Yulia Morozova hugs her daughters Masha, 14, and Katerina, 3, in their temporary accommodation at a hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her children have become more dependent on her since leaving their home in Ukraine in April, she said.
Every day we see devastating images from Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia for almost a year.
But war is not just death and destruction on the front lines. There isn’t always a ripple effect in the news.
What was it like for the families who survived but had to flee their homes? How do they recover and start over in a new place? What are the long-term effects?
Photographer Hailey Sadler recently spent time in Georgia, where many Ukrainians have sought refuge since the war began. Many of them hail from eastern Ukraine, where some of the fiercest fighting has taken place.
“I want to show these families who are living on the edge of waiting, trying to rebuild in some ways — especially for their children — but also really want to get home as soon as possible,” Sadler said. Some of the people I talked to were checking their phones every hour just to see their neighbors: ‘Is our house still there? Are we going back to do something?’ Others I’ve talked to said, ‘Home It’s psychological for me. It’s a spiritual place I go to because my physical home doesn’t exist anymore.”
With the help of local translator and producer Annie Davarshvii, Sadler documents families still grappling with traumatic experiences.
“This feeling of emptiness will stay with us throughout our lives,” said Vitaly Narikov, a resident of Mariupol, Ukraine, who traveled to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi with his wife Elena. “In our phones we will always have pictures of those houses that are now being destroyed. Pictures of our favorite places, moments and things that no longer exist. Until then, our daily lives and struggles, All our income was invested where we lived, in our house. And now we have nothing. Nothing exists. It’s just a hole.”
Yevgeniy Smirnov and his wife Julia fled Mariupol in May and continue to live in Dpibia with their adult daughter and four grandchildren Lis shared a hotel room. He told Sadler that their new space, while small, feels like home because “people are home.”
Sadler took family photos at three hotels on the same street in Tbilisi. There are many shared spaces with bunk beds in the lobby. She also spends time with some families who have found apartments in the Georgian capital. But perhaps she was most moved by a refugee-run collective in Tbilisi called Ukrainian House.
Sadler said the space was originally intended to be a boarding house for factory workers, but is now filled with Ukrainian families and funded by donations. The residence has its own Instagram account, and its residents also make pottery and handicrafts that they sell to raise funds.
“It really has a second home feel,” Sadler said. “They created a system of sharing meal prep and cleaning the kitchen and taking turns who does it, and everyone eats together in a shared dining space.
“A lot of people had no relationship to each other before, but a lot of people were from the same extremely hard-hit area, so they were united by their shared experiences and their shared home, and it really became this beautiful second family. All The kids know all the adults who are raising all the kids. It’s really, really funny and special and beautiful amidst the horrible collective trauma that everyone goes through.”
Residents of Ukrainian House in Tbilisi mingle outside before nightfall.
Anastasia Tumanova represents a portrait of her and her mother, Tatiana, framed by the window of their small apartment in Tbilisi.
More than 200 people have lived in the house since it first opened. There are currently 86 people there, 21 families, including 26 children.
“We’re here to help each other bear the pain of our memories,” teenager Kate Timakina told Sadler in the fall.
Sadler was struck by how much the families supported each other and how they struggled to make the most of their new space — especially the kids.
“Kids are always kids, and they have this beautiful resilience,” she said. “But of course, underneath that is the incredible trauma that they’ve been through, and that trauma continues to affect them while they’re living in this state of insecurity and instability.”
She raised a little boy, a 6-year-old named Mirren, whose mother described how he used to draw pictures of their family and friends. Now he draws pictures of battles, tanks, fire and different military equipment.
“He said he didn’t want to make friends here because he knew he had to leave them,” Sadler said. “It’s a heavy thing to hear your baby say. It’s a hard thing to deal with as a parent.”
He told his mother, Ganna Serdiuk, that he wanted a “normal life”.
“Which baby said that?” said Celtic. “I tried taking him to parks and zoos. But he cried. He sometimes thought of toys or books at home. He cried.”
Serdiuk and her family remained in Tbilisi, but some of those photographed by Sadler had already left.
Narikov and his wife moved to Canada.
“We’re going to be hurt all our lives,” he told Sadler. “All the horrific things that no one saw and no one photographed will never be known, just stay in our minds. The city is full of body parts, dogs move people’s legs, that is the most common thing. …
“Of course, when the first bombs fell, when the first people died, it was shocking. Oh, how bad luck, we thought. Then it became commonplace in our daily lives. Death is everywhere. We sit There, smoking a cigarette, we calmly waited for our turn.”
Gardens outside buildings shared by Ukrainian families are a reminder to those who miss their own fruit trees and flowers. Residents carefully water them with hoses in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
Tatiana Andreevna Bikmaeva misses her garden in Mariupol, Ukraine. “My beautiful house and my beautiful garden were destroyed,” she told Sadler. On her phone, she had a picture of all the plants and flowers in her garden, but those pictures no longer exist.
Timakina is currently studying in Slovenia. Her mother and sister still live in Tbilisi.
“I miss my hometown and my house, but more importantly, I miss all my family being together under one roof for things like holidays, Christmas or birthdays,” Timakina told Sadler last year. “My cousin and I used to make videos of these events. It was one of the things I made sure I had with me. …
“Seeing those emotions and hearing those conversations was so sweet. It’s the saddest thing, my family being separated. But I don’t want to be depressed. The thought that helps me is that we’re alive and we’re in a safe place.” space. It helps me not to be sad.”
For many families, there are no long-term plans for the future, Sadler said. It’s more of a day-to-day sense of existence.
“A lot of families are looking to move elsewhere,” she said. “Some people have a relative in another country and they decide it’s time to leave and try to really rebuild their lives elsewhere.
“But I will say that most of the families I’ve talked to are just waiting for the opportunity to go home and not sure when they will be able to go home. There is definitely that heavy feeling of waiting and praying that it will come soon.”