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A city under siege

August 24, 2014, Donetsk, Donbass, Ukraine. A pro-Russian sympathizer is guarding a burned out wreck destroyed and brough over by rebels for the independence parade. Celebrating the 23rd year of Ukrainian's independence since the fall of the USRR, the pro-Russian separatists are responding to Kiev's own military parade with their own show. Parading through the streets dozens of prisoners of war, the separatists are showing their determination against the central government.

“This woman is pretty famous. She’s a big supporter of the Russians and the separatists. She’s old-school, wearing the traditional navy military cap and holding a pitchfork, which represents farmers and the land. The slogan behind her refers to Obama being weak. People here really don’t respect the US president.”

 

“This was taken at the very start of my trip. Families were sending their kids to Crimea and Russia for safety. Every day, hundreds of people left in this way. Some people on the platform were crying, others were waving. People here are tough and the children seemed pretty happy to leave. For them it was an adventure. I don’t think they realised what was going on.”

“I took this photo in one of those big Communist-era apartment blocks. There were three of them, side by side; the middle one was occupied by separatist infantry and the buildings on either side were occupied by refugees. These people are hiding in the middle building because they thought that when there’s shelling they’d be protected by the buildings on either side. They’re poor people who might not have the option of leaving Donetsk.”

“I’d heard this northern part of the city had been shelled so I drove there to check it out. This house had taken a direct hit but luckily no one was killed or wounded – the people were in a room that wasn’t hit. This woman is in her garden watching with horror as the firemen try to extinguish the flames. It was a nice house; they were pretty well off so they had a lot to lose and it was obviously traumatic for her. Some people don’t like being photographed at these moments because they don’t want to feel like animals in a zoo, while others want us to work so the world can see what’s happening.”

“This house in the separatist-dominated suburb of Petrovs’kyi in the south of the city had taken a direct hit. It’s a poor area and when we got there everything was being destroyed by government shelling. The shelling usually happened early in the morning and then stopped for a while before resuming again. When they stopped shelling, it was my window to move.”

“This was taken in the Petrovs’kyi district, close to the frontline. This man is using a bomb shelter made by the German army. This area was hotly contested during the Second World War when the Germans were advancing and in 1943 the Russians took it back. There were hundreds of thousands of casualties in the battles here. It’s amazing that locals are using them again.”

“This was the most dangerous moment of my trip because the shelling was almost constant. This is an area called Maryanivka, to the west of the city, and it was hotly contested between Ukrainian forces and separatists – the government was shelling it very regularly. We were hiding in a shelter with around 150 people until the shelling ended. We emerged and we saw many dead bodies. While I was taking these photographs the shelling resumed again so we had to hide behind that pink wall you can see. The woman in the background has just found out that her mother has been killed. She’s looking at her body. They’re right next to the shop they owned. They were about to open their shop and they took a direct hit.”

“This was a parade held by pro-Russian separatists. They were showing off destroyed Ukrainian army vehicles and marching Ukrainian prisoners down the streets. It’s a sort of ‘fuck you’ response to the Independence Day parade taking place in Kiev on the same day.”

“Parading prisoners is something of a Russian tradition dating back to the Second World War. People were throwing stuff at the prisoners, calling them fascists. The prisoner parade happened pretty quickly because security were worried about the crowd getting overheated. They quickly put them in a bus after the parade and drove them off.”

“This photo is of a nurse hugging a rebel soldier in front of a hospital that took hits from government shells. Actually, this nurse was kind of crazy. She was running around everywhere, hugging separatist soldiers, thanking them.”

“This is a shelter inside that same shelled hospital. This soldier has been seriously hurt and now he’s recuperating. I’ve been in more dangerous places than eastern Ukraine [Alpeyrie was held in Syria for 81 days by militants from April 2013 until a ransom payment secured his release]. Nobody can even get into Syria any more and it’s now very problematic for me to return to the Middle East. But Ukraine was dangerous for me for different reasons. A lot of artillery battles are going on and it’s like a lottery – you could be hit at any time. People get killed walking their dog. It can happen to anybody, any time.”

 

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