Americans' reaction, feelings and inspiration: Mila Ugryn about her project "Russia Kidnaps Ukrainian Children Like Me"

Americans' reaction, feelings and inspiration: Mila Ugryn about her project "Russia Kidnaps Ukrainian Children Like Me"

Today, on August 23rd, a photo art project titled "Russia Kidnaps Ukrainian Children Like Me" was presented in Chicago. 

The exhibition showcases black-and-white photographs of Ukrainian children currently living in Chicago and serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

The project is dedicated to Ukraine's Independence Day, a significant event holding deep meaning for Ukrainians who have been experiencing the full-scale invasion by Russian forces since February 24, 2022.

The exhibition is located on the Daley Plaza - (50 W Washington Street) and will last until 5 pm on August 25. 

For our publication, the exhibition organizer, Mila Ugryn, shared her project's idea, the reaction of Americans, and her personal feelings.

Tell us how did you come up with the idea for this project?
I was inspired to do an Inside Out project when I saw JR do a large installation of Valeria, a little Ukrainian refugee. This art piece traveled all across Europe, and hundreds of volunteers helped make Valeria’s story known. 

How did you learn about the Inside out?
Inside Out is a platform by JR, a French photographer and artist, who I found on Instagram many years ago. This platform allows people to do an art action about a cause they care about deeply. The platform prints black and white portraits for your action and you can paste it in public places to bring attention to the cause you care about. 

What did it mean for you personally?
I put myself in the shoes of the children and their parents and I try to imagine the horrific feeling of when your world comes crashes down on you. These children are being taken away from their parents thousands of kilometers into Russia where they are then put in filtration camps, adopted into new families, some are used as soldiers in the war against Ukraine and some (as I’ve heard) are sold for organs. I don’t have children yet but my sister has four. When I look at my nieces and nephews and think about how children just like these are being kidnapped every day in Ukraine I feel I need to do something, even if it’s something small. It’s hard not to have a strong emotional reaction to an act of genocide. 

Tell us about execution: who helped you
This project came together with the support of Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Inside Out platform, Selfreliance Credit union and Ukrainian community in Chicago. No one does things alone and this project was no exception. Parents of 58 children brought their children for a photoshoot over the course of 2 days and about 10 volunteers came on the day of the pasting to help with the portraits. Two talented photographers and videographers helped capture the event and we are going to create a few short videos about it so we can get more attention on social media channels. 

What did you expect from this project?
I hope to get non Ukrainian people to become aware of the fact that Ukrainian children are being kidnapped by Russians and to talk about it with their friends and on social media. On the day of the pasting several Americans told me that they were not aware of this happening, which makes it even more apparent that we must talk about it. I would also like the international groups for the human rights and rights of children to go into Russia and bring our children back to their families, something that they should be doing. 

Did you get any reaction already?
We received several positive reactions on the day of the pasting from strangers. People would come up to us to say that they love what they’re doing and that they didn’t know this was happening. Everyone was sharing words of support, taking pictures and hopefully posting on social media.