Freelance videographer and photographer Nick Childers already had planned to leave his home in Polish Hill for a reporting trip to Ukraine when Russia invaded on Feb 24.
He had to change his travel plans and instead had to fly into Poland, take a train to the border and cross by foot into Ukraine. He posted photos from the border on March 3. After a two-hour cab ride, Childers has been reporting from the western city of Lviv since then.
Childers, 31, shot a video for a short documentary for Al Jazeera Plus (AJ+) and has been filing still images for Pittsburgh-based publication Postindustrial. Some of his most personal work, however, has been what he shares via his Instagram account and on Facebook.
Many people have posted messages on social media urging Childers to be safe and thanking him for focusing his lens on the unfolding crisis:
- “We need to keep witnessing the atrocities of this war. Without brave people like you that would not be possible.”
- “Thank you for both bearing witness to this and documenting it in such a powerful way. Praying for peace and safety — for you and all those in Ukraine.”
- “You are showing such important humanity. Stay safe; keep doing this critical work.”
Talking by cell phone, Childers says he appreciates how quickly and directly his images are connecting with people back home in Pittsburgh and around the world.
“It’s strange because there are a lot of journalists here, and sometimes, they’re taking very similar images, but I’m posting to my Instagram and I have my own bubble of people who prefer to look at personal accounts,” he says. “Seeing the photograph directly from the photographer from their personal account is powerful.”
Childers has reported from Ukraine twice before, in 2015 from Pittsburgh’s sister city of Donetsk, and two years later when he produced a short documentary for NBC Left Field, an experimental news operation.
Having grown up surrounded by Pittsburgh’s Slavic history in Polish Hill, Childers feels an affinity for Eastern Europe and its residents.
Those connections underscore Postindustrial’s interest in Childers’ reporting, Carmen Gentile, Postindustrial’s founder and editor at large, says in an email.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people of Ukrainian ancestry in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states in our coverage area who care deeply about what’s happening over there,” he writes. “We’re grateful that Nick’s helping bring stories of sorrow, sacrifice, and resilience in Ukraine to Postindustrial readers.”
In Lviv, Childers has been staying with friends of friends – a pediatric surgeon, 24, and her boyfriend, a financier, 30 – and keeps in touch with his parents and people back here by cell phone.
His video work has focused on how locals are preparing for when the fight reaches them, showing how a nightclub has been turned into a bomb shelter and how residents are learning first aid. He covered the funeral of three Ukrainian soldiers killed when Russian forces attacked their base nearby.
“Lviv is pretty peaceful and full of journalists,” Childers says. “It’s like Disney World right now. It’s a very touristy city and much more European than the rest of Ukraine. They have barricades just in case Russia gets this far, and there’s bombing, but only on the outskirts.”
The war soon might be reaching Lviv; the first significant missile strikes hit near the city on Friday, March 18.
Childers plans to head east and expects to remain in Ukraine at least through the end of the month.
Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you may email him.