Bradenton photographer Allan Mestel is no stranger to taking pictures in difficult circumstances. He has shot portraits of Sarasota's homeless population, photographed migrants living in a makeshift Mexican encampment while seeking asylum in the United States and documented Central American immigrants being deported from Texas.
Earlier this month, when he saw the ongoing refugee crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he knew he needed to go.
"I felt compelled to go over there and witness it and document it as best I could," says Mestel.
Camera in hand, he traveled to Medyka, Poland, a major border crossing between Poland and Ukraine. According to National Public Radio, nearly 3 million Ukrainians have fled the violence in their country, and more than half have sought refuge in Poland. After a week in Medyka and the nearby city of Przemyśl, Mestel returned to Bradenton and shared a selection of his images with Sarasota Magazine.
He says two things stood out during his trip: people's resilience in the face of war and suffering (particularly among children), and the welcoming attitude of those in Poland toward people coming from Ukraine.
"I saw a tremendous amount of love and acceptance and welcoming—acts of love and welcoming to make these people feel as comfortable and accepted as possible," says Mestel.