I am a Ukrainian photographer residing in Switzerland. I photographed Ukrainian women who fled from war in their temporary homes in Switzerland. Dressed in the same clothes as on the day they ran, each woman’s story of escape is depicted in my portraits. Each is photographed in a corner, a metaphor of the Russian invasion. Having passed through the worst experience in their lives, none feels cornered now. They do their best to adapt to a new culture, support their families and contribute to Ukraine’s victory. 
I tried to imagine, if it were me, what would I pack: having no time, no space in the evacuation vehicle, and no idea if I’d ever see home again. Beyond the bare necessities, I asked each woman to show what she packed. The results were often surprising, even to the women themselves. Each item became a symbol of their homes and their once peaceful lives.
Liudmyla, 52, Chernihiv - Fribourg, left Ukraine in March 2022

Newspaper editor and Chernobyl accident YouTube blogger, Liudmyla, and her two sons were evacuated by volunteers in a minivan driving on “guerilla” roads to Kyiv. She tookwith her hard drives with unique information about Chernobyl gathered over many years. Living through the siege of Chernihiv with no heating, electricity, water, or food, Liudmyla added the topic of war to her blog - sharing personal experience of survival and interviewing her countrymen. Now she continues to blog about the war.
Hanna, 35, Lugansk/Kyiv - Valais, left Ukraine in March 2022

Originally from Luhansk, Hanna moved to Kyiv in 2007 where, over time, she grew politically apart from her family. A psychologist, Hanna found daily running to be the best form of recovery. Sitting in shelters for weeks, she could not run, and after the evacuation by train she cried when she saw people jogging in Western Ukraine. In the summer of 2022, having been enlisted by the self-proclaimed LPR army, her brother was killed.

Kateryna, 34, Slavutych/Kyiv - Basel-Landschaft, left Ukraine in February 2022

On February 24, Kateryna’s sonand his father werevisiting her parents in Slavutych, 250km away. Kateryna’s ex-husband drove the whole day with her son to pick her up. He managed to bring his son homedespite traffic jams and danger to their lives. They left home together, and Kateryna and her son evacuated abroad. Afterthe Russian occupation of Slavutych, Kateryna’s parents and grandmother joined her in Switzerland to help raise her son. Kateryna is the breadwinner for the family of five working as an IT product designer, and photography is her passionate hobby.
Svitlana, 58, Kharkiv - Bern, left Ukraine in March 2022

A serial entrepreneur, Svitlana and her family found shelter from shelling in a subway. With a shattered windshield, she drove back home through wet snow to get bedding and warm clothes. Svitlananarrowly escaped death after barely missing a low hanging, damaged high voltage electric cable. Evacuating on an overcrowded train with no space for luggage, she took a mini perfume vialto feel feminine despite all the war atrocities.
Oleksandra, 42, Irpin - Aargau, left Ukraine in March 2022

A professional nanny, Oleksandra left Irpin with her two teenage children and two cats. She had less than an hour to pack. Only bare necessities could fit in one backpack per person withtwo extra backpacks for the cats. Nevertheless, Oleksandra packed a vyshyvanka – a national blouse. Shortly after she left her home, two rockets hit the building. Now Oleksandra volunteers in a free shop for Ukrainian refugees.

Valentyna, 60, Makariv - Basel-Landschaft, left Ukraine in March 2022

When living in a house basement became too dangerous, Valentyna and her husband moved to the town’s church. On the night before the evacuation, she realized that she had taken all the house keys. If her children returned, they wouldn’t be able to enter the house. Risking being shot, she ran home in complete darkness and buried the keys under a specific tree. She took the house documents with her.

Kateryna, 38, Bucha - Basel-Landschaft, left Ukraine in March 2022

Civilians fleeing Bucha by car were killed. The escape route was a 5km walk. Kateryna’s niece couldn’t walk with her disability, so Kateryna left on her own to support her family from abroad. Four days later their house was bombed. Her family survived. Katerina’s sister remarked: “Thank God we didn’t own a car; we would have been dead”. Kateryna is a person of faith and took her Psalter with her.

