the war?

    I have met so many strong people since the start of the war. I also feel like I am in no position to complain. I am privileged to be able to go home and take breaks when I feel in need.

  • How have you seen people across Ukraine and overseas come together in creative ways to support each other and those in need?

    One example is the Kyiv nightlife scene, where young artists have taken to cooking for soldiers, producing molotov cocktails, or organizing events to raise funds and awareness. Ostkreuz has also put together an exhibition and reading group together with Ukrainian artists.

  • Is there anything you’d like to share with readers—stories, resources, other journalists or photographers to stay updated with?

    I have some dear colleagues that I have worked closely with during this conflict – among them Mila Teshaieva (Ostkreuz), Emile Ducke (Ostkreuz), Christoph Reuter (DER SPIEGEL) and Thore Schröder (DER SPIEGEL). I do admire the photographic work of Maxim Dondyuk and James Nachtwey, as well as Julia Kochetova and Adrienne Surprenant. I find it important to also note the essential work of fixers and producers, first and foremost Kateryna Malofieieva (Al Jazeera).

  • What was a particular moving portrait to capture for the exhibition ‘After the Escape’?

    I shot a picture of an elderly woman in a village north of Kyiv who had lost her son during the war. The image shows her closing the gate of her yard where her son is buried. She is in tears.

“Galina closes the gate to her house with tears in her eyes. Her son Igor has been buried in the garden for seventeen days. He helped Russian soldiers repair something, in return they offered him and three other men alcohol. The next morning, he and the other men were dead. Galina says the Russian soldiers poisoned her son.” (2022, © Johanna-Maria Fritz)

After the Escape

The following portraits have been selected from the exhibition to show the diversity in experiences and identities of those impacted by the invasion. The accompanying captions have been abbreviated for length.

Exhibition at Zionskirche

Svitlana and her sons Bohdan and Yurii in Vasylkiv, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine

“On February 24, we were woken up by loud explosions at five in the morning. A few days later, the Russian sabotage groups turned up. The constant sirens, bombs, and shooting meant that my family and I had to stay in the cold cellar of the house, day and night. After ten days in the cellar, we decided to flee, as doing so later might prove to be impossible… The children are now learning from online with their school in Ukraine. We are slowly learning German, thanks to the free courses which are run here [in Berlin] by volunteers. As soon as I have all the documents, I will try to find a job. I think the war is going to take a long time.” (2022, ©Ina Schoenenburg)

Olena and her daughter Kira in Bad Vilbel, Germany

“Shortly after the war began, there was a saying: the first ones to lose heart were the ones who thought that the war would soon be over. The next ones to lose heart were the ones who thought that the war would take forever. The ones who hold out the longest are those who didn’t think along those lines at all, the ones who didn’t plan and who had no expectations. The ones who just live each day as it comes. Next week I’ll be starting my German course.” (2022, ©Dawin Meckel)

Rahim in Parchim, Germany

“When I photographed Rahim in front of the car his family had used for their escape, his character changed. We talked about the escape and the bombs he heard. When I asked him about whether he feels any hope, he told me about the overwhelming generosity of their host in Berlin that took the family in. Tears welled up in Rahim’s eyes as he described how, after a few days, the host said the family deserved a holiday and invited them to his summer house.” (2022, ©Espen Eichhöfer)

Sonia and Maksym in Waldsieversdorf, Germany

“I ́m in Year 7. The war has destroyed all my plans this spring. I ́m furious. The second day of the war, we were woken up at 4.30 in the morning by the sound of an explosion. We got our pets and a backpack and went down to the basement. Then we decided to leave Kyiv. My dad had a pharmacy in Irpin which has now been destroyed.” (2022, ©Annette Hauschild)
“I’ve been here with my mother and my little sister since the 6th of March. I feel very comfortable here. I want to go home and see my dad.” (2022, ©Annette Hauschild)

Galyna in Wiesbaden, Germany

“The morning of February 24th was terrible: the first bombings, the first of our runs to the underground car parks and bomb shelters, the first enemy plane that flew over us and crashed into an apartment building two kilometres away from us, the growing anxiety and fear in the air. I didn’t want to leave when the war began, nor did my daughter. But after spending about a week in a village in Western Ukraine before leaving for Poland, I tried to find a place for my family through a grant or scholarship. I ended up in Germany, where I am an academic fellow at the Wiesbaden Business School. I’m glad to be here, but my heart is very troubled.” (2022, ©Heinrich Voelkel)

Svitlana in Berlin, Germany

“When the blood of Ukrainians is shed, I’m Ukrainian, when the blood of Poles is being shed, I’m Polish, when the blood of Jews is being shed, I’m Jewish.” (2022, ©Maurice Weiss)

After the Escape / Після порятунку / Nach der Flucht is an exhibition and event project in Berlin organized by OSTKREUZ Photographers Agency and in collaboration with partners such as Vitsche Culture and Records of War. The exhibition features portraits and accounts of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war, and it includes work from photographers Johanna-Maria Fritz and Mila Teshaieva, who have been in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. 

The exhibition runs until June 6, 2022 at the historic Zionskirche in Berlin-Mitte. Upcoming events include a panel discussion on May 25, 2022 and a concert on May 28, 2022. For more information, please visit https://www.ostkreuz.de/neues/.

Please visit this link list for up-to-date information on how to support those impacted by the war in Ukraine.

Text: Anastasiya Varenytsya