Ukraine From Revolution to War — In Photos

A new exhibit on display at the Annenberg School shows conflict and resilience in Ukraine, as documented by Ukrainian and American photojournalists.

By Hailey Reissman

A photograph hangs in the Annenberg School forum. In it, two people stand in a snowy forest, embracing. They are young, maybe teenagers. Snowflakes fall on their winter coats. Were it not for the wooden replicas of rifles in their hands, the scene might look perfectly romantic.

This photo — of Ukrainian students learning to use AK-47s in a defense course — is one of the 44 images that are part of “Bearing Witness: Photographs from Ukraine,” an exhibition organized by the Center for Media at Risk at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, the Fulbright Program in Ukraine, and the Institute for International Education.

Photographs in the exhibit span the scope of nine years, from 2014 to 2023, documenting the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, from the Euromaidan Revolution to growing Russian aggression to full-scale war. 

The Power of Visual Storytelling

“Bearing Witness” provides glimpses into life during war; the human stories behind the headlines.

A child’s bed covered with a tarp to protect it from rain falling through a bombed ceiling. Sandbags shielding a maternity clinic from explosions. A road service employee dismantling a sign in hopes to confuse Russian troops. Hazy landscapes of Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions, home to the Azovstal steel and iron plant, once an icon of early Ukrainian resistance, now destroyed by the war.

A man opens the door of his garage in Zahaltsi, Borodianka District, Ukraine. April 2022.(Photo: Olexiy Furman)
A man opens the door of his garage in Zahaltsi, Borodianka District in April 2022 (Photo: Alexey Furman)
Soldier Yulya Tolopa packs her daughter's suitcase. Kostyantynivka, Donetsk Region, Ukraine, January 2019 (Photo: J.T. Blatty)
Soldier Yulya Tolopa packs her daughter's suitcase in Kostyantynivka, Donetsk Region in January 2019 (Photo: J.T. Blatty)
A woman examines the remains of a residential building in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, in June 2022. (Photo: Joseph Sywenkyj)
A woman examines the remains of a residential building in Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv, in June 2022 (Photo: Joseph Sywenkyj)
Barbie Zelizer
Barbie Zelizer, Ph.D.

“Bearing Witness” came to be after Ukrainian artist Rymma Mylenkova, a Fulbright scholar at Penn’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design working on bringing art by Ukrainian artists to Philadelphia, contacted the team at the Center for Media at Risk to ask if they were interested in bringing the exhibition, which was first displayed at the Vinnytsia Regional History Museum in Ukraine, to Annenberg.

Barbie Zelizer, Raymond Williams Professor of Communication and director of the Center for Media at Risk, whose own research focuses on journalistic images in times of war, was deeply interested in hosting the exhibition.

“This exhibit comprises the heart of what the Center for Media at Risk tries to do: to bring threatened media practitioners and media practice into public view,”  Zelizer says. “The exhibit offers a unique glimpse, through photography, of the ways that life perseveres regardless of the chaos and violence that surround it. It’s an honor to be able to give it a home here at Annenberg.”

The Center collaborated with the Fulbright Program in Ukraine to bring the photos, all taken by Fulbright alumni, to Annenberg and expand the exhibit to include photos taken since the exhibit was first shown in Ukraine.

The Future of Media in Ukraine

Rymma Mylenkova (left) and J.T. Blatty sit in red chairs on a stage
Rymma Mylenkova (left) and J.T. Blatty at the exhibit opening

The opening of the photography exhibit “Bearing Witness” kicked off the Center for Media at Risk’s spring Media Futures Forum: "How is War Changing Media Futures in Ukraine?"

At the reception, Mary Bradway, program officer at the Fulbright Student and Scholar Programs outlined the Fulbright Program’s work before exhibit curator Mylenkova and photojournalist J.T. Blatty had an in-depth discussion about the complexity of the wartime photograph.

The next day, the Center’s three visiting scholars from Ukraine — Yevhen Fedchenko, Olena Lysenko, and Dariya Orlova — discussed the present and future of media scholarship, fact checking, journalism, and documentary filmmaking in Ukraine.

“Many Ukrainian journalists and educators did manage to survive and carry on in this fog of the war,” Orlova said in her meditation on media scholarship and journalism in Ukraine. “But the fog of Russia’s war in Ukraine is, unfortunately, still very thick and heavy. The future of media depends on when and how the war ends.”

A girl plays on a swing in Borodianka, Kyiv region in June 2022. (Photo: Alexey Furman)
A girl on a swing in Borodianka, Kyiv region in June 2022 (Photo: Alexey Furman)

Visit the Exhibit

“Bearing Witness: Photographs from Ukraine” includes photographs from Jenn (J.T.) Blatty, Alexey Furman, Brendan Hoffman, Serhii Korovayny, Oksana Parafeniuk, Joseph Sywenkyj, and Emine Ziyatdinova.

The exhibit is on view all summer at the Annenberg School for Communication first-floor forum. It is open to the public Monday - Friday from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.


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