KCET reached out to Russian-Ukrainian photographer Stella Kalinina about a portrait series featuring Ukrainians and Russians living in SoCal on February 25, 2022. The day prior, Russian troops had attacked Ukraine. Stella has family in the small town of Izium, the same town Dmytro Gorbanov, one of the participants in the portrait series, is from. Her elderly relatives there felt safe, believing that their small town, with no military infrastructure, would not be a target. Yet on March 2nd the town was attacked with force. On March 4th, her relatives told her Izium had been decimated with bombs, and electricity, gas and water had been cut off. The attacks have continued for weeks and her relatives are now in a bomb shelter; contact is patchy and highly intermittent.
Many people Stella spoke to for the series worried about family in Ukraine and Russia. Some struggled to make contact as relatives lost electricity; they waited for news from those in battle zones or from those who had fled. Others lost friends in arguments about the war. Three people who were originally set to be photographed withdrew, citing concerns over Russia's fifteen year prison sentence for those who criticize the state, and repercussions for family members. What follows are reflections from Ukrainians, Russians, and a Belarusian who now live in Southern California and grapple with the events unfolding back home.