I was preparing for a sunset photo shoot when the Russian invasion began. He took his family and fled the war, leaving home in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The dream of seeing the rough sea led photographer Andrii Afanasiev, 40, to choose Portugal as his destination. He didn’t stay fighting or recording the images of the war on his camera because he “wanted to save” his daughter and wife. Since that day, he never got a photograph again.
The photographic material was separated, stored in a backpack, three or four days before the war started. Protect what you feed. That February 24, Andrii Afanasiev woke up earlier than he had anticipated. there was still a long way to go before the session, to photograph sunglasses for an advertisement.
“My wife woke up earlier because they heard explosions. We looked out the window. At five in the morning everything is very dark. But how brightly they shone. There were bombings this morning. While we were putting away clothes and stuff like bombs would go off,” she recalled.
He finds it hard to remember that first day of the war, the forced departure from home in Kharkiv. It costs him three days on the road, in Ukraine at war, sleeping in the car and on the street, with high temperatures. Until you reach Chernivtsi. “There were people who welcomed us. They gave us a place to live, food”. But that was not the final destination.
The waves (and the village house)
“They told me about the beauty of nature. And, basically, the beauty of people. And one of my dreams, when I lived in Kharkiv, was to visit Nazaré to see the giant waves. And I’m here.” This is Portugal. Even if the Portugal that serves as home today is not that of the fury of the sea that gained worldwide fame.
Andrii Afanasiev is living in a village in Sintra, where he was given a house to restart the long life that was his. The brother-in-law’s friends, who lived in Portugal, did not help in the process. But when you don’t speak the language here and English is shy, everything takes longer. Everything is a discovery.
“Where kindergarten or playground we don’t have kindergarten or playground for our daughter. It is difficult to start working when a child is always with us.” Because what they most long for, in this corner of Europe that they travel by car, is to find work. He as a photographer, the woman Olena as a physical therapist. Back to feeling the normal life that was stolen – like the moments below, captured by Andrii last summer.
Andrii hasn’t photographed again since that dawn he will never forget. “I tried to take pictures on the phone. But I don’t feel like it’s time. It’s very hard now, I need to fix it.” But he takes steps, slowly, to close those wounds. In Portugal, he has already found Ukrainian models to photograph and colleagues who can, even if slowly, open doors. “It’s a good opportunity to say ‘Hello! I’m here!'”.
“I’m like a samurai”
It was never possible to photograph the horrors of war. The heart, in the various senses that the word can occupy, would not allow it. “The first reason not to do it is my daughter. I had to save my daughter. The second reason is my poor health. I can’t run. A war photographer is like a soldier. Not with a gun, but with a camera. War photographers need good health. They need to run, to hide. I can’t do it”.
Andrii Afanasiev’s specialty is another, honed by years of work: the female nude. “I photograph women because I feel like there is nothing more beautiful in the world. Women are the most beautiful on this planet. Ukrainian women are very beautiful. All women are beautiful. All ages, all skin tones.” The taste earned him work published in magazines such as Playboy.
But his women, Olena and Luna, were always his top priority. It didn’t take a war to find out. Because Andrii Afanasiev is not a soldier, he is another kind of warrior. “I’m like a samurai. Samurai don’t have a goal. The samurai do. And I love my way.” And the road will allow the car to bring them out of Europe, it will have to wait, as soon as the waves of Nazaré. “I haven’t seen the waves yet. The car was broken and needs a little maintenance. When it is arranged, I will visit Nazaré”.
To see waves much bigger than those they have inscribed on them, tattooed on their right arm. The side opposite the heart that, being fragile, could have saved him in this war.