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Next Station: Photos of Ukraine under siege come to Berlin U-Bahns

As Russian bombs fell on Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukrainians sheltered underground in the relative safety of the subway stations. Now, photos from those raids will be exhibited in three stations in Berlin, organised by journalistic NGO 'n-ost'. We spoke with Stefan Günther who co-organised the project with Anastasia Anisimova.

Photograph by Serhii Korovainyi in Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahnhof, n-ost

What is the Next Station project?

We’ve taken 3 subway stations in Berlin – Gesundbrunnen, Rosenthaler Platz and Möckernbrücke. At these stations there are these big billboards where normally there are advertisements. We’ve installed photographs taken in Ukraine’s subway stations, images of people sheltering because of the Russians rockets and drones. When you stand in Berlin subways, these very large images are like a direct window into the Ukrainian subways.

Of course people are not sheltering all the time. There was a time when it was more quiet, especially in Kyiv. But then in recent weeks Russia began to send these rockets again to civilian targets.

What sort of feelings do the images provoke?

The images somehow feel very quiet. You don’t see any graphic violence or blood. In this way you get another kind of access to the topic. Seeing these people sheltering, you understand what this could be like.

An elderly couple seeking shelter in the subway on the second day of the Russian invasion. Photo: Serhii Korovayny, n-ost

But, for instance, when you look at the photo of the old couple (detail), in a way it’s just a really nice photograph. Only when you understand the context do you see that it goes deeper, deeper maybe than if you see dead bodies of people who have been killed in this war. 

Why display the photos on the U-Bahn like this?

While we go to work, people in Ukraine are having to shelter in subways. Displaying them in this space is very important to the project. It’s not just a coincidence. 

Photo: Maxim Dondyuk

We could also have done this in an actual gallery or somewhere like that, but then only a certain circle of people will come, and these are people who already know about the topic. So I think that’s why it’s a good opportunity to go into public space. But, of course, this must be done in a responsible way. We can’t show the graphic violence of the war. But maybe that would not be a good approach anyway, because then people may just turn away and say, OK. I don’t want to see this.

Berlin’s subways are perfect because they are almost like a gallery. You are able to stand really near the pictures. It’s like you are looking into this other world. Both similar, and completely different.

When you stand in Berlin subways, these very large images are like a direct window into the Ukrainian subways.

Do you have plans to show these images elsewhere?

This is something we need to think about. This is just the beginning. We had one installation in May already, but it wasn’t official. We just printed some similar photographs and put them up at the train station near Treptower Park. On May 9th, Russian Victory Day is celebrated there. We knew that a lot of people would be there, so we just thought we had to try something. People stopped to look. And this is also something I hope will happen in the subway, that people who maybe normally don’t use so much media, or are not so interested, see the images.

I could imagine exhibiting them in another public space, but still also using a significant context. Maybe in a city like Dresden in Saxony, where people are more, let’s say, Russian-friendly. It’s important to give another point of access to this topic. 

Photograph by Emile Ducke in Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahnhof, n-ost

When people step onto their train and leave the station, wow would you like them to feel after seeing these images?

It would be good if people would take just a short moment in their days and let it somehow sink in. The war began in February. At the moment, people are a bit tired and they see costs going up as a result of the war. We wanted to make this topic visible again.

In the media, you see images of destroyed houses. But once you have seen hundreds of destroyed houses, you just think OK, that’s another destroyed house. You don’t get any emotional contact or any idea of the reality of the situation or what it actually means for someone to have their home destroyed.

The photographs featured in ‘Next Station’ were taken by Ukrainian and international photographers Maxim Dondyuk (Ukraine), Pavel Dorogoy (Ukraine), Serhii Korovayny (Ukraine), Jędrzej Nowicki (Poland) and Emile Ducke (Germany). The images will be on display in the Gesundbrunnen, Rosenthaler Platz and Möckernbrücke U-Bahnhofs until November 24th. Learn more about n-ost here.