Telling stories of Ukraine through photos

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

“We just want to show our resistance and resilience.”

Last spring the University of Waterloo welcomed 34 students from Ukraine whose studies were interrupted by Russia’s invasion of their homeland.

Student Halyna talking to people in front of photo exhibit
Shortly after arriving on campus, the Ukrainian students created a collection of photos to highlight the impact the war was having on academics and civilians. Beginning with Engineering in July 2022, the Ukrainian students have partnered with each of the faculties and the Balsillie School of International Affairs to host an exhibit where they can share photos, stories and Ukrainian treats with fellow students, faculty and staff. Arts has the honour of hosting the final exhibit on campus on February 15 before it moves to Kitchener City Hall.

“The main goal of this exhibition is to make people aware what's happening right now and show the spirit of Ukrainians,” says Halyna Padalko, a graduate student who travelled here from Kharkiv. “Right now it's an emerging issue in the world, and we need to stay united together.”

The exhibit is also a way for the students to combat misinformation and the rise of anti-Ukrainian harassment on Canadian university campuses. With declining news coverage since the war began and the media’s focus on military support and larger scale politics, the students found that telling personal stories through the exhibit was a powerful tool to connect with people and foster solidarity. “It works more than if you just read some article … because you see a real person, and everyone has their own stories,” Halyna adds.

During the exhibit, students share stories and photos of civilians living without electricity under bombardment, professors volunteering in the army and giving lectures from their iPhones, a Eurovision song contest taking place in a subway station. A virtual reality display allows visitors to experience Ukraine before and after the war, and a set of headphones plays the sounds of Ukraine in real-time. “We were living the same life as people here, developing our country and ourselves, and one day (February 24, 2022) the life of every Ukrainian changed a lot. In our exhibition, we just want to show our resistance and resilience through [these] everyday routines.” 

Halyna is currently studying in the MA Global Governance program at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and hopes to focus her research on Russian propaganda, using her knowledge and network here to support her country. In addition to attending the exhibit, she encourages people to show support through small acts of solidarity. “I believe this soft power will work,” she says. “If you just have a small Ukrainian flag at your workplace or at your residence or on your backpack, it will also raise awareness and you'll remind people about Ukraine, and that’s very impactful.”

Stories of Ukraine: A Student Photo Exhibit will be in the Hagey Hall Hub from February 13 to 17.