On the front line in Ukraine:
Conflict in Donbas was a pivotal line of defence for both sides. The following photos show fighting before, during, and after battle at night in a war that seemed to be never-ending. With Russia now invading the country on all fronts in an all-out conflict, Donbas will be difficult to reclaim should an end come in the near future
In Kyiv, politics seemed to be its own battleground as the nation engaged with accusations of corruption and Russian sympathisers.
As a counteroffensive begins in the east, something Kyiv would never have dreamed of for fear of reprisals from Moscow, its latest roll of the dice is a far-cry from yesteryear's conflict.
How did the war start in Ukraine?In 2013, the then-incumbent president Yanukovych reneged on an EU association deal favouring continuing exclusive trade with Russia. But Ukrainians saw their future in the EU, not with their neighbour. This triggered a prolonged protest in Kyiv’s maidan (main city square) following a call to action by the journalist Mustafa Nayeem, an Afghan refugee who later became an MP for the Democratic Alliance Party.
Days of Ukrainians standing in the square led to a revolution that overthrew Yanukovych, ending with the unfortunate killing of 100 protestors by the hand of unknown sniper assailants.
Shortly there after, pro-Russian separatists along with Russian troops took control of city halls across the country including Kharkiv, Kramatrosk, Donetsk, and Luhansk but were recaptured not long after. This led to an all-out war supported by the Kremlin resulting in the deaths of more than 10,000 people. A ceasefire was struck known as ‘The Minsk Accords’, but shelling continued concentrated along a line of contact (the frontline).
Fighting in the town of Maryinka:Conflict is a brutal sensory experience compounded by the disorientating effects of gunfire, bombings, and explosions. The fighting in these photographs took place at night alongside ‘Donbas Battalion’, a unit of highly trained soldiers founded in the advent of the Euromaidan revolution of 2014.
Erratic fighting broke out following a shot fired by separatist troops in the town of Maryinka, Donetsk Oblast, which led to the battalion firing back in retaliation. Adjacent to our position is a residential area consisting of thousands of people still living in their homes who, day in and day out, endure stray bullets and misfires landing in and around their property.
Squads regularly rotate at the instruction of commanders in the National Guard, as groups such as the Donbas battalion and others, which include the Right Sector Batallion, are strictly volunteer groups though have since been absorbed into the army.
The equipment being used at the time was old and dated, though much of it I was not allowed to photograph. Their opposition is largely made up of locals (mostly coal miners), Russian troops, and mercenaries such as the Wagner Group.
The situation along the frontline:Trenches separate the frontline disguised by camo nets created by volunteers throughout the country, mostly in Kharkiv. As the fighting begins, the whistling sound of bullets, explosions from launchers, and other equipment magnify the difficulties faced by locals. The snapping sound of handguns and semi-automatic weapons ratchet throughout the night, which could easily be mistaken for fireworks.
The next morning, separatists were heard through radio chatter that they had taken large amounts of damage from the Ukrainians, and from that, another day of work begins for both sides as more fighting is inevitable.
A complex history:
Ukraine’s conflict is a compound story. Mixed with historical difficulties, it raged internally for years before the Donbas conflict. In the east, a pro-Russia sentiment grew from a mix of the circulation of propaganda via the use of Russian-backed television channels and social media. This was propped up by the misinterpretation of new laws being passed by the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) which included the national education curriculum being taught solely in Ukrainian as opposed to a mix of languages.
The general consensus in the country though is one of support for Ukraine’s central government, with only a few backing a future with Russia.