Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

Feature

A year in Ukraine: from Maidan to Donbas

  • Captured tank on show in Kiev (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Last year, Canadian photojournalist Christopher Bobyn reported on the popular uprising against Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yanukovych. One year later, he visited the contact line in the war with Russia in east Ukraine to see how the crisis is evolving.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

At the line of contact near Donetsk, a Ukrainian, Soviet-era field gun is permanently fixed on a pro-Russian separatist position, waiting only to be fired by government troops whenever the next break in the shaky ceasefire in east Ukraine should erupt.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)
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Ukrainian soldiers of the 28th motorised infantry brigade cook in the mud of sandbag trenches near the frontline town of Mar’inka. The normally bleak steppe has become harsher still: earth pockmarked by artillery strikes and reduced to mud by manoeuvring tanks, crossed with freshly dug trenches, and dotted with bunkers.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Soldiers of the Ukrainian Army’s CIMIC Unit advance to the remains of a house being used as a bunker on the line of contact with pro-Russian separatists. The CIMIC Unit was formed to supply civilians and soldiers with crucial items from aid groups on the front. The army is forced to supplement its own resources with offerings from Ukrainians - it is a military with a government so broke that it can’t properly care for its own men without private contributions.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

At frontline observation post, a soldier of the Ukrainian Right Sektor regiment wears a uniform composed from mismatched pieces of British, Polish, and German field gear. His ultra-nationalist unit works alongside government troops, but not directly under (or answerable) to their commanders. Art sent from children in Kiev hangs in the background. His rifle butt is decorated with a poem about the beauty of Ukrainian traditions and village life.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

A Cossack volunteer soldier polices a frontline checkpoint, preventing civilians from entering the war zone. The army lets residents out, but few can go eastwards through the checkpoints - the entire Donbas region is being secured to minimise civilian casualties in the event of further conflict. Even residents who have fled the fighting and try to return home to gather belongings are turned back at the checkpoints.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

At the border of the Donetsk Oblast, tank traps mark the start of the front line of the Ukrainian military’s ATO, or Anti-Terrorist Operation, as the war between government troops and pro-Russian separatists is known in Ukraine. The roads are guarded day and night to prevent civilians and even paramilitary units from disturbing the fragile ceasefire.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Sergei (10) lives in a Soviet-era basement shelter in the frontline town of Mar’inka, below his family’s destroyed apartment. Together with his brother and parents, they are dependent on the Ukrainian Army’s CIMIC Unit for all food and hygiene items while the war continues around them.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

In central Kiev, refugees from eastern Ukraine collect clothing and basic household items from a construction yard-turned volunteer aid centre. The Ukrainian government has been unable to fund and organise its own centres for refugees, so citizens have stepped in to provide for the tens of thousands of refugees in Kiev, and the estimated 1.2 million in the rest of the country.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Vladimir (11) studies with his mother in the bedroom he shares with her and his father. After their apartment block was destroyed in Luhansk, they fled west and settled in a small cottage near Kiev, without indoor plumbing or access to paved roads: the only housing they could afford. Vladimir, who speaks Russian, now walks 4 kilometres to the closest village to attend classes in Ukrainian, adapting to both a new home and language after the trauma of war.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

On the outskirts of Kiev, the Gorlovka collective centre is home to 180 people, all internally displaced Ukrainians from Donetsk or Luhansk. Each family receive two beds, from which they make tent-like dwellings with sheets, with six to eight families to a room.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Gagik (45) and daughter Diana (8) sit with their only belongings in the Gorlovka collective centre in Kiev. They fled Luhansk only with what they could carry, as their apartment was destroyed by artillery. Gagik refuses to join family in Russia, insisting it will offer an even worse future for his daughter than a displaced life in Ukraine.

(Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Outside St. Michael’s Monastery in downtown Kiev, the Ukrainian government displays whayt it says is captured weaponry of Russian troops - its proof of Russian military activity within Ukraine. Families flock to inspect and pose with the latest Russian tanks, armoured trucks and even unmanned aerial drones, which are accompanied by government placards explaining the serial numbers and designs of the armaments to prove they are not of Ukrainian origin.

Christopher Bobyn’s previous work has included extensive coverage of the former-Yugoslavia, the Syrian civil war, and the Egyptian revolution. He is currently living in Berlin

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The only effective way to address the region’s challenges is to invest in balanced, trustworthy, independent and diverse media, working for Russian-language audiences.

Opinion

Ukraine: holding its ground

Ukraine needs money and arms to hold its ground against Russian aggression. But EU or no EU, it will come out of the war stronger.

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