Tags / sepratists
Completed over the course of three trips to Ukraine in 2014/15, this multimedia piece explores the heavy silence of war - away from the war porn of frontline fighting and Western-Russain power plays. With Ukraine slipping back into the corrupt era of Yanukovich, the anxious wait for reforms, true independence and peace continues.
“Exit,” Semyonovka Psychiatric Hospital.
Shells land 20 kilometers away. Four months later, in January 2016, a separatist rocket attack a few blocks away kills 30 civilians.
Separatists’ diversionary raid on a railway bridge leaves passenger trains stranded in Mariupol, Donetsk region. After many months of idleness, the bridge was finally repaired.
[Radio chatter] Separatist positions report ‘111’ – ‘All clear’. Other call signs are ‘110’ – we’re being attacked; and ‘112’ – We’re attacking. It is believed, that the previously stationed Chechens and Don Cossacks have been replaced with regular Russian military combatants.
Ukrainian street musicians perform a song by a
Russian rock band, ‘Splin’
I want to fall asleep and never wake up
go away into the sea and not come back
or come back, but together
With you so much more interesting
with you so many interesting things around
and not even tight (suffocating)
Without the squares, railway stations, stops
without all these civilisations
One more sip - and we’re on fire
on one, two, three
Burn with fire, your third Rome
catch my rhythm
and dance, dance, dance, dance
The patrol passes along the village streets, dotted by drunk civilians and military personnel – a sign not so uncommon even before the war. Somewhere in the vicinity, a high ranking Ukrainian officer was assaulted and kidnapped with his armed escort a week before.
Sergei sits during night watch on the Permovaisk frontline, prepping his gun at the slightest noise in the distance; remains of an exploded 80mm mortar shell is a few meters away. In the morning, his face bathes in the warmth of a late summer’s sunrise.
“What a beautiful day, we all woke up alive.”
Sergei died on September 23rd during a skirmish, one day before he was due to return home.
“I came here to replace the guys who have been here for months without rotation, so someone can go home - not because I’m some big Ukrainian patriot,” says Vladislav, stationed in Zolote.
Even before the war, the old mining village was poor, with crumbling buildings dotting the streets. Now, with even less people remaining, pensioners gather for a daily market - made up of 5 stalls, overshadowed by a modest Lenin statue. Three blocks away, Ukrainian soldiers occupy the vacant houses, which are shelled on a nightly basis.
“One year ago, the commander put tanks in the first line, as if it was the Second World War; now you have accurate weapons – the whole crew died,” says one of the commanders.
The decrepit reminder of the war ruins the beautiful vista over the steppes of Donbas. Yet, the war is still on going, the steppes are the buffer zone, and the current trenches still scar the landscape, two meters behind the tank.
Away from the headlines of Western-Russian power plays and war porn of frontline fighting; away from boys with a cause, imperial ambitions and the spectacle of war. What’s left is the chilling wait and anxiety. The sluggish nightmare immerses anyone unlucky enough to be caught up close – families stuck in the buffer zones, blaming elusive fascists,
as their men fight for the elusive Russians. The nightly grind of staring into the darkness of a frozen conflict, confined to the trench and radio transmitting enemy reports of your own movements; the sweeping apathy back home.
While Ukraine is slipping back into the corrupt era of Yanukovich, Eastern Ukraine is trapped in a disaster, which shows no signs of letting go. The anxious wait for reforms, true independence and peace continues.
The night passes peacefully, with sporadic pot-shots fired from the opposing lines; the Ukrainians do not respond. Without appropriate night-vision gear, the watch is spent chewing through bags of seeds – siemki, and a constant flow of tea and, if available, coffee.
Weapons sit idly, as the soldiers rest before the nightly grind.
A view from the Permovaisk frontline.
After months without rotation, the prospects of an entrenched warfare remain bleak. Stationary frontline attritions grind is more reminiscent of World War One, than a 21st century battlefield. Faced with increasing apathy from their own society in Ukraine, many soldiers turn to bottle, or worst - chair and a rope – even if the problem has not yet reached epidemic proportions.
Pavlopil and its 200 remaining inhabitants are stuck between Ukrainian and separatists frontlines. Devoid of jobs, schools or local amenities, the villagers attempt to co-exist. Days are spent farming and sitting in the front yards; it takes too long, and costs too much to get into neighbouring city of Mariupol.
“We share what we have – yes, you could say it’s real communism,” says one of those remaining.
Some families, however, did not have even the smallest luxury of a roof over their heads – their homes were destroyed in subsequent artillery duels.
The separatists’ diversionary raid on a railway bridge leaves passenger trains stranded in Mariupol. After many months of idleness, the bridge was finally repaired.
The strategic southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol continues to rely on its heavy-industries, even as shells randomly hit its eastern outskirts, or the near-constant fighting in Shyrokino - a village 30 kilometers east of Mariupol. Even as analysts and military intelligence predict a weekly separatist assault, it hasn’t happened in a year; the steel mills roll on.
‘Psych’, a young volunteer fighter with one of Ukraine’s makeshift battalions ‘St. Mary’. After being reformed from the Shakhtorsk Battalion, the newly established battalion’s leaders are adopting a Christian Crusader façade.
“I’m an atheist,” he says, trying to conceal a pre-adolescent face under khaki balaclava.
The psychiatric hospital in Semyonovka, Donetsk Region, saw heavy fighting at the start of the War in Donbass. Both sides accuse the other for its destruction and using civilians trapped in the crossfire as cover. According to Human Rights Watch, patients and staff were evacuated on May 26, 2014 “to other facilities in Zhdanovka, Gorlovka, and Donetsk.”
All of these territories are now under control of the Pro-Russian separatists. A man from Semyonovka- who preferred to remain anonymous, said as he scourged through the remains of his home: “Last time I heard, they were taken to Russia after the evacuation.”
Two of Tanya’s seven children huddle by a television in Kramatorsk refugee centre. Having escaped war in the neighbouring city of Gorlovka - currently under separatist control, the family breathes easily. Boredom prevails, as the children – along with the teenagers, move from one screen to another, trying to entertain themselves.
“My husband will join us here soon,” says the mother Tanya, “everything is perfect.” Meanwhile, her eldest daughter stares at the flickering screen in front.