Photographer’s Powerful Portraits Show Displaced Ukrainians and Their Destroyed Homeland

A person sits in a wheelchair, wearing a heavy coat and hat, positioned in front of a large black and white photograph of a bombed-out building. This scene is set in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a historic monument in Berlin.
92-year-old Elena in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The banner photo shows a destroyed residential building in the city of Borodyanka taken by Maxim Donduk.

A photographer found Ukrainian refugees scattered around Europe and took their portrait in front of 10-foot-tall photos depicting what has happened to their home country due to the Russian invasion.

Photographer Danila Tkachenko, who made the powerful project, is from Russia but tells PetaPixel he was forced to leave his home country for vocalizing his opposition to the conflict.

“I openly supported Ukraine and made several anti-war actions in Moscow for which the Russian authorities put me on the wanted list and falsified a criminal case against me,” he says. “They persecuted my family and friends. I managed to leave Russia and seek political asylum in Europe.”

Tkachenko has continued to shine a light on the large-scale invasion of Ukraine by creating the photo project he calls Inversion.

A person in a long green coat stands in front of an outdoor display depicting a damaged building. The display is set in front of the Louvre Pyramid, with several people and part of the museum's architecture visible in the background.
Victoria, 25, in front of the Louvre. The banner photo shows a destroyed residential building in the city of Borodyanka taken by Ulia Ovsyannikova.
A person in black clothing carries a child while standing before a large, outdoor photograph of a destroyed bridge. The scene is set on a historic stone bridge lined with statues. Tall, pointed towers rise in the background under an overcast sky.
Two-year-old Maria in Prague in front of a photo of a collapsed bridge in Irpin taken by Narciso Contreras.
A person stands in front of the Colosseum, positioned in the middle of a large photograph depicting a modern building in ruins. The juxtaposition contrasts the ancient Roman architecture with contemporary destruction. People and trees are visible in the background.
Fedor, 32, in front of Rome’s Colosseum with a photo of a school destroyed by Russian airstrikes. The war photo was taken by Miguel A. Lopes.
A young child in a white winter coat and hat stands in front of a large poster depicting a city with buildings and black smoke. The child holds a colorful seahorse-shaped balloon against a cloudy sky backdrop.
Christina, 7, in Paris. The Evgeniy Maloletka photo shows smoke rising above Mauripol.
A person standing in front of a large banner displaying a photograph of a destroyed building set against the backdrop of Pisa's Leaning Tower and the Cathedral. The person is wearing a coat and jeans, posing with one hand on their hip. The sky is overcast.
Ivan, 23, in Pisa, Italy with a photo of a destroyed church taken by Mykhaylo Palinchak.

First, he enlisted nine photojournalists who have been covering the war and exhibited their photos in Milan. Then 12 photographs were selected to be installed on a 9.1 by 12.3 foot (2.8 by 3.76 meter) aluminum frame to act as a contrast to the peaceful European cities that the displaced Ukrainians are living in.

“I made this project to draw the attention of Europeans to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, as I believe that the future of peace in Europe depends on the outcome of this war,” Tkachenko tells PetaPixel over email.

“I wanted to convey with this project that the distance between war and peaceful European life is not really that great.

“Today in the accelerating flow of news and events this may not be visible, so it was important for me to bring the horrific reality back into the public eye.”

A person wearing a black coat and sunglasses stands in front of a large outdoor photograph. The photograph depicts a barren, war-torn landscape with destroyed buildings and leafless trees. Behind the person and photo, there is an ornate historical building and manicured gardens.
40-year-old Uliya in Versailles, France. The ruins of Donetsk airport are depicted on the banner photo. Taken by Vasily Maksimov.
A woman stands in front of a large photo backdrop depicting the aftermath of destruction, with debris and ruins. The backdrop is set up in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, contrasting the serene park setting with the chaotic scene in the photo.
Anna, 30, in front of the Eiffel Tower. With her is a photo of house ruins in Chernigiv, Ukraine.
A person stands in front of a large photo showing a collapsed building, set up in a public plaza. The stunning Gothic architecture of the Milan Cathedral looms in the background. Pigeons and other people are scattered across the square.
Natalia in Milan with a photo of a fire-ravaged building in Lugansk. Taken by Maxim Donduk.
A person stands on a dock by a canal, with the Rialto Bridge in the background. They are looking up, and behind them is a large photographic display showing the wreckage of a building. Many people are on the bridge, and several boats are visible on the water.
The Rialto Bridge in Venice looms over Vladlena, 25, as she poses with a photo of destroyed An-225 cargo airplane. Taken by Alexey Furman.
A boy stands on a street, looking up at a large poster depicting a war-torn building. The modern, curved architecture of a different building is visible behind the poster. Flags and pedestrians are also seen in the background.
11-year-old Aleksandr in Strasbourg, France stands in front of houses wiped out in Izium, Ukraine taken by Evgeniy Maloletka.
A woman wearing sunglasses and a green jacket stands in front of a large photo depicting a war-torn, rubble-filled street. The background shows an ornate pillar and historic architecture in an open, public square with people walking and observing the scene.
Alla, 60, stands in Vatican City with a photo of a wrecked village in Yatskivka. The photo was taken by Laurence Geai.

The photos were shot in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Venice, Prague, and other European cities. He often only had a short time to shoot the photo until police arrived and asked them to move on.

“I did not make permission for shooting, we brought the photo to the place I chose beforehand and quickly made a portrait.”

More of Tkachenko’s work can be found on his website and Facebook.

Image credits: Photographs by Danila Tkachenko.