Words Posy Gentles Photographs Perou
Perou the photographer has just returned to Ukraine after a brief break with his family in Faversham, to continue documenting the work of Medics4Ukraine, which is delivering much-needed medical supplies to Ukrainian hospitals, and ‘trauma boxes’ and training to the front line. Many of his photographs are beautiful, making the subjects all the more shocking: A little girl in the Kyiv paediatric hospital looks like a portrait of a Renaissance infanta, but her elaborate headdress is created from the tubes and tapes keeping her alive.
Faversham Life spoke to him the day before he left. Perou is angry – ‘Fuck Putin. Fuck Russia’ occur frequently in his writings – and sees what is happening as a horrific parallel universe. ‘In some Ukrainian villages, it’s like being in Selling or Doddington where you couldn’t ever imagine this happening – and the Ukrainians in those villages couldn’t have imagined it either.’
Lviv is a beautiful European city says Perou – fountains, drifting blossom and handsome architecture but every day there are sirens (everyone has air raid warning apps on their phones) and in the hospitals are people like us with their legs blown off.
Perou says: ‘It’s really the stories that they shared with us that hit hard, as well as seeing their injuries. It seems so totally unjust that these life-changing injuries and loss of their loved ones has been imposed on them. They were just getting on with their lives when some little man with ego problems decides he wants to “make Russia great again” and sends his army to devastate and crush the neighbours.’
The merest glance at Perou’s website will tell you that he has not been a war photographer. His usual scene is music and fashion photography, and portraits of the famous, from Boris Johnson and Al Gore to Marilyn Manson and Helen Mirren. His involvement with Ukraine happened at the suggestion of explorer Professor Mark Hannaford, whose portrait Perou had done about 15 years ago.
Hannaford is the founder of World Extreme Medicine (WEM), a global network delivering medical training and expertise to extreme, low resource environments. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they used this expertise to set up Medics4Ukraine. It runs on donations and volunteers, and is looking to raise more money. Click here to donate. Any money given is underwritten by WEM so that it goes straight into trauma supplies delivered to the front line and Ukrainian hospitals. Perou says: ‘Seeing that I was writing stuff about how outraged I was by what was going on, he invited me to join them and document the second convoy delivering lifesaving aid to Ukraine.’
Unpaid and uncomfortable – squeezing three in the back of a Peugeot 308 for 10 hours at a stretch (Perou is a tall man), sleeping top to tail on sofa beds and in fire stations for little more than four hours a night – it’s a huge contrast to Perou’s usual modus operandi.
But Perou is on a mission: ‘I am compelled to return to Ukraine to do whatever I can with my limited skills, because I feel like the war is a great injustice. It didn’t need to happen. Putin and Russia’s actions are simply wrong, and it feels unacceptable to me that in this supposed age of civilisation, this barbaric action could be considered. Little man Putin feels like a bully, and bullies need to be stood up to.’
As this goes to press, Perou is in the Ukraine for the fourth time to cover the stories of more Ukrainian civilians, to start a dialogue. He wants to rebalance ‘the bullshit, propaganda and stupidity displayed over the Internet. People telling me the bodies lying in the street in Bucha were actors playing dead is almost as offensive as there being dead bodies in the street in Bucha.’
Perou took the following photographs in the savaged towns of Hostomel, Bucha and Irpin. Two soldiers who took part in the WEM training, Andreii and Yurii, both students until a couple of months ago, guided them through the wreckage of people’s everyday lives. Perou says: ‘I really feel when I’m in Ukraine that they’re brave and fighting for Europe, and want to be European not Russian.’
To donate to Medics4Ukraine, click here.
Follow Perou and Medics4Ukraine in Ukraine in his diary here.
To see more coverage and many more photographs, go to Zoot magazine.
Text: Posy Gentles. Photographs: Perou