«We were not just taking photos and conducting interviews. We were women connecting on a soul-stirring level». Photographer Katrine Moite about the war and her new project «I Don't Have My Home Anymore»

In an exclusive interview with ELLE.UA

More than a year and a half ago, the lives of Ukrainians changed dramatically — fighting for our freedom, we lose our lives, our loved ones, our homes, and our former selves, who will never return.

The tragedy of losing one`s home, fleeing from war, and longing for one`s homeland became the main theme of the documentary project «I Don`t Have My Home Anymore» by Ukrainian-born New York photographer Katrine Moite. The project involved 15 Ukrainian women from Mariupol, Crimea, Rubizhne, Kharkiv, Kherson and beyond who had to leave their homes and start their lives anew in the United States. The project combines photographs of strong Ukrainian women, poignant interviews, and a documentary to remind the world community of the war that is still going on in our country.

The photographer Katrine Moite told ELLE.UA exclusively about her work on the project, the story that impressed her the most, the new lives of the heroines and more.

Photographer — Natalia Sokolovska

You`re from Ukraine, but now you live in New York City and make photography in your own studio in Manhattan. Tell us about how it all started and how you got to where you are now.

Yes, I am from Ukraine, but now I`m snapping photos in the heart of New York City from my own spot in Manhattan. Here`s how it all kicked off. Back in the day, I didn`t know squat about photography. My first camera? Bought it here in the US. I started with just a camera, two lenses, and a handful of free shoots. Asked my neighbor if she and her baby could be my guinea pigs. And from there, it was a long way of searching my own style and my own pass: a mix of weddings, family pics, lovey-dovey stories, sports, portraits, events — you name it.

Then out of the blue, food photography happened. I sent a few direct messages on Instagram to a few bars and a coffee shop, offered up my skills for free, and guess what? They bit. That`s how I stumbled into food pics.

During the COVID mess I had a bunch of time during the quarantine to think about my career, took a step back, thought about where I wanted to go. It was a time to move further. At that time I already had a bunch of gears, lightening, softboxes, props, passion, and a ton of determination, so why not my own place? I decided to take the plunge and venture into the concrete jungle of Midtown Manhattan. I started knocking on doors, asking about vacant spots, and guess what? One management team replied in a flash.

I had a little bit of savings, I decided to take a risk and got my hands on my first studio. Sure, it was tiny, but it was mine. I kicked things off with boudoir photography, making it my main gig. But I also brought in my pregnant neighbor for some maternity shots, just to try. And here we go.

Now, let`s get real. Going from zero studio shoots to being fully booked wasn`t a walk in the park. For a good chunk of months, I had zero studio gigs. I hustled with outdoor shoots and restaurant jobs to pay the rent. But, with each click of the shutter, each free shoot with models, and the rare commercial gigs, my portfolio grew. It took some time, but eventually, things started rolling.

So, here I am in my third, bigger studio, and you know what? I`m still hungry for more. Each click of my camera is like a beat in the song of my journey — a journey that`s not wrapping up anytime soon. That`s a piece of my story — a simple tale of chasing dreams, facing challenges, and never stopping the creative flow.

How would you describe your style as a photographer?

I`ve got my hands in a few pots — studio photography, especially digging into the world of maternity and motherhood snaps, then there`s the delicious realm of food and drinks, plus I`ve dipped my toes into the documentary waters. But hey, let`s save the juicy details on those for later. When it comes to my studio photography, especially in the realm of maternity and motherhood, my focus goes beyond just capturing moments — it`s about celebrating the extraordinary beauty of women.

For me, every woman deserves to feel sexy and beautiful at all times, but there`s something particularly magical about embracing that sensuality during the incredible journey of creating new life. The bond between a mother and her child is unparalleled, and I aim to capture the essence of this connection in every frame. Whether it`s through intimate shots that freeze the magical moments of anticipation or romantic poses that preserve the deepening bond between a woman and her partner, the goal is to immortalize these emotions.

My style is all about simplicity and minimalism — no elaborate props or intricate setups. Instead, the emphasis is on the expectant mother and the miracle growing inside, creating timeless images that capture the pure, unfiltered joy of pregnancy.

Tell us about some shoots that you particularly remember during your practice. What was special about them?

You know, it`s not always about a specific situation or a particular shoot — for me, it`s the connection forged with my clients that makes these moments truly special. Lucky for me, there`s been a bunch of these unique shoots where the energy exchange is palpable, and the sparkle in the eyes of these incredible women lights up the room.

These are special moments when a shoot transforms into more than just a session; it becomes a so-called “celebration” of self-discovery. Witnessing the moment when a woman can feel her inner shine and beauty, and her eyes light up — those are the moments etched into my memory. The magic happens when the atmosphere transcends the camera clicks and becomes a space for empowerment and self-love.