Yuliia, 31, Kyiv - St Gallen, left Ukraine in February 2022

On February 16 Yuliia had a C-section. On February 24 she fled the hospital. With her three children and husband, it was a long drive to Switzerland. Yuliia fainted often and her newborn was sick. The only way to feed her was to use a breast pump and syringes as both Yuliia and her baby were extremely weak. Yuliia is a painter and tries to live off her art.

Olha, 45, Mariupol - Zug, left Ukraine in March 2022

When Olha moved to her mother’s, she packed for a basement life and not evacuation, never realizing that her house would be destroyed. In order not to spoil her usual cookware, she took the worst saucepan she had since they cooked on an open fire. That saucepan and a sheepskin for her dogs now serve as the only memory of her home. After three attempts, she escaped the city by car with her son, mother and two dogs. Now that saucepan is jokingly called a local landmark of the “Ukrainian House” – a monastery hosting around 100 Ukrainians.

Anonymous, 35, Zhytomir - Zurich, left Ukraine in March 2022

A Project Managerand animals rescue volunteer, Anonymous was evacuated by bus, having had only four hours to take this decision and to pack. She had to leave her mother and 12 rescued animalsas they would not have managed the trip. She has since joined the Ukrainian cyber army working for the Ministry of Digital Transformation to fight Russian propaganda. Anonymous also works as a social worker for children with disabilities and supports her mother and rescued animals in Ukraine. 

Nadiya, 41, Dnipro - Ticino, left Ukraine in March 2022

Carrying three small backpacks, Nadiya left Ukraine in an evacuation train with her two sons, a teenager, and a toddler. It would be her first time abroad. Contrary to usual rules, her national identity card would suffice to allow her family to cross the border. With only five hours to pack and the thought that she may never be able to return, Nadiya took letters from her long-deceased mother to keep her memory alive. Nadiya misses her husband and counts the days until she can return home.

Ilona, 31, Dnipro - Vaud, left Ukraine in March 2022

Ilona left home with her preschool-aged son in a bus to Moldova. She had been about to start a notary’s assistant job, but creativity and beauty were always her real passions and she was meant to participate in a regional beauty pageant in the spring. Having packed mostly for her son, Ilona took one extravagant dress for herself. Adapting to rural life in Switzerland, Ilona spends her time looking after her son.

Svitlana, 46, Vinnytsya - Gevena, left Ukraine in March 2022

Svitlana left by bus with her two daughters after the city’s TV tower next to her house was hit. Unable to leave with his family, her husband became depressed after the departure of his family, the loss of his job, and the uncertainties of wartime life. He soon committed suicide. Svitlana’s world as she knew it was turned completely upside down. Svitlana’s sessions with a psychologist and the final stages of her distance learning in pharmacological education keep her occupied.

Liliia, 37, Poltava - Graubünden, left Ukraine in February 2022

On February 20, Liliia went on a business trip to the UAE with only hand luggage filled with summer evening dresses. Unable to return home, she waited in Asia for two months. As a professional project planner, Liliia felt like a caged lion unable to make any plans. After having lost her work and having spent through most of her money, she found a way to make it to Switzerland in May. Her cat wasd riven to Switzerland by volunteers.

Olha, 39, Kharkiv - Vaud, left Ukraine in March 2022

A choreographer, Olha and her family fled by car after the shellings approached their house and food was scarce. With no petrol for sale, Olha’s biggest fear was to get stranded and freeze. She used a blanket to keep her children warm when they had to switch off the car’s engine. Due to her youngest son’s eating disorder, Olha needs to cook special food, but she forgot to take all the necessary cookware – she only remembered to take one food container. Now, Olha plans to go back to teaching choreography.

Yuliia, 43, Chernihiv - Solothurn, left Ukraine in March 2022

Yuliia ended up in an occupied village sharing a house with her mother, her dogs, and her neighbors and their children. They had no electricity or heating and barely any food. Although the water was freezing, a special effort was made to sometimes wash the children. After three weeks of sheltering there and despite the danger of getting killed or stuck off-road, Yuliia dared to drive through the forest to escape. After successfully reaching a Ukrainian outpost, she waited for soldiers to return so she could join them and rescue more people from the village. One soldier brought her coffee – something she thought she’d never taste again – and this felt like a momentary return to Ukraine’s independence. This was the best coffee in her life.  A highly accoladed police investigator, Yuliia stays very active in Switzerland volunteering and raising donations for Ukrainian people and pets.

