The inspiration

To explain how I got the inspiration for this portrait project, I need to tell you a story. I need to take you back, to one year ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and where I was, at this time. (Get ready, I won’t make this short!)

The portrait project in short:
I am going to photograph refugees living in Denmark, my focus will be on strength. The strength you have to find in yourself, when you are forced to leave your life, and start over with nothing. The exhibition will take place on World Refugee Day June 20th at Lokalristeriet.

When Russia invades Ukraine, I have been fighting to get my portrait studio to survive nearly two years of the pandemic, and it has been 6 months, since I was at the doctors, and learned that one of my nearest is going to die, soon. I am in a really dark place – I spend way too much time on the couch, in my sweats (which is about the only clothes I can fit after two years of stress-eating). I feel like quitting everything and becoming a stay-at-home-cat-mum / full time crazy catlady is the only rational solution (even though my crisis-counsellor and the love of my life tells me this is not an option).

And now, the news is filled, with the war, the invasion, with so much evil. I have no faith left, in humanity, in the universe, in fairness or in myself. I see people fleeing, I see children hurt and scared– people fighting for their freedom, people who just want to live their lives, safe and happy, with their nearest and dearest, forced to flee or to fight a war.

And then it happens, the idea forces it way in to my brain “Go, go to Ukraine” – and like many of my ideas, it wont let go. My husband gets home from work, and I look at him and says “I am going to Ukraine on Friday”. He knows me very well and says: “So you need my car?” (I have the small fast one, he has the big practical one). The next he asks is “Do you know where you are going?” “Do you know what to do?” “Do you know who to contact” “Do you know what they need?” – the only question I answer yes to, is that I need his car.

So, the work starts now, the first thing I do, is contact my good friend Justyna, who lives in Rzeszów Poland, quite close to the Ukrainian border. She is the true heroine of this story, my call starts a Polish-Danish-Ukranian-Refugee network, with Justyna as the HQ. But now I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

Justyna finds out what is needed, where, and who needs a ride to Denmark. I start a collection, of things needed – powerbanks, feminine products, batteries, baby products, you name it, I have it in the back of the station car, in boxes, labelled. And people are also sending me money, money for transport, for food, and money for the refugees for when they come to Denmark. The collection is very short, because in no time, my car is filled to the rim. Everyone is helping and doing their part. I get so overwhelmed of the donations and people’s goodness. Friday comes, I close the studio and start my journey.

Pinkstudio by Angelina Devine polen-dag-1-008-web The inspiration World Refugee Day

I have hardly made it to the German border, before I see the first trucks, with “Slava Ukraine” written in the dust, on the back of those trucks! And everyone seams to have gotten hold of a Ukrainian flag. They are on their cars, antennas, stickers, everyone is cheering for Ukraine!

I take a nap in Szczecin and continue my journey towards Rzeszów. There is a lot of traffic, but I have never been happier to see traffic – we all get pulled over, so the red cross convoys can pas us. I see all of the cars, busses, ready to pick up and bring refugees to safety. I talked to a German man, on a rest stop, him and his local football club has made collections, this is the second trip he is making, this week.

Pinkstudio by Angelina Devine Polen-dag-2-026-web The inspiration World Refugee Day

I finally arrive in Rzeszów, at the centre where they are collecting all of aid, that is being transported to Ukraine. I also get to hug Justyna for the first time since 2019! This center is amazing, it seams every able bodied person in Rzeszów is here, doing their part, if they are old enough to walk, they are old enough to help. It seems chaotic, but in no time, you see that it is very well organized. I also meet Mel and Henrik, who has also arrived from Denmark to help – Justyna has opened her home to us, we are fed – getting home baked bread, we get her and her sons beds, while they take the couch. Justyna somehow finds the ability to be the perfect hostess, despite being on the phone, helping people in need, getting pickups organized left and right. Did I mention that she is the true super-hero in all of this? She was doing this long after I was back to my comfortable life in Denmark.

Pinkstudio by Angelina Devine Polen-dag-2-038-web The inspiration World Refugee Day

The next morning, I go to pick up “my” refugees, they have been staying with a Polish family, while they waited for me. This Polish family had gone beyond and above to help this family. They had not only feed them, not only given them a roof over their heads, but they had also made collection for them to have clothes and suitcases, they had made sure they saw a professional to talk about the trauma, they had gotten a dentist when a toothache appeared, a local artist had come with art supplies, to paint out the anger and sadness. Four people had left Ukraine with only a handbag and passports, and where now equipped to go to Denmark.

The trip back to Denmark, was long, but we saw one car after another, Ukrainians making it to safety. When we got to Denmark, I handed them over to their new host family – a wonderful Danish family who opened their home for them, I knew they where now safe and in good hands.

In less than a week, I had gone from being in a crisis, not believing in humanity or the universe, to having seen so much good, that it will last me a lifetime. So many people helping, not because they had to – but because they wanted to – because they were – and are - good people.

If we all help a little, it helps a lot!

This is the journey, that led me to start this project, to tell the story of refugees, from all over, trough portraits! And I am looking forward to sharing the art with you – very soon.