In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, photographer Saurabh Narang embarked on a poignant journey to document the stories of Ukrainian refugees who sought solace in the small German town of Bernberg, Gummersbach, Germany. His collaborative multimedia art project, 'Sunflowers Will Still Grow', is a testament to the resilience of a displaced community and a poignant exploration of socio-political themes. Partnering with Ukrainian journalism student Anastasiia Reshetnyk, Narang's project delves into the heart of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
The project's title itself, 'Sunflowers Will Still Grow', carries profound significance. Sunflowers have long been a symbol of peace in Ukraine and are the nation's cherished national flower. In times of turmoil and adversity, these bright blooms stand as a reminder of hope and continuity. It is a theme that resonates deeply with the stories of the Ukrainian refugees Narang and Reshetnyk are documenting. Their dedication and artistry in this endeavour were recently recognized when Saurabh and Anastasiia won the Manufactum - Staatspreis award for this project, further underscoring its importance in the realm of visual storytelling and cultural preservation. The award is an initiative by the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia.
This project shines a light on one of the largest human displacement crises in recent history, with over 13 million Ukrainians fleeing their homes, portraying stories like Kateryna's — a mother who fled the war with her three children and now makes a living through her cooking-on-demand of Ukrainian traditional foods like vareniki in Bernberg. As the UNHCR has recognized, this is a crisis of unprecedented scale, echoing the horrors of World War II. Narang's work seeks to capture the raw emotions, cultural heritage, and resilience of those forced to leave their homeland. It is an ongoing, long-term project that focuses on Ukrainian culture and their integration journey into the German countryside, with the final goal of producing multimedia stories using video interviews, texts, and photographs.
Through his lens, Narang provides a window into the lives of these displaced Ukrainians, offering an intimate portrayal of their struggles, aspirations, and unwavering determination to rebuild their lives in a foreign land. The project is not just a visual testament but also a historical archive, a crucial chapter in the broader narrative of human culture and migration. It will serve as a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit.
Narang's personal connection with the Ukrainian community in Germany adds depth to his work. His chance encounter with a compassionate Ukrainian woman during a rainstorm speaks to the warmth and generosity of the Ukrainian people. It is these moments of human connection that provide the emotional core of the project, transcending mere documentation and revealing the shared bonds of humanity that unite us all.
For Narang, visual storytelling is an act of collaboration and empathy. Instead of focusing solely on the war that tore Ukraine apart, he chose to focus on the lives of his new neighbors from Kyiv, collaborating with Anastasiia Reshetnyk to conduct interviews and share the stories of Ukrainian families. Their approach is one of listening, of sitting down with individuals and communities, camera sometimes in hand and sometimes not, to truly understand their experiences, culture, and their current process of integration.
In a world often plagued by division and conflict, Sunflowers Will Still Grow serves as a beacon of hope. It reminds us that even in the face of the most challenging circumstances, the human spirit endures. Through Saurabh Narang's artistry and Anastasiia Reshetnyk's storytelling, we are invited to witness the resilience of the human heart and the enduring beauty of a sunflower in bloom, even in the darkest of times.