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Dispatches: Mega Agency boss Tom Tramborg heads to Ukraine to document living conditions of families on the frontlines

Updated 9 Jan 2023First Published Dec 21 2022 Scroll down for daily updates on Tom and Jan’s progress including new images and reports •

Photojournalist Jan Grarup and Mega’s CEO Tom Tramborg all set for the journey to Ukraine

Press supplies all packed
Scroll down for Tom and Jan’s progress on the frontline – photo: Tom update 23 December

21 December 2022: This Christmas and New Years Eve will be slightly different for The Mega Agency CEO Tom Tramborg who has dedicated the Christmas holidays to go on a mission to Ukraine to document the living conditions of the families living on the frontlines of the war that have no water, food or electricity.

He is going with world renowned war photographer and multiple World Press winner Jan Grarup, to do a reportage for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). ‘DRC have a mission to make us remember that the war is still very active and that civilians are killed every day in their homes in Ukraine. Their living conditions in the freezing cold are horrible, but with the increasing pressure on our own economies we seem to have forgotten to look outside our own home or even borders – and they desperately need our help.’

Tom is updating PAN via WhatsApp on route – he sent the images above and report: “We live in a part of the world that, even during recession, have a massive wealth and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we are not blind to what is happening around us. I am not here to dictate what anyone should think about the situation in Ukraine or whether people believe they have enough time, money or spare clothes to donate or can help in other ways. I just want to help shed some light on the situation and make us aware that whilst times are tougher than normal – there are people having it much worse in our backyard.”

Update 21/2022: Tom and Jan are at the frontline and in the trenches with the military – and more images and updates will be published on PAN when we get them. In the meantime see mission updates on Jan’s Instagram.

Updates below are listed as we get them from Tom – latest first.

January 9 2023:

Heading home, Jan Grarup and Tom Tramborg waiting for the ferry to Denmark after two weeks in Ukraine

It is Sunday night, January 8th 2023 and our reportage is coming to an end. We have driven almost 9000 Kilometres to document the atrocities carried out in Ukraine and now back at Rostock Port waiting for the ferry to Denmark. We have covered most of the cities that are on the active frontline. It is hard to explain when people ask me why on earth I would go and spend Christmas, my Birthday and New Year’s in a war zone, the answer depends on my chance to elaborate on it. Because it is not an easy or short one. But in short travelling with my best friend Jan Grarup and helping to create a reportage that is documenting the life of the civilians living under these conditions are more important than ever. We can not allow their stories to be forgotten. The country either eats you alive, or it changes your life in ways you never thought possible. There’s no in between. It teaches you one reoccurring (and blaring) lesson, and that’s to stop overcomplicating things as life in Ukraine is about survival. Simple as that. If my humble participation can help spread their story and make sure we do not forget Ukraine and the injustice being done to them. Now I am looking forward to get back and push the continued growth and some of the new projects and initiatives we are releasing in The Mega Agency.

January 8 2023:

We are coming to the end of a very long trip in Ukraine. One of the last stories I would like to share is really just to highlight how high the risk is here. We visited the Ice Arena that was hit and destroyed in the early hours of January 2nd, 2023 where the Russian Army carried out two missile strikes targeting Druzhkivka town in the Donetsk Region. This is not a good picture,[below] but I hope it will make everyone understand that it is the civilians here that are paying the highest price of the war and live a life in constant fear of where the next missile will hit as there are no safe places. Not even an Ice Arena. We have started the “Batmobile” and are headed for Lviv and then towards Poland and then through Germany to finally be back home. A 3000 Kilometre journey to be added to the 7000 kilometres we have already driven in Ukraine.

Ice Arena hit and destroyed in the early hours of January 2nd, 2023, Ukraine ©Tom Tramborg

January 4 2023:

At Seversk, a small city very close to the frontline, we meet a family that finally have decided to be evacuated. Base, an independent NGO, is relocating a family with four kids and a grandmother to Kiev. Whilst it is hard for them as they have built this home with their bare hands and are now leaving everything behind, but as the Grandmother says “No kid should have to experience this, let alone live in it”. The look in the youngest child is not possible to describe with words.

