“SORRY I couldn’t answer when you rang. We were running down to the Metro to shelter from the bombs.”
That was the response the Limerick Post got from Limerick photographer David Hayes, who has moved back to Ukraine when others are moving out.
At the time of speaking, the Kileely man had joined about 30 other people in the underground, dark but relatively safe, refuge of the Metro in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city.
“There were two big explosions very close and we all ran for cover,” said David, whose passion is to record history as it unfolds in trouble zones.
“The Russians are bombing the whole country now since the retreat from Kerson. But people are just trying to get on with their everyday lives.
“It’s like Belfast in the Troubles. You know there are bombs but people often don’t even respond anymore when the warnings sound. They just feel it won’t happen to them and carry on.”
But there is evidence everywhere of the destruction that the war has wrought on Ukraine.
David travelled to the town of Lviv on Monday to record the uncovering of mass war graves, “but when I got there, the hotel I had booked, which is still being advertised online, was completely bombed out”.
David – whose ‘day job’ is as a carer in a nursing home – has been tracking and documenting stories of executions of civilians, the exodus of refugees and “people living their ordinary lives in an extraordinary situation”.
He has filmed and taken photos in war zones including Syria and the West Bank, but was turned back when he tried to get into Iraq at the height of the fighting with Isis.
David got into Ukraine via Krakow in Poland and said he had “no trouble at passport control once I produced the Irish passport”.
“They know Ireland is friendly to Ukraine,” he said.
He admits there have been terrifying moments during his week-long visit to the war zone, but despite the bombs and uncertainty, the spirit of the Ukrainian people is undiminished, he says.
“There are far braver people here than me. Young people, volunteering to fight for their country. They insist they are Ukrainian and not any province of Russia.”
One of David’s missions, which was unsuccessful so far, was to deliver a copy of the Limerick Post to a woman living in a displaced persons camp he met on a previous visit and whose picture appeared with her child in this newspaper.
“I wanted to gift a copy of the Post to the mother. In years to come that child will be an adult and such an article would be a keepsake. Unfortunately she has moved on, for better or worse I don’t know.”
David funds his own trips and sometimes gets the resulting photos published.
“In my heart, I always wanted to be a photo journalist,” he says.
“This kind of photography makes me feel alive.”
See David returning to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp to deliver a copy of the Limerick Post below: