Edward Matthews was a nightlife photographer. Well, he was – until a trip to the edge of the warzone in Eastern Europe changed everything.
York nightclubs hired him to take photos of people enjoying a night out and then share albums to social media the following day. But Edward made a trip to the border with Ukraine and decided that there was a greater need for his services there.
He says he has been moved by the stories he has heard from people fleeing Russian aggression and has been delivering food aid to refugees in both Poland and Ukraine.
Listen to Edward in conversation with David Dunning here.
This week he has been home on leave and has been telling YorkMix Radio how each visit is changing his view of the work and how he now sees this as a fight for everyone’s freedom not just Ukraine.
“I really respect life a lot more now. You really forget about materialistic things and really focus on what it is to be a good person.”
Edward says he was very surprised by life in Ukraine when he crossed over the border. He was still at least 100 miles from the serious fighting but the places he visited were still battle scarred. Life seems to go on as usual but there is always the fear of long range attacks even in the safer areas.
“There are clear signs of war and conflict. Everywhere you go. You’re constantly stopping at checkpoints, you have your vehicle checked, your travel documents checked.
“Occasionally, if they’re a bit suspicious, they might check your phone and your messages. But then as you go into Kyiv, you see things like burnt out tanks. There were also petrol stations that had been destroyed in the conflict.
“I’ll never forget the moment where we were stood in a petrol station. fueling up, and we got an airstrike warning on our phone telling us to take cover immediately.
“And then shortly after a group of Russian jets flew over. So I feel like that was a fairly close call.”
Life defining event
We asked Edward how his family felt about him getting so close to a war zone.
“Obviously, they’re all very concerned, but I’m doing my best to keep safe.
“I’ve got evacuation plans, I’ve got work plans. I just feel like it’s a good thing to be doing being there.
“They mostly support.”
And what effect is this experience having him? After all he is only in his 20s and this must be a life changing event.
“I always said that the first trip back in March was life changing. And I feel like this second trip has been more life defining.
“It’s really given me some clarity on how I feel to be alive. I really respect life a lot more now. Understanding the fragility of life, you really forget about materialistic things and really focus on what it is to be a good person and, and helping people and focusing on surrounding yourself with good people.
“From my point of view, this war against Ukraine isn’t just a war against Ukraine, it’s a war against freedom and a war against democracy.
“So there’s a lot of foreign people travelling to Ukraine to provide aid or to fight and from an outsider’s point of view, it might be difficult to understand that. But once you’ve been there, you kind of understand the bigger picture and how the world is already involved in this conflict.
“The actions of Russia are currently unpredictable, so we just have to see what these monsters do next.”