Later in the day Anton and Alexander of Base are comforting an elderly woman as they are evacuating her from her flat in the center of Bakhmut. As they are evacuating her we see Russian fighter planes overflying the city shooting at the Ukrainian positions, but also hitting the city itself. Which just shows how resilient the population here is as this is sheer madness.

©Tom Tramborg
©Tom Tramborg

©Tom Tramborg

January 2 2023:

Antonivsky Bridge, Dnipro River. Ukraine ©Tom Tramborg

As we leave Kherson and continue the trip along the frontier we pass the Antonivsky Bridge, it used to be the main crossing over the Dnipro River it was blown up after most Russian forces retreated and just before Ukraine’s forces entered the city in November.

From firing positions on the other side of the river, Russian forces are incessantly shelling the city they continue to claim is theirs. After what was initially a quiet retreat from Kherson, Russian troops appear to have regrouped on the east bank of the Dnieper in recent days, sending artillery, rockets and mortars roaring toward residential parts of Kherson.

At this exact location the Russian army have direct sights on the road to the city and given the short distance across the river and it is an extremely dangerous area to pass – especially when driving a green car that could easily be mistaken for a military vehicle. We cross the area at maximum speed whilst the shock absorbs take their toll.

A little outside the city limits we meet a small Artillery Squadron of Ukrainian soldiers defending the city fiercely by firing at the Russian positions across the river that are shelling the city.

The men work fast and efficiently as the risk of exchange fire from the Russian side is significant. Even at 10 meters the airwaves from the launch push you backwards. As quickly as they set up they are packed up and moving away and tell us to drive as fast as we can down the little field road to get as much distance to the location before the exchange fire starts.

‘Even at 10 meters the airwaves from the launch push you backwards’ ©Tom Tramborg

New Year’s Eve 2022:

Exactly at midnight a big barrage of missiles were fired and hit a house a flew blocks away from us. The house is completely destroyed but luckily the family living there miraculously got out alive. Some brutal way for the Russian army to say welcome to 2023 for the civilians living in Kherson.

Kherson, Ukraine ‘Exactly at midnight a big barrage of missiles were fired and hit a house a flew blocks away from us’ ©Tom Tramborg

31 December 2022 Morning.

Staying in the center of Kherson city, the continuous shelling by Russia of the city itself and the right bank of the Dnipro river, is very apparent and you hear the “bangs” constantly and there are reports of as many as 70-80 missile and mortar hits a day.

We visited Ivan, 72 at the hospital. He was out shopping with his wife in the center of Kherson when they were hit by shrapnel from a mortar. He has been operated in the stomach and is waiting to be reunited with his wife – but have they no plan to leave Kherson and as he says he will stay to celebrate the day the country is liberated.

Also visited the morgue that also what hit by mortar fire. In Kherson it is a fine line between life and death – unfortunately for the citizens of Kherson there is no sign of Russia stopping the terror of them.

Ivan, 72 at the hospital Kherson city, Ukraine ©Tom Tramborg

Mortar fire hit morgue, Kherson city, Ukraine ©Tom Tramborg

30 December 2022: Tom’s report and photos below

We have arrived to Kherson after a stopover in Mykolaiv. As everywhere along the frontline, you see the destruction, but as this area was only liberated last month you have to be very care where you stop the car or step out as there are still a significant number of mines lying around.

With the massive attack at Kherson 2 days ago people are fleeing the city in high numbers. Some in cars, but a lot of vulnerable people will have to take the train. Once a day, every day, the train going to Kiev, has a dedicated section with multiple carriages for people being evacuated.

As we go through the carriages we meet Natalia with her two kids Daria and Ivan. They are leaving her parents behind in Kherson. But as Natalia they had stayed for as long as they could, but now the shelling and risk for civilians is simply to high.

She has relatives in Lviv and can stay there, but her big hope is to return to Kherson again once it is safe to stay here.

You see all types of people being evacuated. Elderly, couples, vulnerable, families, including cats, dogs and canaries.

Natalia with her two kids Daria and Ivan. They are leaving her parents behind in Kherson. ©Tom Tramborg
Once a day, every day, the train going to Kiev, has a dedicated section with multiple carriages for people being evacuated. ©Tom Tramborg

27 December 2022:

Coming out of Bakhmut experiencing the constant shelling and seeing the life of the civilian population does sit within.