You take photos of people, but you also have a gorgeous aesthetic website where we can find photos of food. What is it about working with people that are close to you, and what is it about object photography?

Working with people and capturing moments of their lives has a unique allure for me. I`m a hedonist at heart, finding immense joy in savoring life`s moments. Now, onto food photography — it`s a different ball game. Food is a crucial, non-negotiable part of celebrating life. I`m a firm believer that life`s moments are incomplete without the backdrop of delicious and visually stunning food. It`s not just about satisfying hunger; it`s about creating an experience, indulging in flavors, and appreciating the aesthetics of a well-presented dish.

So, working with people and photographing their stories allows me to tap into the raw, genuine emotions that make life vibrant. On the other hand, food photography is an extension of my philosophy — a celebration of life`s delicious moments that add flavor to our journeys.

Your new important project, which we will talk about next, is a documentary. Have you had any experience working in this genre before?

You`re spot on, diving into the realm of photo documentary is indeed a significant milestone. While it might seem like a brand-new venture, I`ve actually dipped my toes into this genre before. A good number of years back, I embarked on a documentary project that delved into the lives of Native Americans in one of the poorest Reservations in the US — Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

It was an absolutely unique and eye-opening experience. We had local guides from the Reservation spending two days with us, offering an insider`s view into their daily lives. Unfortunately, this project unfolded right before the onset of the pandemic, and while it didn`t garner much publicity, some of the photos found their way into an exhibition at a gallery in Minnesota.

Please share your reflections on Russia`s war against Ukraine. What moments of it shocked you the most?

It`s a deeply personal and transformative experience for me, much like it is for all Ukrainians. The spectrum of emotions has been profound, ranging from fear, shock, and desperation in the beginning to a profound sense of pride and enduring belief in the face of adversity. This war marked a moment that divided life into two distinct parts — a stark contrast between the «before» and «after».

The first moment of sheer shock hit me at 5 am on February 24th when my husband woke me up with the devastating news of the attack. The world seemed to crumble, and I immediately called my mom. The heart-wrenching reality struck when she didn`t pick up. A call to my sister revealed they were rushing to the bomb shelter. At that moment, words failed, and I found myself engulfed in tears, struggling to inhale and breathe.

The second gut-wrenching blow was the tragedy in Bucha. It`s challenging to find words to comment on such horror, but I`m sure everyone understands the depth of my sentiment. The inhumanity displayed goes beyond comprehension — humans could never behave in such a manner. For me and many Ukrainians, these moments became a dividing line in life, creating an indelible impact that continues to shape our perspectives.

How and when did you come up with the idea for the project «I Don`t Have My Home Anymore»? Tell us more about it.

As a Ukrainian witnessing the heartbreaking impact of the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, I felt a compelling need to take action. The project isn`t a quest for inspiration; it`s a commitment to aid. It encapsulates the voices of 15 women sharing stories full of pain and loss, describing their encounters with the war, how they fled this war, and the myriad emotions they grappled with while being abroad.

In the face of a world growing accustomed to the ongoing war in Ukraine, it is our duty, much like that of all Ukrainians, to resist complacency. We must staunchly refuse to let the global community overlook the unfolding tragedy in our nation.


Where did you look for the characters, and what did the work on the project look like?

I initiated a call for interviews through various social media platforms (Facebook, Telegram Groups), receiving an overwhelming response. From this pool, I carefully selected the final 15 participants who would contribute their voices. The logistical phase included coordinating travel across 8 different states and 12 cities. What is also important is that exclusively a female team was involved in the creation of this project. Everyone: editor (Anhelina Pychyk), video director (Victoria Makarevich), translator (Kateryna Blahodatna) are all Ukrainian women. This project was created by women and about women.

The creation of these portraits unfolded through a meticulous two-step process. Initially, the women were captured against a pristine white backdrop, symbolizing a new beginning. Their close-up portraits, with a focus on the eyes, eloquently conveyed a spectrum of emotions.

The second phase was the interview, which was thoughtfully video recorded, and the raw material found its way to the hands of the journalist. This skilled professional played a pivotal role in transforming the visual narratives into a cohesive and compelling storyline.

As I gathered material from all corners of those 12 cities, this collaborative effort evolved in the intricate process of documentary production, with the video editor/director serving as a linchpin in bringing these narratives to life.

Emotionally, reliving the pain of February 24, 2022, during interviews was a profound challenge, but the unwavering belief in the project`s significance served as motivation. A memorable moment was witnessing the relief these women felt by sharing their stories—an emotional catharsis that unburdened them from haunting memories.


How did you manage to create an atmosphere in which women felt comfortable and safe to share their painful experiences?

