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New photo book chronicling the lives of Ukrainians already feels like 'a dim, distant Ukraine'

A photo from Mark Neville's "Stop Tanks with Books." (Mark Neville)
A photo from Mark Neville's "Stop Tanks with Books." (Mark Neville)

Photographer Mark Neville has been documenting life in Ukraine with his camera since 2015.

But it wasn’t until 2020 that packed up his lenses and camera bags and moved from the UK to Ukraine, where he was concerned that the country was on the brink of war as Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s eastern borders. His goal was to create a photography book as a tool or “weapon” to help deter Russia from an invasion and garner international support for Ukraine.

The book, years in the making, is “Stop Tanks with Books” — ironically released just a week before the current war began.

Neville was first drawn to photograph Ukraine back in 2017 when he made a series called “Displaced Ukrainians” about the 2.5 million people who had already been displaced by the war.

“There is a kind of resilience in Ukrainian people,” Neville says. “But I notice this kind of resilience in people’s eyes, and it’s something that really made me fall in love actually with Ukraine.”

He took photos and interviewed people — who had lost everything — but they never asked him for anything, he says. Neville’s subjects displayed pride and integrity he’d never seen before.

His experience contradicts the myths the Kremlin has pushed about Ukraine for the past 8 years, he says, such as that the country is fascist and anti-Semitic. But during this time, the West perpetuated these falsehoods, he says.

Part of Neville’s goal with “Stop Tanks with Books” is to ask the West to support Ukraine more in ways such as fast-tracking the country into the European Union and NATO.

“We were asking for much greater support,” he says. “But we’re also asking for just an honest portrayal of Ukrainians.”

Photos from ‘Stop Tanks with Books’

By Mark Neville 

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.