Alesia, 42, Zhytomir - Zurich, left Ukraine in February 2022

Alesia’s son’s autism spectrum disorder makes him freeze with any loud sound. Zhytomir’s military aerodrome was bombed in the morning of February 24. In the evening of the same day, Alesia and her son left their home chased by the loud howls of air raid sirens. Apart from her son’s specialized food, a bright red lipstick was the main item she took. During life’s most difficult moments, it becomes her small delight. A psychologist, she copes by staying busy, loving, and nurturing her family and her environment.
Iryna, 49, Bila Tserkva - Zurich, left Ukraine in March 2022

Living in a military town made Iryna’s family closely experience most of the city’s shelling. After two rockets landed in the vicinity of their house, Iryna left with her daughter. Having only 30 minutes to pack, she took a photo of herself with her husband from a bookshelf before leaving the apartment. Suffering from panic attacks, Iryna sees both a physiologist and a psychiatrist. Trying to avoid heavy medication, Iryna found salvation in art therapy and petting her landlord’s cat. Waiting for a charity exhibition of her works, Iryna is counting the days till her return home.
Yuliya, 31, Dnipro - Graubünden, left Ukraine in March 2022

Yuliya was hesitant to leave until the day she heard shooting near her house and saw a corpse on her way home. In search of an evacuation vehicle for her three children, husband, and cat, she found an advertisement for a rental car from a taxi depot.  After a long and dangerous trip to Lviv, a seemingly endless walk to cross the border by foot, various trains, and all family members falling ill, they finally reached Switzerland. Originally a Russian-speaker, Yuliya is gradually switching to Ukrainian and teaches her children their national language.

Svitlana, 57, Chernihiv - Solothurn, left Ukraine in March 2022

In May 1986, Svitlana had been working as a waiter at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Like any civil and military personnel who were called upon to deal with the consequences of the 1986 nuclear disaster, Svitlana has the status of a Chernobyl liquidator. She suffered the consequences of the nuclear accident and endures serious disabilities. She attempted to leave Chernihiv with her daughter after the oil storage was hit in their neighborhood. There was no available transportation, and the roads were blocked. She tried to escape with her brother-in-law in a bread truck, bringing bread from the city to the nearby villages. After several failed escape attempts and sleepovers in villages, she finally left the heavily bombed Chernihiv behind on March 8. When crossing the Ukrainian outpost, soldiers were gifting women with tulips – a traditional present on the International Woman’s Day. One of the most important items Svitlana took with her was her Certificate of the Participant in Liquidation of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident Consequences.

Valentyna, 38, Poltava - Bern, left Ukraine in March 2022

Valentyna took her daughter’s photo album amongst her most valuable items. She and her daughter left for Switzerland because it was the safest European country, having bomb shelters in most houses. After arriving at the Bern refugee center in the dark of night, she barely understood where she was. The next morning, looking through the window, Valentyna saw a beautiful cityscape with a white air balloon above the horizon. Through the bars on the center’s windows, this scene felt like a symbol of a happy future.

Iryna, 38, Kyiv - Chur, left Ukraine in March 2022

On February 24 at 6 AM, Iryna was drinking her coffee before leaving for work. She dropped her cup in shock after a blast wave billowed through her curtains. Having two sons with different levels of disabilities, Iryna hesitated to evacuate for several weeks. She finally decided to leave after her youngest son started hiding under the table, petrified by the explosions, and her eldest son’s epilepsy medication was running out. Her eldest son’s convulsions, her youngest son’s crying, and her husband not being allowed to cross the border, all contributed to making this trip and was the hardest thing she has ever done. Alone, she pushed a wheelchair, carried a suitcase, clutched her youngest by the hand, and juggled to hold a foldable plastic chair that would allow her to wash her children. Iryna survived the trip and manages her current life in Switzerland thanks to many kind-hearted people and volunteers she met on her way.

Viktoriya, 26, Melitopol - Aargau, left Ukraine in April 2022

A psychologist and children’s English language teacher, Viktoriya spent over a month under occupation. Evacuating from the city would be hard, both logistically and morally, since she would have to leave her whole family behind. The almost physical feeling of lacking air and having her freedom taken away pushed Viktoriya into making the decision to leave. Despite the terrible war in Ukraine, she believes these circumstances have allowed many people, including herself, to better their lives through personal development and helping others. Viktoriya took a notebook with her themed and color blocked New Year resolutions as a reminder of her aspirations.

Olena, 40, Kyiv - Tichino, left Ukraine in April 2022

At the beginning of war, Olena was newly pregnant. Having access to hormone therapy was crucial for the continued success of this long-awaited pregnancy. Stress was constant with the fear of Kyiv’s encircling and the shortage of medical supplies. Olena left home being 14 weeks pregnant. The long-distance drive alone was made easier with her dog companion at her side. Being photographed in the last weeks of her pregnancy, Olena could not fit into the clothes she was wearing when leaving Ukraine, thus we had to put them on top.

Svitlana, 41, Cherkasy - Basel-Landschaft, left Ukraine in February 2022

A mother of four and six weeks pregnant, Svitlana was a social worker in a center helping pregnant women in difficult life situations. During the first week of the war, she hardly slept as she had to carry her small children up and down to the bomb shelter. When they moved outside of Cherkasy, very little changed as military planes flew over the house at night where they were staying. They moved further to western Ukraine for seven weeks, but constant air raid sirens were increasing Svitlana’s fear for her children’s lives. At eight months pregnant, she evacuated with her four children. In Switzerland she gave birth to their fifth child.

Daria, 31, Dnipro - Zurich, left Ukraine in March 2022

In the widespread panic and constant air raid sirens, Daria was worried about her daughter. Daria has never done a long-distance drive in her life. So, leaving amid a huge traffic jam with her daughter, mother and her dog was a big challenge. Somewhere in Germany, Daria’s internet connection failed, and she got lost. Exhausted by the long drive and in a state of constant shock, she was unable to think clearly. She stopped at gas stations and sketched out maps of the route to Switzerland from the GPS on passersby’s phones. Whilst packing, she took two icons to keep her, and her family protected. Looking for the right roads, Daria asked them in her thoughts to help her family make it safely to their destination.
Olha, 39, Odesa - Valais, left Ukraine in March 2022

Due to the travel ban, Olha’s eldest son was not allowed to leave Ukraine. Worrying for her youngest son, Olha was torn apart. She could either send the youngest son away by himself and stay with her eldest son, or she could evacuate with the youngest and leave the eldest behind. Administrative formalities would make the decision for her. The day after her youngest son left, she also evacuated by bus to join him in Moldova. Previously a beauty queen, an entrepreneur, and a handmade gifts artist, Olha tried many jobs in Switzerland to support her family. She moved from cleaner, waitress, and grape-picker to a French-Ukrainian translator once she learned enough French. Since the beginning of war, Olha lost so much weight that we had to use clothespins to photograph her in the same clothes she was wearing the day she left Ukraine. Now, Olha also works with children evacuated from the Mariupol orphanage.

Yuliya, 40, Bucha – Fribourg, left Ukraine in February 2022

Yuliya’s house was in the epicenter of the Russian army advancement during the first hours of the war. A mother of two, she left her house on the second day of fighting, ignoring her home’s false sense of security. As an entrepreneur, Yuliya had planned to open a private kindergarten in the autumn of 2022 in Irpin, a town very close to Bucha. The roof of the building she had bought for the kindergarten was destroyed by shelling. Her own home, however, has survived despite being pillaged by Russian soldiers. Yuliya spends her days taking care of her children. Her youngest child celebrated his first birthday in Switzerland.
Olena, 35, Kherson - Vaud, left Ukraine in March 2022

