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Szabolcs Vörös opening speech

Fotó: Capa Központ | Photo: Capa Center

‘You should know that since you spent that much time there!’

A remark that keeps popping up whenever I am asked about Ukraine. 56 days in the country since the eruption of Russia’s full-scale invasion on the 24th of February 2022 is indeed not a few.

Uzhhorod, Mukachevo, Lviv, Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Izyum, Kramatorsk, Druzhkivka, Bahmut, Kostiantynivka, Pokrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kryvyi Rih, Odesa, Mikolayiv. I had the chance to see these places as well as their population fighting against the aggressor for the twentieth month.

Then fell into the same dilemma again and again: ‘The closer I get, the less I see.’ The most bizarre contradiction of a war-reporter’s job. Especially that, contrary to the public belief, a war-reporter is a human being too. Moreover: a rather sensitive one. It does not take too much time for him – or for her, for that matter – to end up in an excruciating agony because a question is needed to be answered: ‘Why have I not been at another place where the latest attack occurred?’ An even more existential dilemma strikes minutes later: ‘Does my work have any meaning? Does it change anything? Am I able to influence a bloodbath that has been going on one and a half times as long as the Second World War?’

And for some mysterious reason – we keep departing. We keep ‘crossing lines’. Probably because we are not just sensitive but utterly idealistic as well. Cynicism is a non-starter for this job. We are obliged to believe that our drop in the ocean makes a difference. That the testimony of a survivor patient at the Neuropsychiatric Home in Borodyanka overrun by Chechen fighters in the first days of the invasion or the struggle of the retired English teacher to rebuild her house, burned out by a grenade, in a former frontline village in Kherson county would eventually break the ignorance. That individual suffering would open individual hearts. Out of the primitive reason of underestimating our luck of living in peace but asking ourselves: ‘Would we be able to fit in their shoes?’

I would like you to think about the work of Evgen Maloletka. His World Press-winning pictures are on display in the very next room. Would we have an idea about what happened during the brutal siege of Mariupol without his and his colleague’s Mstyslav Chernov’s devotion? From all the war-reporters of the world, they were the last two withstanding the immense risk to report from Mariupol. In March 2022, after 20 days, the Ukrainian army had evacuate them because they were already in the scope of the Russian guns. And even we are almost completely unaware of what happened next – thanks to them, at least we have an inductive suspicion.

We should never fool ourselves that we are able to represent to whole truth. But the ambition of writing or photographing some of its chapters might matter. At least I hope.

Thank you!