From Conflict to Culture: Rollins Student to Help Document Artists in Ukraine

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Benjamin Mack-Jackson has traveled the world to share the lessons of historical conflict and the stories of those who lived through them. An international relations major at Rollins College, he is currently visiting Ukraine for the second time and will work with an Orlando-based film crew to document the resilience and power of art in the face of devastation and upheaval.

Mack-Jackson began interviewing World War II veterans at the age of 13. He used his collection of footage and photographs to publish World War II History for Teens, and create the WWII Veterans History Project. His efforts to preserve the past and educate future generations were underscored by modern conflict when Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022.

Benjamin Mack-Jackson’s photo of Ukrainian soldiers dismantling the burnt-out wreckage of a Russian T-72 tank was part of an Orlando Museum of Art exhibit.

Mack-Jackson visited the Polish-Ukrainian border just a few weeks after the invasion, documenting humanitarian efforts and laying the groundwork for a journey inside Ukraine that began the following June. He visited the cities of Lviv and Kyiv, and spent time in Sumy Oblast, one of the first territories invaded by Russia. In January, his photographs and accounts of the war were exhibited alongside “Relentless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War” at Orlando Museum of Art. The exhibit, presented by the Ginsburg Family Foundation, included the work of several photojournalists documenting the impact of the war on the Ukrainian people.

A photo posted to Mack-Jackson’s social media on Aug. 12 shows him at the start of his return visit to Ukraine.

Mack-Jackson recently embarked on a two-week return to Ukraine and is currently back in the Kyiv and Sumy regions. He shared his most recent experiences with the32789:

Entry into Ukraine was normal, as it was during my previous trips. The only time the border was crowded and in panic was during the first few weeks after the invasion began (I was there in March of 2022) as millions of refugees sought to leave the country. Many have since returned to Ukraine.

Conditions are always fluid. There is a sense of relative safety in some parts of the country, but there are others where it’s advisable to wear a helmet and vest since Russians are launching drone, artillery, or missile attacks. Even in cities and towns not directly on the front line, there can be daily — and deadly — attacks.

Morale is high among civilians and military personnel. The Ukrainian army is engaging in counteroffensive operations to liberate their temporarily occupied territories and is putting Western aid to good use while doing so.

As with his previous visit, Mack-Jackson is working as an independent journalist, but will also help produce a documentary about the National Ballet and Opera of Ukraine. His involvement with the project began with his participation in “Relentless Courage.”

“I first met Ben when we brought the exhibit to Orlando,” Ginsburg Family Foundation President and CEO Marc McMurrin told the32789. The foundation is lending its support to the project, which is being produced by Resonator Strategic + Creative Consulting and Adrenaline Films as an extension of Nadiya Ukraine – the film of the National Ballet of Ukraine’s 2022 performance at Dr. Phillips Center’s Steinmetz Hall.

“It’s a personal story of the people who are lifting up Ukraine’s culture,” said McMurrin. “Some of these great artists are also on the front lines. There are some very unique stories and we invited Ben to be a part of that work.”

The film will juxtapose scenes from the company’s upcoming tour of North America with scenes of life in their home country. Interviews with members of Ukraine’s government are also planned.

“The Kyiv opera house is open and functioning, but the number of performances depend on the circumstances of the war,” added McMurrin. “They try to keep life as normal as they can in the midst of very difficult circumstances.”

McMurrin’s assertion is echoed by Mack-Jackson’s observations as he continues his work and prepares to support another effort to educate the world on the struggles and strength of the Ukrainian people.

Much of the country is living their everyday lives the best they can, still under the threat of daily Russian attacks. It’s honestly inspiring and remarkable how, despite the terror, they have managed to consistently pick themselves up, rebuild, and retaliate.

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