A cruise yacht hostess, Olena was immobile with a broken leg when the war began. On March 1, a series of explosions damaged the windows and a gas pipe in her flat, causing a fire. The explosions also damaged Olena’s father’s car, making an immediate escape impossible. They waited for the first possibility to leave the city. It would be a treacherous journey since her city was already occupied, and they would have to cross the front line. After a dangerous trip to the west of Ukraine, Olena recuperated there for one month until she could walk again. Traumatized by constant air raid sirens and the fear that the nearby railway could be a potential military target, she left the country. In Switzerland, Olena found work in a hotel, manages stress by drawing in her coloring pad, and waits for the war to end so she can return home.
Tetyana, 34, Odesa - Vaud, left Ukraine in March 2022

A sales manager, Tetyana decided to evacuate with her daughter when she saw Russian war ships from her window. Two hours later, they left the city in an evacuation train with two small suitcases containing documents, bare necessities, and a good luck charm – an old toy mouse. In Switzerland, Tetyana looked for ways to support the Ukrainian Army. With the help of Ukrainian volunteers, she bought a 4x4 vehicle and drove it to Ukraine and donated it to the army. Searching for work, Tetyana continues volunteering for Ukraine.

Viktoriya, 40, Kharkiv - Zurich, left Ukraine inMarch 2022

A bank employee, Viktoriya and her family finally decided to evacuate by train after they stayed for ten days in a house basement because of heavy shelling of the city. In the train there was barely space to even sit on the floor. Viktoriya felt scared not knowing their destination which would depend on the evolving situation. She took a six-liter water bottle for the family of five which proved to be indispensable since a trip to Lviv took about 24 hours with no stops and no water available. Viktoriya lost her mother to COVID-19 in November 2021. She took her mother’s crystal jewelry box – an item she remembered from childhood – to have some memory of her.

Olena, 45, Chernihiv - Zurich, left Ukraine in March 2022

It took three days from the beginning of war for Olena, an artist and a social activist, to get from Kyiv where she lived to Chernihiv where she had her workshop and her family. At the beginning of March her workshop with all her painting wasdestroyed by a bomb. In March Olena was meant to head an all-Ukrainian art project “Pysanka (wooden hand-painted Easter egg) rolls across the world” where everyone could paint a pattern on an egg template, and these Pysankas would decorate different trees across Ukraine. Olena manages the project from Switzerland, as now more than ever this project symbolizes hope for Ukraine’s victory. Leaving home with just a tiny backpack, Olena took even less than the bare necessities, but winter weather made her take at least winter boots.

Lesya, 31, Kyiv - Basel-Landschaft, left Ukraine in February 2022

A lawyer originally from Western Ukraine, Lesya was living and working in Kyiv for the last nine years. With a never-ending traffic jam, it took her and her friends two days to leave the city. Staying over a few days in the Western Ukraine with her parents, she continued to travel by all possible transport means until she reached Switzerland. Since reaching safety, Lesya reflects a lot on the reasons behind this war. She found a lot of prophesies about Ukraine’s fate in the works of Ukraine’s most prominent writer and a founder of modern Ukrainian language Taras Shevchenko (pen name Kobzar). She realized that history repeats itself and that if you don’t make the right conclusions from the past, you will not have a happy future. Now Lesya intensively learns German to be able to continue her legal career. Lesya took a lot of beauty products with her as a sign of comfort and peaceful life. 
Maryna, 37, Irpin - Basel-Stadt, left Ukraine in February 2022

A mother of three, a coach and a psychologist, Maryna left her house the first day of war even before sunrise, squeezing sleeping children in their pajamas into the car. Preparing for the forest hideouts, she packed tents, sleeping bags, tinned food, gas cooker and a first aid kit. During their long drive to Switzerland, Maryna tried to stay focused and calm for the children. At some point, feeding them, she ended up with a half-eaten bananain her hand. Staring at that banana she realized that she’d forgotten when she last ate. Maryna’s husband found a job in Switzerland so Maryna can concentrate on looking after her small children and helping her family in Ukraine.

