Déplacé·e·s, Valeriia, Lviv, Ukraine, 2022
In March of 2022, JR and his team walked across the border from Poland into Ukraine carrying a giant rolled-up tarp. A week earlier, Ukrainian photographer Artem Lurchenko had sent JR images of children who were crossing into Poland to seek refuge from the war in Ukraine. One of those children was five-year-old Valeriia, whose smiling image was printed on a 45-meter-long tarp.
JR joined by one hundred volunteers unfurled Valeriia’s image in Lviv, Ukraine on March 14th. With each person holding a section of the tarp, the community moved through the city lifting the young girl’s image up to the sky. She reminded those flying above that there are people below who need to be protected. Valeriia and the 7.5 million children of Ukraine are the future, and their images show what the country is fighting for.
A drone photograph of Valeriia supported by her fellow Ukrainians was featured as the March-April 2022 cover of Time magazine.
Leaving Ukraine, JR saw firsthand how difficult it was for women and children to get to safety due to the long queues at the border. In response, he launched two NFTs of Valeriia to raise funds for Ukrainians fleeing their country. All of the proceeds went to creating a network that brought food, warmth, and comfort to the thousands of refugees at border crossings.
Since Valeriia was in Lviv, JR and his team have brought her image to five cities across Europe. These demonstrations have brought people together across the continent to stand in solidarity with Ukraine and spread awareness of the conflict. One participant in Paris described why she partook in the procession around Valeriia’s image: “all of these children […] are having to experience war, when they should be in school, learning.”
After visiting Paris (April 6th), Düsseldorf (April 10), and Berlin (April 11), Valeriia arrived in Venice (April 13th) where her image was unfurled by the city’s canals. Taking a brief hiatus from traveling during the summer, Valeriia was part of the Venice Biennale exhibition “This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom” at the PinchukArtCentre (April 23rd - August 7th). Her image was presented alongside works created by Ukrainian artists who continue to live in Ukraine during the Russian invasion as well as international artist friends whose works form a common front against the war.
Valeriia continues to be shown in city streets throughout Europe. Volunteers in Munich (August 25th), Rome (September 23rd), and Vatican City (September 24th) organized a procession around her image showing that those in Ukraine have not been forgotten.