Maine Photographer Captures the ‘Disgusting Wickedness’ of Vladimir Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine
March 31—The BDN Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and does not set policy or contribute to reporting or editorial content elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Michael Seamans has seen a lot in his 16 year career as a photojournalist. He has covered natural disasters, deadly epidemics, and moments of tragedy here in Maine and elsewhere. But he has never seen anything like what he is witnessing and documenting right now in the fallout from Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
“I have never seen so much despair, depression and terror in people’s eyes before,” Seamans said. “There’s a look I’ve never seen in my life.”
Seamans is currently working in Europe for USA Today on a project with the Pulitzer Center. BDN’s editorial board contacted him to see if he wanted to discuss the experience, and he spoke to us this week from Moldova, where he helped cover and understand the plight of displaced people. by violence. Millions of people have fled Ukraine, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed the border into Moldova since the invasion began in late February.
He stressed that he is there to cover people displaced by war, not the war itself.
“I’m not a war photographer,” he said, pointing to the work of other photographers like Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks of The New York Times who have documented conflict and destruction on the ground in Ukraine. “My goal is to show what comes next.”
Seamans has been abroad for about two weeks. This included a 24-hour trip to Ukraine integrated with an aid organization as it dropped supplies in the cities of Odessa and Mykolaiv, picked up 80 people from the latter to bring them to Moldova, “and is get out of there as fast as possible.”
He explained how he saw those fleeing say goodbye to their loved ones who remained.
“It was like I had attended 80 funerals at once,” Seamans said. “These people who say goodbye to their friends, to their fathers, to their husbands, without knowing if they will ever see them again. In addition, being loaded into a van, taken to another country, loaded into another bus, and brought to another country. I mean, the trauma associated with that, I just couldn’t comprehend.
It’s hard and emotionally draining work, but that’s what Seamans went there to do.
“Listening to these stories, photographing the new world they’ve been placed in, where it’s just as frightening for them to stay in their homes in Mykolaiv or to get into a van from a humanitarian organization and be taken to another city different to be processed, to then be sent to another city somewhere else in the world,” he told us. “Which, in their words, is just as scary.”
There was one specific moment during this trip to Mykolaiv that Seamans had “difficulty editing my photos with”, finding it particularly difficult “to go back and relive that moment”. A 16-year-old girl with her mother was saying goodbye to her father, who was staying. It reminded Seamans that he had said goodbye to his own father before he died of cancer, but in this case it was a fierce conflict that kept a family apart.
“Just devastating to see,” Seamans told us. “It really destroys me every time I think about it.”
We can all see that devastation in the photos of Seamans on the USA Today website. What is happening should devastate us and inspire continued action.
Seamans is trying to “shed some light on the human emotional toll it takes on people, and it’s downright crippling.”
“You just watch people suffer for no reason,” he said. “Just because of one person’s aggression and a bigger overall plan.”
In a world of disinformation and propaganda, especially from Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, this work Seamans and other journalists are doing is all the more critical. Reports like USA Today’s recent article on displaced Ukrainian Jews, including photographs of Seamans, quickly and forcefully rebut Putin’s bogus “denazification” pretext.
Ignoring the “group of malarkey” coming from the Russian government is “probably the easiest part of the job”, Seamans said. “It’s just a bunch of bullshit, what comes out of the Kremlin.”
Seamans was also bothered by a drop in aid he observed.
“You can see the drop in aid, which means people are losing interest, which means people are going to suffer more,” he told us, stressing the importance for the American public to continue to pay attention to what is happening and support relief efforts.
“Waving a Ukrainian flag in front of your house won’t save these people,” Seamans said.
“It must be financial support,” he added. “Otherwise you can’t put gas in the tanks. You can’t put water bottles in the truck. It costs money to help these people.”
“It’s not going to end anytime soon,” he said.
Seamans suggested looking for organizations providing direct help and also encouraged people to support news organizations like the Pulitzer Center that make projects like his possible.
“I just hope that what I’m able to bring back to the readership is as indelible on them as it was on me,” Seamans told us. He hopes to help people “see the disgusting badness of it all”.
In the face of such evil, Seamans wants people back home to know they can be part of the solution.
“It’s preventable, and it’s preventable through awareness,” he said, re-emphasizing the importance of continuing to support the organizations doing the work on the ground. “I’ve seen the look on people’s faces when they get a hot meal.”
“There are things that people can actually do that can make a difference to even one person’s existence here,” he said.
Remember these words, face the despair seen in the photos of Seamans and resolve to do something about it.