On the ground in Ukraine: Photojournalist Heidi Levine
Journalists are undertaking immense risk to help the world bear witness to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In this series, we speak with women of the IWMF community who are on the ground reporting on this conflict.
The following interview features inaugural Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Awardee Heidi Levine, who has captured the human realities of war for more than three decades. This interview was conducted March 17, 2022.
What was your journey like getting into Ukraine and how have things changed since you arrived?
My journey into Ukraine was simple: I left Israel on February 20th and had a direct flight to Kyiv. The journey out, whenever that will be, is a lot more complicated — the airport isn’t functioning, so instead of just getting back to Israel in a few hours, it’s probably going to take a few days. And with a lot more safety concerns about the journey.
One of the major differences is that when I left and was en route to Ukraine, I had hope that somehow this war wouldn’t start — because it hadn’t started yet.
But within just four days the war broke out. Now, all that hope is gone.
What is the biggest challenge facing journalists — particularly women journalists — covering this conflict?
There are a lot of things to think about that are quite different in comparison to the previous wars I’ve covered. We have a chance of a Third World War, we have a chance of Russia using nuclear weapons or chemical weapons, damaging the nuclear power plants here. Since the war started, it’s obvious that civilians are being targeted. All the coverage I’ve done on any of the missile strikes have been on residential civilian neighborhoods.
Three journalists were killed in the last several days. And before that, the Sky News team that came under gunfire. Traveling around is an extreme security concern for all of us [journalists]. Anyone working with security teams is being advised not to go too far. I was covering Irpin and then the day after, a journalist tried to get in and was killed, and several were wounded. Things are changing so quickly on the ground that an area may be completely unsafe just a few hours later or the next day.
What story or moment has made the biggest impression on you while reporting on the conflict?
I’ve never seen such an exodus of people fleeing in my life. I was just horrified seeing so many people fleeing with their animals, their cats, dogs. The elderly are being pushed in wheelchairs or carried or even on stretchers — in freezing weather, in the snow.
It’s hard to believe we are actually in the year 2022, because it’s like a déjà vu of World War II.
I tried to help one elderly woman to warm her hands and her shirt was up and her stomach was exposed. I pulled her shirt down and I saw she was wearing geriatric diapers. Also, let’s not forget that COVID is also up now because of the war. People are worried about dying of COVID and dying from the war. This is just inhumane.
Is there anything you wish the global community outside of the region knew about this conflict, or what journalists are going through?
[The realities have] been on TV, it’s on the news. I think somehow, something has to be done — because if it’s not done now, it means that this can happen again.
On a positive note, I’ve never seen like people like the Ukrainians come together in every way. Everyone is willing to fight for their country, whether it’s with a weapon or making food to share with their neighbors or feed the forces fighting.
Everyone in one way or another is coming together because they’re not going to give up.