Modern computers can colourise old WWII photos and make them seem modern, but what if colour photos of people sheltering in underground stations weren’t of 1940s London but 2020s Kyiv?

That’s what’s on display at the London Transport Museum, which has collected recent photos from Ukraine’s underground train tunnels and put them in context with their WWII contemporaries from London.

It’s a fascinating historical collection, but more than that, it’s deeply moving as you see people who you could easily pass on the street today huddled together, seeking safety in train stations built to survive bombs from the West but actually protecting people from bombs sent from the East.

Although separated by 80 years and 1,300 miles, the photos are considerably similar, as humans share a common bond in the tunnels.

Children play games, whether board games in the past or games of cards today—but they are always games for children. A musical group are performing in Ukraine, just as British bands would lay on patriotic music in London’s tunnels. In the past they read newspapers, today they scan phones looking for the latest news.

Kyiv’s stations are much larger than London’s so while Londoners crammed on the tube platforms with blankets and bunk beds, some enterprising people bring their entire beds into the Kyiv tunnels.

An unexpected effect of seeing the photos side by side is that they bring the past to life.

It’s hard at times to look at old B&W photos and empathise with the emotions the people were feeling. The past is a foreign country, as the saying goes, but when looking at a war-weary woman from Ukraine worn out by the terrors above, I found myself unexpectedly projecting her emotions into the past. Suddenly, the British housewife knitting in the tunnel, a sign of plucky British resilience, comes alive, and you start to know how she must have felt sheltering from Nazi attacks, not even knowing if she would have a home to go to the next morning.

That’s the power of this exhibition. It shows us what the Ukrainian people are going through and, in doing so, brings alive what our great-grandparents had to endure as well.

It’s quite an emotional exhibition.

You can find it in the London Transport Museum on the upper walkway, and it will be there until Spring 2025.


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