Along the Ukraines seven-hundred-mile front line, the constant artillery fire, drone surveillance and muddy grounds have made it excruciatingly difficult to maneuver.

However that doesn’t hold the 17th Tank Brigade back. Visiting them is a challenge just from a logistical view, as phones have to be in off-mode as any signal could give their positions away to the Russians.

The noise is deafening as the fight to defend Bakhmut is continuing with no pauses. The tanks move in to position and hide in the low three-lines as they wait for details and coordinates for the next target. The distance to the Russian positions is only 1-2 miles away.

Climbing in to the tanks is not for people that suffer from claustrophobia – or people that don’t adapt well to freezing cold.

Each tank is operated by a team of three men. The teams work around the clock waiting for the next bio on the walk-in talkie.

Despite having been on duty since February the moral is still high amongst the men and the belief in their ability to beat the Russians is not shaken.

Life here is not for the faint hearted.

©Tom Tramborg
©Tom Tramborg

Update: 24 December (Christmas Day in Ukraine) with images below:

Christmas Day December 24th 2022 in Bakmut, Ukraine. There is a reason they call Bakhmut the most dangerous place to be right now. The shelling and bombardment is constant. Grenades, rockets, missiles and hand weapons is in use 24/7. The city used to house 70.000 people and now the population is an estimated to be less than 10.000.

We saw elderly people gathering water from a hole in the road. The last time I saw that was in the southern part of Madagascar under a drought. Never thought I would see it in Europe. But the lack of water, electricity and heat it is the reality for the people left in Bakhmut and the situation is desperate.

The amount of houses destroyed and often still with small fires inside them, not to mention the animals left behind is quite overwhelming as they roam the streets with uneasy eyes, as the noise from the shelling is deafening.

The local firefighters are doing their best, but as there are no way to contact them via the normal channels due to the lack of WiFi and traditional telecommunications they are relying on the local public to come to them with the news of a new fire or finding it themselves when they patrol the streets. But even keeping warm whilst on duty is a challenge so a homemade oven is heating the entire station.

These are just behind the scenes frames and for documentation. If you want to see the real images and story unfolded, jump on to Jan Grarup’s instagram as he shares some of his frames during our work on this reportage.

©Tom Tramborg

23 December – with images below:

“As we get closer to the active frontlines we go through some of the newly liberated areas. Kupiansk being one of them. It still houses a lot of civilians that stayed through the occupation albeit it being difficult to see just how they managed – and how long it will take to rebuild the city as most areas are totally demolished. The bombardment of the corn storage in the city is still burning from the last bombardment and just shows the level Russia goes to as this corn is not only feeding Ukraine, but an essential part of the food supply for 3rd World countries. Now it is not. And looking at the crisis on Africas Horn the lack of this corn will have a massive impact on chance to help the hunger there. Along the road you see multiple civilian vehicles with bullet holes and Russian tanks and materials won over by the Ukrainians.”

Tom Tramborg
©Tom Tramborg

Tom has sent us these images and words 23/2022:

Location Kharkiv: “You see the destruction everywhere here and the sirens are a constant reminder of the war even if life goes on. At least for some. We visited the 18th cemetery in the outskirts of Kharkiv and witnessed the burial of yet another young soldier who lost his life to a meaningless war and now was being put to rest alongside hundreds and hundreds of other comrades buried here. Here this is just another day as the fight for their country and freedom continues, but for the family of the man, the despair and devastation for their loss is heartbreaking to watch. We carried on to a secret collection point for missiles and rockets. They are kept there as evidence to be used in the war tribunal. In this spot alone there are Russian rockets worth more than USD 100 million – responsible for more than 1700 civilians lives including 44 kids in Kharkiv. It does automatically belittle concerns of the cost of electricity and heating.”

Location Kharkiv: ‘Burial of yet another young soldier who lost his life to a meaningless war and now was being put to rest alongside hundreds and hundreds of other comrades’ ©Tom Tramborg

Location Kharkiv: Burial of yet another young soldier who lost his life to a meaningless war and now was being put to rest alongside hundreds and hundreds of other comrades ©Tom Tramborg

©Tom Tramborg

More images and updates will be published on PAN when we get them. In the meantime see mission updates on Jan’s Instagram.

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