CONCORD, N.H. — Patrick Patterson, a freelance photographer, spent 14 months living in Ukraine documenting the war. Now back in the United States, he’s sharing the stories he gathered while abroad. Through his photography, he hopes to amplify the voices of everyday people living under the Russian occupation.
“We’re not seeing that,” said Patterson, of Newington, N.H. “We’re not hearing personal stories of both surviving and death that’s happening with this war.”
Those stories — and the experience of living in Ukraine — have impacted Patterson, who said he is recovering from PTSD now that he’s returned to the United States.
“I feel an obligation to get these people’s stories out,” he said. Patterson is now presenting his work at universities, community forums, and galleries. His goal is to shift the narrative back to personal stories so people don’t lose interest in Ukraine ahead of the next election.
Patterson arrived in Ukraine the first week of March 2022, shortly after war broke out on Feb. 20. He said he was initially drawn to the border with Poland, and that while there, he attempted to document the experiences of those crossing the border.
At that point many Ukrainians still thought the conflict would be temporary, Patterson said.
The border crossing was “chaos,” he said. “People had no idea where they’re going. People were traveling with very few belongings,” he said.
Patterson traveled with a Ukrainian colleague who was able to translate for him and help him connect with locals.
After his time at the border, Patterson decided to move to Kyiv. He said there were many days that didn’t feel so different from living in New Hampshire — he’d plan his day over a coffee at a café. “Other days you feel like you’re in a war zone,” he said.
He described a city marked by the war, with murals depicting it and signs in support of the Ukrainian military.
But in May 2023, he said, the situation became incredibly difficult, as the city underwent attacks on a nightly basis, with 12 to 25 drone attacks and as many as 20 incoming missiles. That meant debilitating sleep deprivation.
Patterson said he started sleeping with his clothes on so he could go to a shelter at a moment’s notice. Some attacks hit close to home.
“I’ve had drones blow up above my apartment with debris landing on it, windows blown out, the building next to me catching fire, the building behind me getting hit by a drone killing civilians,” he said. “It changed the psyche for everyone living in Kyiv.”
That was the case for Misha, a man Patterson met in Izyum, after the seven-month occupation of the city had ended. Misha told Patterson how he and seven other family members sheltered in the basement of their apartment, living underground along with 48 other families.
One morning, Misha’s granddaughter asked for tea. He stood in a door frame, waiting for his wife to go up to the second-floor balcony where the family cooked. As Misha’s wife was putting on her shoes, a delayed detonation bomb dropped from a Russian bomber, killing everyone in the basement except Misha, Patterson said.
“And this is repeated every single day,” he said.
Patterson can be reached at Photographs@williampatrickphotography.com.