A Hampshire student and aspiring war photographer has shared a host of haunting images from Ukraine after having returned from an ‘eye opening’ trip to the conflict-stricken country.

Oliver Woolford, who is in the final year of his studies at UCA Farnham, described the sobering moment he gained access to one of the mass graves in Bucha while taking pictures of the devastation in the city.

The 22-year-old, from Bordon, also spent part of his two-and-a-half-day stint in the country documenting the fallout caused by Putin’s continued assault on Ukraine in Kyiv and Makariv.

Speaking after his return to England on Friday, April 15, he said: “I wanted to get into Ukraine because I felt I needed to get the images of the devastation and war out there for everyone to see.

“The whole experience was just eye opening; Bucha was definitely a turning point because the destruction was on another level. I was able to get access to a church which was being used as one of the mass graves and saw the number of bodies which were being measured up and identified.

Hampshire Chronicle: Credit | Oliver Woolford

“As a photographer you’re able to disconnect yourself to an extent, and the camera protects you from the vision and confrontation of what is in front of you because you’re seeing it through a screen. But when you put the camera down and smell and hear what is going on around you it becomes very, very real.”

Having previously travelled to the Polish border to photograph the refugee movement when the conflict began, Oliver decided he wanted to return to the country, but this time go a step further and cross over into Ukraine.

By shear chance, his dad’s gardener, Jacek Norek, was one of a group of five Polish men who were each planning on driving a four-by-four vehicle to Lviv for aid workers and soldiers to use for supply runs.

After agreeing to hitch a lift with the convoy, Oliver and co embarked on a mammoth 30-hour drive to Tomaszow Lubelski in Poland, where they were blocked from entering Lviv with the vehicles due to a paperwork issue.

“We left the vehicles with Sebastian (the organiser of the trip) in Poland and made a few phone calls to try and establish a couple of contacts,” he said.

“We eventually found a guy called Slavek who said he could drive us anywhere we wanted to go for about $300, so I asked if he could take us to Kyiv and he said, ‘sure, no problem’.”

Oliver spent the following days travelling across Ukraine, staying in accommodation in some the country’s worst hit areas in the process, including Bucha, Lviv, Makariv and Kyiv.

He was also granted sole access to a refugee volunteer centre in Tomaszow Lubelski which was acting as a halfway point for Ukrainians fleeing into Poland.

At one point, he told of how a coach holding more than 60 refugees had to be turned away as the centre was already at capacity for the evening.

Hampshire Chronicle: Credit | Oliver Woolford

Describing just some of the dangers he encountered during the trip, he said: “There are a lot of restrictions on what you can and can’t do and a lot of checks and checkpoints. The ground is littered with unexploded ordinance and there were countless occasions when we had to hang back while someone cleared the road ahead of mines.

“Everywhere you go there’s also a possibility of running into Russian soldiers in civilian clothing and of course the constant threat of missile attacks. It’s a warzone, the dangers are everywhere.”

Hampshire Chronicle: Credit | Oliver Woolford

Despite the horrors which many Ukrainians are facing daily, Oliver said he received a warm welcome everywhere he went and hailed the strength of those remaining in the country.

He said: “The people were utterly fantastic – it’s unbelievable. They’re so generous and welcoming to strangers, being able to meet them and experience just a small part of Ukrainian culture was one of the best experiences.”

- See the images in the gallery by clicking the top photo 


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