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Foundling Museum : Polly Braden : Leaving Ukraine


The Foundling Museum’s spring exhibition is Leaving Ukraine, an intimate portrait by photographer Polly Braden of some of the many families forced to leave their homes following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Around 6 million Ukrainian civilians are now displaced as a result of the conflict, the majority of whom are women and children.

Since the outbreak of the war, Braden has been documenting the lives of some of those Ukrainian women and children unexpectedly scattered across Europe after escaping to Poland, Moldova, Bulgaria and other countries, including the United Kingdom. In this new series of work, Braden will make visible the extraordinary journeys undertaken by mothers, daughters, teenagers and babies in arms, and reveal the unseen burden of social care and dependency on women in wartime, including providing for their families and performing vital humanitarian roles.

“Rather than focussing on the casualties of war, this project highlights the complex challenges faced by families forced to leave their homes in Ukraine. We know that millions of people have been uprooted, but what does this actual lived experience mean and look like for those individu- als trying to forge new lives elsewhere, against the backdrop of war in their homeland? I wanted to make sure these less visible stories were told.” Polly Braden, artist

In photographs, film and aural testimony, Leaving Ukraine will take us on a geographical and emotional journey, as four central stories unfold: three school friends dispersed across Europe forging new lives and continuing their education; a young graduate making a fresh start as a successful lawyer in London; a mother whose baby was born shortly after a perilous escape from Kherson starting a new life in Warsaw; and two friends and their children who fled to Moldova with help from a kickboxing club, now struggling to find work in Italy.

Braden has worked closely with Sofiia, Aliesia, Yuliia, Lena, Anya and Narine, the girls and wom- en at the centre of the exhibition, as their circumstances continue to evolve amid the ongoing uncertainty – capturing the highs and lows of job interviews, first days at school, trips to buy wedding dresses and poignant family reunions, as well as gruelling night shifts, a far cry from the jobs they had at home. The timeframe of the continuing conflict is mirrored in the passing of time in everyday life, as teenagers grow into young adults and babies into toddlers.

Leaving Ukraine will convey the devastating impact of war on Ukrainian society, and the ways in which those whose lives have been uprooted by the conflict are shaping alternative futures and forming new relationships, as well as striving to preserve their previous lives in Ukraine. These complex stories will highlight the element of chance in what are often temporary solutions to urgent problems for those who have become refugees: a home offered in a Facebook post or the assistance of a distant cousin in another country. Some solutions lead to security, others to futures which become untenable.

“Through Polly Braden’s compassionate lens, we can finally see inspiring personal relationships that would usually be hidden from view. Presenting these compelling stories at the Foundling Museum echoes the constant challenges and agonising choices faced by women throughout history, including the sacrifices made to ensure the safety of their children and others. The exhibition also serves as a reminder of the wider refugee and migrant crisis and the profound consequences on the millions of women, children and young people who are currently displaced around the world.” Emma Ridgway, Foundling Museum Director

Polly Braden is a renowned documentary photographer whose work features ongoing conversations between the people she photographs and the environment in which they find themselves. Highlighting the small, often unconscious gestures of her subjects, Polly particularly enjoys long-term, in-depth collaborations. She has published seven books and is regularly commissioned by the weekend supplements of all UK broadsheets. She has exhibited her work widely in the UK and internationally.


Polly Braden : Leaving Ukraine
15 March 2024 – 1 September 2024
Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square
London WC1N 1AZ
+44 (0)20 7841 3600

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