Covering Detroit's Ukrainian community: Q&A with photographer Michael Hnatiuk

All of Michael Hnatiuk's grandparents were born in Ukraine, immigrating to the U.S. from as young as 9-years-old, and he grew up hearing stories of their lives there. His grandfather fought in the Ukrainian army, and was recognized as a war hero, so the current conflict hits home for Hnatiuk and his family.

The graphic designer and photographer was on hand this weekend to cover the protests again Russia's invasion in Detroit on Sunday, and he encourages supporters to engage with the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan. He shares here how his community is responding.
Metromode: How would you describe the Ukrainian community here in Detroit?

Michael Hnatiuk: Ukrainians in Detroit are a very close community. We are proud of our heritage and culture. There are many establishments throughout metro Detroit where Ukrainians gather to celebrate holidays, special events, or to raise money for our Ukrainian organizations. Every Summer, hundreds of people gather at the Sunflower Festival in Warren to celebrate our culture. It is a chance for Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike to experience traditional Ukrainian food, hear live music from well-known local artists and witness traditional Ukrainian dancing.
The Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan is dedicated to supporting Ukraine. Their mission is to donate funds directly to Ukraine, spread awareness, put together packages to send to those in need, as well as organize protests, vigils, and events. They have brought the community together from across metro Detroit to stand together and make a difference.
What similarities do you find between Ukrainian and U.S. culture and values?
I find that Ukrainians and U.S. cultures are alike in their patriotism and religious values. Ukrainians are incredibly proud of being Ukrainian. This war has shown that men and women both have stepped up to fight without fear and are willing to do whatever they can to defend and save their home.

How would you describe the atmosphere at the protest this weekend, what did you observe and how did you feel photographing it?

Being at Hart Plaza this past Sunday, gathered with thousands of local Ukrainians was an incredibly powerful experience. We are all so passionate about helping our loved ones in Ukraine during this time. We marched, chanted, and sang the Ukrainian anthem at the top of our lungs. Attendees wept for their families and their losses, but also felt a strong sense of pride and strength being united with their community. Trucks bearing the Ukrainian flag drove along Jefferson blaring their horns, showing support for their country. The city was draped in blue and yellow this Sunday, and I look forward to seeing it happen again. 

How is the community here feeling about the war, from what youve witnessed? 

The Ukrainian community is hurt, sad, angry, and utterly devastated about the current war in Ukraine. This war has caused families to separate and flee their homes. Hearing about our loved ones in this situation, who are thousands of miles away, is terrifying. To see innocent civilians killed and buildings reduced to rubble is both heartbreaking and sickening. We have banded together and are doing all we can to support Ukraine in hopes to end this war and reunite with our loved ones.
What are your hopes for Ukraine now?

Freedom, peace, growth, and prosperity – we will rise again. With all the destruction happening across the country, it is important for the people to regain their freedom, to rebuild their homes, and to rebuild their cities that were unjustly destroyed. The entire world has shown their support through prayer, donations, speaking out, and spreading awareness through social media. I hope that every person in Ukraine, fighting for their lives and their country, know that the world is behind them. A hero was born in every Ukrainian soldier and civilian. I can’t wait to one day visit the country that showed so much strength and bravery against their oppressors. I forever #standwithukraine.

All photos by Michael Hnatiuk.
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