Nadiya, 36, Kyiv - Basel-Landschaft, left Ukraine in February 2022

A piano teacher and a concertmaster, Nadiya left Kyiv by car with her daughter and husband on the first day of war. After two sleepless days she understood that she would not be able to continue without some sleep. Nadiya left the car and randomly went to the first open doors of the residential building. She found a volunteer making tea for anyone and asked her if there was a way to have some sleep for her and her daughter. An hour later she was accepted as a welcome guest in this lady’s family. Nadiya’s husband, a renowned musician, created the world’s first electric domra (ancient Slavic stringed musical instrument). This domra was amongst the most precious things they took. Nadiya plays and sings in many charitable concerts in Switzerland to help Ukraine.
Liya, 26, Kyiv - Basel-Stadt, left Ukraine in February 2022

After a sleepless night in a crowded basement, English and German language teacher Liya understood she had a strong thirst for life. Fear for her life made her search for ways to evacuate. Raised by her caring Jewish family she had never traveled abroad alone so she looked for a way to join a group. Liya found a Jewish community departing the next day from a city 300 km away from Kyiv. A long taxi ride, a bus trip, a flight to Vilnus and a flight to Basel – such was the dangerous and exhausting road to safety. Liya feels that this new completely unfamiliar world presents her with new opportunities and is finally opening a glass jar where she felt trapped from childhood. Now Liya is learning to build her own life by herself and has found work as a language teacher for Ukrainian refugee children. Liya found a calling for teaching children and wants to confirm her pedagogical diploma in Switzerland.

Vita, 37, Bashtanka (Mykolaiv region) - Zug, left Ukraine in March 2022

With age, Vita has grown apart from her sister even though they lived nearby. After the beginning of war, Vita decided to evacuate to save her two sons. Her mother suggested that both sisters to leave together despite the emotional disconnect. Sharing experiences during the exhausting trip, overcoming together the difficulties of adapting in a foreign country, brought Vita and her sister back to their common childhood – they became best friends. Leaving home, Vita took a small sofa pillow with heryoungest son’s favorite cartoon character. He did not let go of that pillow during the whole trip. Both Vita and her sister look forward to returning home to their husbands.

Alina, 39, Kharkiv - Vaud, left Ukraine in March 2022

An Advertising Manager at a radio station, Alina left with her daughter a few hours after a rocket destroyed the building of the Kharkiv Regional Council. By then Alina’s daughter started having panic attacks, breathing problems, and was begging her mother to take her away from constant shootings. Leaving the rest of the family behind, Alina by chance found a train that was not in an official schedule. During nearly two days in an overcrowded train where people were taking turns to sleep on the floor even in the connecting area between the carriages, Alina’s main fear was absence of water. She treasured a small thermos with tea she took from home. Having a broken hand from skating, Alina had no choice but to disregard it to carry her luggage. In Switzerland Alina is trying to develop more skills to be useful to her country in the future.

Kateryna, 45, Kyiv - Zurich, left Ukraine in March 2022

Living in a western part of Kyiv close to Irpin and Bucha, nail artist Kateryna stayed at home during the first two weeks of war. When the active fighting moved closer, her husband insisted that she and their daughter move to Vinnytsya, a city 250 km away. Soon they learned that Kateryna’s husband had received a permission to leave the country, so they decided to evacuate abroad altogether. When Kateryna’s husband was packing in their home at Kyiv, his daughter asked to take the teddy bear – her first big toy. The size of the toy was exactly the reason her father was refusing to take it. Kateryna had to spend time to convince him since that teddy bear was her daughter’s most important memory of her life at home. Kateryna was trying to convince herself that this would be like a usual trip, and they would be back very soon. So, as always when going on a trip, she took a hairdryer. They left two cats at their friends’ place, and often dream that the first thing they do on returning home is to pick up their cats.

Viktoriya, 37, Lviv - Bern, left Ukraine in February 2022

Viktoriya left home with her child on the second day of the war. She came by bus to Prague to stay with her relatives. A successful dentist, she started searching for work but the job she found was not legalized. She later found a job in Switzerland and moved there. Viktoriya’s main objective was to make sure her child had a proper childhood away from danger and air raid sirens. Working a lot, Viktoriya still finds time to help volunteers and her countrymen. Behind her external calmness and smile –  a smile through tears– she constantly worries for her husband, for her people and her country. The most important item Viktoriya took from home was her diploma.

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