Juraj Mravec (1987) is a Slovak photographer and documentary filmmaker. He made his film debut Peace be with you (2016) about the war in the Donbass, later he made a chilling documentary Lost House (2019) on the war in Iraq. He left for Ukraine on February 24 to document as authentically as possible the war that broke out there.
He stayed there for three weeks and lived through horrors that are difficult to describe. But he captured them with a camera. He spoke openly to Refresher about specific experiences and shared his feelings about what is happening in Ukraine right now. He certainly didn’t take any towels.
In Ukraine, he experienced Grad rocket fire and saw with his own eyes how Ukrainians lost their homes or loved ones in attacks by the Russian army. He also saw the Ukrainian army beat and tie three rioters to the pillars.
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How was your return from Ukraine to Slovakia for you?
I don’t realize yet that I’m back. But I slept little in Ukraine, ate little, so I’m catching up on these things. I am also gradually leaning on the material that I photographed and filmed there. At the same time, I read the news about what is happening next in Ukraine in order to stay informed.
When did you decide to go to Ukraine?
The day before the start of the war there, on Wednesday, February 23, I bought a ticket to kyiv. Ukraine had already declared full mobilization. It seemed interesting to me to be there when something like this happened, even though I still didn’t believe the war could really start. At 7:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 24, my father called me and asked if I was watching the news. I slept in until then, so I didn’t know anything. He told me he was filming in Ukraine.
Afterwards, my friend Tadeáš, who has the humanitarian organization PAX, called me. She has been working in the Donbass for eight years. He told me he was going to Ukraine and leaving Brno. He asked me if I wanted to accompany him. I told him clearly. In half an hour I packed everything I needed, he arrived around noon and we left for eastern Slovakia.
In the evening we crossed the border, slept in Uzhhorod, then moved to the city of Khmelnytsky. There I helped Thaddeus secure the bomb cover. We bought there mattresses, quilts, blankets for two days. Simply everything needed for more people to sleep there.
Where were you?
Since nothing was happening in the Khmelnytsky region, I moved to Vinnytsia, where I had an acquaintance, Julia from another humanitarian organization. There, I helped physically transport various things to their base, be it food, sleeping bags, or other necessities. We also wanted to go to Kyiv together, but it was postponed anyway for some reason.
During this time, I saw a bombed airport there. Seven shots were fired there, killing nine people. Then we went to Bile Tserkva, where we stayed for two days, until we finally arrived in kyiv. There I broke with the people of this organization and joined the Czech photographer Stanislav Krupař, with whom I was still there until my return to Slovakia.
When the siren sounded for the first time, everyone in the shelters freaked out. After a few days they started ignoring the siren as it sounded almost non-stop. They wouldn’t even have time to go to the bathroom or take a shower if they had to run for cover every time the siren sounded.
How did you work there? Where have you slept everywhere?
In the city of Khmelnytsky we lived in a shelter under a Catholic church for the first two days, in Vinnytsia I lived with Julie in an apartment, then in a chalet in the woods and then in an apartment building, where mainly people refugees from Kharkov lived. In Bila Tserkva, we slept in a sports hotel, where they accommodated us on the fifth floor out of five. I refused and slept in the basement.
In kyiv, we lived in a very nice apartment in the city center, because Stanislav had a friend there from Great Britain who left him the keys after he left the country at the start of the war. In terms of security, central kyiv was the safest.
You added a video on Facebook where children play in a carpet on the carpet. They probably didn’t realize what was going on.
The video dates from the beginning of the war, when nothing more serious happened there. For example, people weren’t used to the siren yet. When she first spoke, everyone freaked out in shelters. After a few days they started ignoring the siren as it sounded almost non-stop.
They wouldn’t even have time to go to the bathroom or take a shower if they had to run for cover every time the siren sounded. That’s what was interesting to watch in the early days of the war, when people realized that it was all real, as they gradually realized. Children are a little different in this regard. Unless they’re going through something traumatic, they’re still in their childhood world.
Did you experience any shelling or active shooting in Ukraine, or did you luckily avoid it?
He just experimented. During my stay in kyiv, the city began to be attacked. I was also in Irpini, where three journalists had already died. One died there the day after my visit, the other two days later. They’re bombarding there with Grad’s reactive systems, so I didn’t dodge it. In kyiv, the Russian army first destroyed one apartment building, the next day it destroyed five, then twelve. This number continued to increase.
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What will you learn after unlocking?
- What motivates him to go to the war zones.
- What was the hardest thing for him in three weeks in Ukraine and what resonated with him the most.
- How his family perceives that he is documenting the war and at the same time risking his life.
- How he felt when he saw the Ukrainian army beating, humiliating and tying to the pillar people who were looting.
- Can he imagine going to defend the homeland with a gun in hand if necessary.
- How he endures depressed mood and horrors in war zones and what helps him.
- If he will make a film about what he experienced in Ukraine.
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