Creating a space where these incredible women felt comfortable sharing their deeply personal and painful experiences went beyond just having a plan. It delved into the raw, unspoken emotions that tie every Ukrainian together on a global scale. We`re not just fellow citizens; we are like a shared heartbeat, collectively facing the same fears and hopes.

And then, there`s the unique bond among women. It`s an unspoken language, shared sensitivity that transcends words. In the midst of tragedy, this connection became our refuge. We were not just taking photos and conducting interviews; we were women connecting on a soul-stirring level. It`s the kind of understanding that doesn`t need words, where shared glances and silent nods speak volumes.

In essence, it was about saying: «I feel what you feel because I am you, and you are me». It`s this profound unity, both as Ukrainians and as women, that turned our conversations into more than just interviews.

We`re sure that each story is special, but maybe there was one that touched you the most?

The story of Kateryna deeply touched my soul. Her harrowing journey through the horrors of Mariupol — from the early morning of February 24th to the desperate escape — siege resonates with the indomitable spirit of Ukrainian resilience.

The sheer courage Kateryna displayed, facing the brutality of the war while safeguarding her son, is awe-inspiring. The moments of uncertainty, the chilling cold in the basement, the blood-stained face from the shelling, and the desperation for water amid the chaos, mined fields — every detail etches a painful narrative of survival. Her father`s heroism, clearing the way with his bare hands, adds another layer to this tale of extraordinary strength.

The transition to life in the USA, marked by challenges, tears, and a longing for home, reveals the complex emotional aftermath of escaping war. Kateryna`s journey from grief to hope, from missing her homeland to embracing a new life, exemplifies the resilience of the Ukrainian people. Her words — «I believe that everything will be alright and we will rebuild our country» — encapsulate the enduring spirit that defines Ukraine in the face of adversity.


The lives of each woman started from the scratch in the United States. Do you keep in touch? Can you share the success of some of them?

Yes, we are in touch with many girls. Elvira from Crimea works as a professor at the American University, Snizhana from Odesa has launched a candle-making business with distribution in Texas, Florida, and Indiana. Alisa from Zaporizhzhia works in a real estate business in Miami, and Kateryna and her son Mykhailo from Mariupol are making significant strides in learning English. I am extremely proud of them! Also, I would love to emhasize the Yana`s story! Yana from Svatove, a remarkable individual and one of the project`s protagonists, has not only rebuilt her life in the United States but has become a beacon of hope and support for her fellow Ukrainians. As a dedicated volunteer since 2014, Yana`s journey took a meaningful turn when she collaborated with her American sponsor, Whitney, to establish the «Ukraine Power» fund. Over the last six months, this organization has played a pivotal role in sending aid exceeding $100,000 to Ukraine. Yana actively oversees initiatives such as setting up hubs in different cities to distribute essential items to internal migrants from Luhansk and providing assistance to those in the liberated territories. Her story exemplifies resilience, compassion, and a determination to contribute to Ukraine`s recovery and future.


In addition to photos and interviews, the project also includes a full-length film. Did you become its director? Do you plan to show it at film festivals or other similar venues?

Stepping into the role of directing the full-length film for the project was a completely new and enriching experience for me. While I may not categorize myself as a traditional director, I played the roles of ideologist, videographer, executor, and producer. What made this journey truly extraordinary was the collaboration with the exceptionally talented Ukrainian woman and director, Viktoria Makarevich, who brought her unique vision and expertise to the project.

In October, we celebrated the New York premiere of the film at the G-Gallery in SoHo, Manhattan, alongside a photo exhibition. The response was overwhelming, with the audience captivated by the poignant narratives on the screen. Witnessing the emotional impact, including tears and heartfelt reactions, reinforced the significance of our storytelling. Many viewers approached me afterward, expressing a desire to share the film with their families, marking a successful beginning.

The cruelty of this war is shocking. People are losing their loved ones, their homes and their former lives. In what, in your opinion, we can see hope and light at the end of the tunnel?

In the haunting shadow of war`s cruelty, where lives are shattered and homes are lost, discovering hope and light becomes a profound necessity. It`s in the symphony of collective strength, when people unite as one voice, that the enduring light of compassion pierces through the darkest tunnels.

A profound gratitude is extended to the courageous souls in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, whose valor and sacrifice become beacons of hope. In the face of adversity, their unwavering commitment fuels our resilience and steels our resolve. Despite the arduous path, the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people and the bravery of those defending their homeland ensure that triumph is inevitable. It`s not merely a choice but a shared destiny to rise victorious together.

The essence lies in the simple yet profound acts of helping, in the unity that binds us, and in each individual`s contribution within their sphere. In this shared pursuit, a collective force emerges — a force that can confront the tragedy of war and inspire action, spreading compassion like wildfire.


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