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“Life Became Suffering: Illustrated and Audible Memories from the Siege of Mariupol and the War in Ukraine”

Excellence in Visual Human-Interest Storytelling

USA Today, 2023

Author(s): Karina Zaiets, Ariana Torrey, Veronica Bravo and Graphics Staff


USA Today used vividly drawn illustrations and digital images shared by loved ones to give survivors of Russia’s war on Ukraine a powerful platform to share their tragic personal stories of lives forever disrupted and lost.  

Reporter Karina Zaiets, herself displaced from Ukraine, and the USA Today graphics team, including Ariana Torrey and Veronica Bravo, interviewed survivors of some of the war’s worst moments. They then illustrated their recollections in a visually innovative, graphic novel approach. 

In one series, they interviewed four survivors of the devastation in Mariupol. Their recollections were published as text, in their own words, with stunning illustrations drawn from their recollections as backdrop. The illustrated scenes are based on images provided by the survivors, their descriptions of the scenes, and independent research by the USA Today team. Of the four survivors interviewed, only one provided extensive photographic evidence to draw from, as the others had to delete images from their phones as they escaped the city to avoid detection.  

In another series, the USA Todayteam asked survivors to share memories of loved ones they had lost in the war. Their recollections, in text and in audio, are supported by favorite digital still images and videos of the people they have lost. The effect is powerful, driving home to viewers the toll in human lives and suffering the war has exacted.