2024 Southern California Journalism Award: First Place, Multimedia Package

Igor and Eugenia Mazur were two of the first parents I met in Ukraine on the eve of the war in February 2022. The young couple lived in a two-bedroom flat with their five children — all under eight: Ksenia, Lera, Alyona, Andriy, and Anton — in the town of Hirnyk, in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. On the surface, they maintained a normal family life: mom and dad multitasking, kids laughing and crying, sticky hands, energetic innocence and general chaos. But even as Igor and Eugenia focused on the day-to-day, Russia was mobilizing forces on the nearby border. Work had all but stopped for Igor, but they had no plans or means to leave. The growing threat of war roiled daily life just beneath the surface.

When I revisited the region in May, the Mazurs had by then escaped the bombing of Hirnyk during a harrowing three-day journey, and resettled in Warsaw, Poland. I visited them for an afternoon in their flat outside of the Polish capital, where they attempted to rebuild their lives while coping with the psychological scars of the war. 

Related Photo Essay: Two Ukrainian Families: One Fled, One Stayed

I encountered the second family, the pensioners Nina and Vitya, while traveling to Kherson the day after Russian bombs destroyed the Nova Kakhovka dam. They had survived months of bombardment and house-to-house fighting in their rural town of Posad-Pokrovske, in Kherson Oblast, but could only express a woeful fatalism over the flooding danger. Control of the town had changed hands multiple times, few if any buildings in Posad-Pokrovske were unscathed by bullets and bombs. The surrounding fields, roads and farmlands were filled with Russian landmines.

When we drove up, they were sitting outside trying to find respite from the heat beneath a makeshift shelter tucked underneath a tree. Once I saw the exterior of their wartorn home, I knew I was potentially in one of those unfortunate situations where the cameras and the gear I was carrying were likely worth more than everything that they owned. When, through a translator, I asked if they could show me their home, they didn’t hesitate. They wanted people to see what Russian liberation looked like.

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