South East Wales

Photographer recreates family's PoW camp escape

Michal Iwanowski photo Image copyright Michal Iwanowski

A photographer has recreated his grandfather and great uncle's daring 2,200km escape from a prisoner of war camp on camera.

Michal Iwanowksi, 39, from Roath, Cardiff, used a rough map found in his great uncle's diary to follow the perilous route the brothers took through the forests of Russia to safety in Poland in 1945.

The epic four month journey saw Anatol and Wiktor Iwanowski flee the camp in Kaluga, elude an ambush which saw two fellow escapees recaptured and Anatol shot in the hand, and survive camping in minus 20 degrees Celsius as winter tightened its icy grip.

Battling fever caused by his untreated gunshot wound and without fresh water to drink, Anatol existed only on frozen berries and mushrooms, using just a makeshift compass and the stars to navigate.

Image copyright Michal Iwanowski

The brothers were dependant on the cover of night for survival and could not risk being spotted by another living soul as the Russian people were starving and the prize for turning in a fugitive was 16kg (35 lbs) of flour.

But despite all odds they were able to rejoin their families in Wroclaw, Poland, as changed men and lived to tell their tale.

Michal, who moved to Wales 15 years ago, has said he regrets not asking his grandfather more about his escape during his lifetime.

But in the summer of 2013, nearly 70 years later, he felt compelled to retrace the brothers' steps, documenting the harsh landscapes through a modern fugitive's eyes, for his new book Clear of People.

The trip was made possible by an Arts Council of Wales grant and his book which is being crowd funded is due for publication with an accompanying exhibition this summer.

Image copyright Michal Iwanowski

He said: "Unlike them I couldn't camp as the authorities require an address for each night before allowing you in the country and I was carrying heavy photographic equipment.

"I knew it was a pilgrimage I had to take. I felt I owed my grandfather and great uncle this because I never asked questions when I had the chance."

While the cities along the route may have changed drastically, the stark rural landscape between them remains almost untouched.

His photos capture a world far from the pressures of modern life, where the natural landscape dominates.

Michal said: "I walked for hours alone, hearing only the sound of my own footsteps, with my ears tuned in to the finest detail. I totally lost track of time and space."

Image copyright Michal Iwanowski

The resulting photographs have already been exhibited at Ffotogallery in Cardiff, Sydney, Australia, and Barcelona, Spain.

"Making this project is my silent tribute to them and the other people who had to go through journeys like this so that our generation didn't," added Michal.

"But it's a timeless story about the human spirit rather than a nationalistic exercise.

Image copyright Michal Iwanowski

"It's important for the times we live in as more and more people are on the move across the continents, uprooting their lives and fleeing from conflict zones.

"This body of work also pays a silent tribute to the past and present fugitive on their quest for safety."

Michal will be talking about his journey at Made Gallery in Roath on Saturday 19 March.

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