Diane Gensler
Hadassah Educators Council

Haunting Images of Ukraine Documented by Photojournalist Svet Jacqueline

Photo Credit: Svet Jacqueline
Photo Credit: Svet Jacqueline
Photo Credit: Svet Jacqueline

Dead silence.

After Svet Jacqueline’s Zoom January 17th presentation to Hadassah’s Baltimore chapter about her experiences as a photojournalist during the war in Ukraine, everyone was speechless.

One of the members said she thought it took everyone a moment to absorb the information. I appreciated her explanation of the pause. We all had to pause. I was glad I had my PC camera turned off, not because my hair was a mess or I wasn’t dressed nicely, but because I was sitting in my office chair crying. I wondered if I was the only one.

I was glad I had not attended the viewing party in Pikesville, Maryland, in person because it looked like they all remained composed. Svet herself seemed calm and collected, except that I noticed a catch in her voice a couple of times, especially when she was answering questions.

Svet was born in a formerly Russian area and then adopted by a Jewish family in Baltimore (her American mom introduced her at the January 17th event). She booked a ticket to the Polish border shortly after the war started and then crossed over, risking her safety to take some of the most provocative pictures of the war.

When the presentation advanced to the Bucha Massacre, Svet cautioned that these photographs were particularly difficult to look at and encouraged anyone who felt uneasy to step out of the room if she felt the need. She described hundreds of bodies lying in the street after the slaughter. When asked if her photographs had been in the news, she replied that some of her photographs had been considered too shocking for mainstream media.

Rhoda Smolow, Hadassah’s 27th National President, who spoke before and after Svet’s presentation, told her she must continue her invaluable work. Many members echoed that sentiment. We all agreed that the world needs to be aware of the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. Svet called the events genocide, which is clearly depicted in the photographs.

One member said that a photograph of a dead woman in the street stood out in her mind. I had expected her to refer to a different photograph because the one that stood out in my mind was of a family of four who were shot, killed, burned and left lying in dirt in the middle of the street. Their lifeless bodies seemed to capture the horror. Someone mentioned that some of these photographs were reminiscent of the Holocaust.

For me, it was another photograph, of a family, that reminded me of Holocaust photos that showed bodies stacked up. I can’t remember if I started crying when I saw this photograph or one of the ones before it, such as that of a family sheltering underground for months or the photograph of civilians in a train station trying to leave the country or of families coming to identify the bodies of their loved ones.

I did not ask any questions during the Q&A. I was so stunned by the images that nothing entered my mind. In retrospect, the question I should have asked was who else would see this presentation? (One place to see Svet’s photographs is in the book, Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War.)

After showing several photographs of civilians missing limbs and a photo of a little girl from Ukraine who had taken refuge in Poland, Svet told us that she knows it’s hard to see all this in the news, but she encouraged us to not look away and to donate when we can to organizations that provide aid.

Svet and Rhoda focused on the humanitarian crisis and not the politics of the conflict. Rhoda gave a lengthy speech before Svet’s presentation about the humanitarian aid Hadassah has provided in years past to not only Ukraine but also to many other countries.

Thank goodness Hadassah can muster personnel and resources in times of crisis in various parts of the world. I’m sure I’m not the only member of Hadassah who felt proud to be a part of such an important organization that supports these worthy causes.

When hearing stories like this, I always wonder what I can I do to help. Am I the only one to feel powerless in this situation? Other than travelling to war-torn Ukraine or sheltering refugees myself, the best way to help, in addition to political advocacy, is to consider this a charitable cause and send a contribution. I hope you all will.

For more information Hadassah’s humanitarian work in Poland and Ukraine, please watch this video.

About the Author
Diane Gensler is a Life Member of Hadassah Baltimore, a member of the Hadassah Educators Council and the Hadassah Writers' Circle, and a lay leader in her synagogue. She is the author of Forgive Us Our Trespasses: A Memoir of a Jewish Teacher in a Catholic School (Apprentice House Press, 2020) and occasionally writes articles for organizations of which she is a member, such as the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland. She is a certified English and special education teacher. In addition to teaching in public and private schools, she developed educational software, tutored online and wrote and managed online curriculum. She is a Maryland Writing Project Teacher Consultant and a mentor. A native Baltimorean and mother of three, she leads the Baltimore Jewish Writers Guild and holds volunteer positions in her children’s schools and activities.
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