York nightclub photographer quits job to move to Ukrainian border to help refugees

Edward Matthews is a nightlife photographer. Well, he was – until a trip to the edge of the war zone in Eastern Europe changed everything.

York nightclubs hired him to take pictures of people enjoying a night out and then share scrapbooks on social media the next day. But Edward took a trip to the border with Ukraine and decided there was a greater need for his services there.

He says he was moved by the stories he heard of people fleeing Russian aggression and now crosses the Polish-Ukrainian border almost daily to help deliver food and aid.

Hear Edward on YorkMix Radio talk to David Dunning

Edward said: “I first came to Poland as a photographer. And I had been invited by another photographer from the Czech Republic, who had documented the beginning of the war in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

“He knew I had an interest in ‘conflict photography’ and photojournalism and asked if I wanted to come and document the process of refugees leaving the country.

“Very quickly, when I arrived, I understood that I didn’t want to be there just to take pictures. So, at first, I joined a group of local Poles who were distributing humanitarian aid at one of the first train stops from Ukraine, in Przemyśl.

“So I left my job to come back to Poland because the place where I was working said they needed me to go back to work. However, I felt like my heart was still in Poland.

“So I postponed my leave the other day and left my job to come back.

Make pizza to feed those fleeing Russian aggression
Meals are served in this tent in Ukraine

“Since my return, I have joined a charity called Siobhan’s Trust, based in Scotland.

“We distribute pizza to people, both in Ukraine and on the Polish side of the border.

“We currently have a refrigerator holding about 16,000 pizzas and we are producing pizzas every two minutes with new gas pizza ovens, which are absolutely fantastic.”

Edward Matthews. Photography: Amarbres

In the interview, for YorkMix Radio, which you can hear on the SoundCloud link above, Edward spoke about the people he met who went on terrifying journeys to escape the Russian military.

“The other day I met a 90-year-old lady with her 70-year-old daughter, who came from Donetsk and the bus they were trying to escape in was shot by a group of Russian soldiers.

“They were one of a handful of survivors of this attack and the sheer sadness on their faces was just heartbreaking to see.

“I can’t even imagine what they went through just to get to a safe place.”

Edward has created a Go Fund Me page to support his work with refugees – you can donate here.

Writing on his social media yesterday, he shared Micky’s story.

“Today I spent more time in Shehyni, Ukraine, handing out pizzas to queues. There was a real sense of emotion in the air at the border because of the horrible Lviv attack.While handing out pizza, I walked up to Ukrainian soldiers at a gate who were very grateful for the hot food.

“One of them called out to me and shook my hand before ripping his Ukrainian flag patch off his shoulder and placing it on mine.

“He told me I deserved it for what I was doing to help his people. I am so touched by his appreciation.

“While driving back across the border I also met Mickey, who is from a lovely family who struggled to carry all their bags. I loaded my cart with their stuff and also helped to transport Mickey across the border.

Edward helps Micky cross the border

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