This is the picture that will be remembered from Emmanuel Macron’s trip to Ukraine : the French president in a train meeting with two heads of government, the German Olaf Scholz and the Italian Mario Draghi. It’s almost one o’clock in the morning when the author of this picture, AFP photographer Ludovic Marin, takes the picture. They are on a train somewhere in Ukraine, on their way to Kiev, to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky.
A twelve hour train journey
“On Thursday we take the plane from Paris to arrive in Poland, then we take vans, which take us to a place we do not know in advance, in the Polish countryside”, tells the photographer to France Inter. He has followed Emmanuel Macron for five years on behalf of Agence France Presse. This train journey for the French president must remain secret until the last minute. The trip to Ukraine had been confirmed the day before, but the mode of transport remained unknown.
The train ride between the Polish border and Kiev was to take twelve hours. The carriages set off late in the evening. The train is running slowly. “After crossing the Polish border, the Elysée’s press attaché informs us that the president will meet three-way on board the train with his two colleagues.“, Details Ludovic Marin. The photo reporter continues: “And he wants the AFP photographer to be able to take a picture of this unprecedented meeting that launches President Macron’s trip to Ukraine.”
An air of the Orient Express
When he gets into the car, the German delegation is still getting his passports checked. They are three or four photographers. Ludovic Marin from AFP and the official photographers of the three leaders. Emmanuel Macron and Italian Mario Draghi face each other. They speak while waiting for the German Chancellor.
Olaf Scholz arrives a few minutes later “in a polo shirt, very casual”, notices Ludovic Marin, he is wearing jeans. The French president is in a white shirt, while the president of the Italian council Mario Draghi is wearing a sweater. “There’s a panel of different clothes from heads of state and government, which is quite funny”, the photographer smiled.
In this picture there is an air of Orient-Express. “The frame is very unusual for a picture of this kind”, recognizes Ludovic Marin. He qualifies this decor “unlikely”. A table of solid wood, the striped and colored pompom curtains, the grown wooden chairs shine. At the bottom, above the flat screen, the clock shows 00:53.
An “unpublished” place for such a meeting
The three main characters smile. Scholz and Draghi look at each other. Emmanuel Macron shows the bottom of the cart. Ludovic Marin details: “He shows his two guests a small icon that is behind us the photographers. He shows them a little virgin and a child who tells them that the Catholic religion in the region they are traveling to is of particular importance.”
“It’s an unusual picture, already at the moment, it’s midnight, in a train carriage, which is a rather unusual place to take a picture of this level politically”, thinks Ludovic Marin. The windows are closed, the curtains too, impossible to know the exact location of this picture. “We are in open country, in the middle of nowhere. The topic is important, it is three leaders with enormous weight who will cross a country at war with more or less assessed risks on the field.”
The handshake between Zelensky and Macron
The first pictures arrive at AFP’s picture library on Thursday morning, and will soon be broadcast on news sites around the world. Another picture “the story”. “I do not say to myself that the image has a historical significance. I tell myself that I am doing something very unusual, completely exceptional, even outside the norm”, calmly tells the photographer. “The historical significance, we will weigh that later, by reading the history that will be written, after this journey and the decisions that will follow from this meeting and from what will have been decided between the Heads of State. At that time, we know we are starting a story that will (or not) pick up speed and become (or not) historic.
“I keep writing the story of the story” explains Ludovic Marin. “There are small and big stories. The story is generally the five-year period, and there is the story of Ukraine in Europe, yes, no, maybe, tomorrow, in ten years, twenty years from now. It may be a highlight in Ukraine in Europe, but the history of the future will show. “ Another picture with very strong symbolism will be taken a few hours later, this time in Kiev: the handshake between Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.