I spent the week before the war started with the kids on holiday. We went to the mountains, visited loved ones, explored frozen lakes and spent the evenings building fires in the backyard of the country house where I live. They went back to France, where they live, a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
I remember how that period felt, rather than concrete things. A lot of uncertainty, the feeling that anything could happen, it wasn’t clear what Europe’s reaction would be, in fact almost nothing was clear at the time. Many people I knew had already started to keep their bags packed by the door, just in case. I was glad that the children had left, at least they were further away from all the madness that was going on so close to Romania.
My first instinct was to try to get to the conflict zone to photograph. Now I’m at peace with not having done it, I think it would have been an irrational move without proper training and support from a media institution. But I ended up at the border, in Siret, Isaccea, Galați or Sighet. I saw the people fleeing the conflict and the hundreds or thousands of volunteers who then spent weeks trying to help.
In the past year, I’ve met and talked to dozens of Ukrainians, many having stories I never thought I would hear. The words of Mariia have stuck in my mind. Ever since she arrived in Romania last March, she has gone through an intense process of transformation, but the pain of being away from home has followed her to this day:
“When I get home from work late at night, I feel a lot of pain. For my country, which used to be prosperous and beautiful but is now destroyed, I feel pain because when I will return, it will be impossible to enjoy the beach, which is now mined.
I feel pain for the families that were divided, for the ease and the calm that existed before.
I feel pain for all the young men and women who died in the war and who could have been the future of Ukraine.
I feel pain for all those who have been through the war and have seen and heard so many horrible things.
Yes, you can rebuild homes and the energy system, but the pain will be there for a long time. And the damage that was caused to the families will change a lot of things after the war.”
Last Day of Peace, First Night of War is an interactive digital installation, part of the Museum of Abandonment, a digital wall of images showing the last days of peace collected from mobile phones.