Best of Slow Journalism: Learning to fight

 

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

We don’t hear much in the news about the Ukraine conflict these days. Yet two and a half years after a ceasefire deal was agreed between the government in Kiev and pro-Russian rebels, outbreaks of fighting still flare up occasionally in the east of the country.

So it’s refreshing to read a piece of independent journalism that reminds us that life is far from peaceful for people living in eastern Ukraine. Roads & Kingdoms, which calls itself a “journal of food, politics, travel and culture” and whose editor-at-large is globetrotting chef Anthony Bourdain, has a good track record when it comes to producing enlightening journalism on underreported stories: it recently published fascinating pieces on Yahya Jammeh, the former strongman leader of Gambia (you can read our own report on the landmark Gambian election here), and an underground town in the middle of the Australian outback.

Learning to Fight, by Paris-based photographer João Victor Bolan and Ukraine-based journalist Sandra Alek, focuses on the Ukrainian children being initiated into an increasingly normalised world of war, rifles and a love of the Russian motherland. At a “military patriotic club” in the town of Ilovaisk, the scene of fierce fighting at the height of the conflict in 2014 and now part of the territory claimed by the self-proclaimed state of the Donetsk People’s Republic, kids as young as 11 are trained in armed combat.

Alek recounts some of the kids’ harrowing stories about living in a war zone and how it has affected their lives. Twelve-year-old Sasha plays with a fake grenade while telling her that he joined the club because he’s getting ready to join the fight against Ukraine when he’s older. Bolan’s striking and intimate portraits offer an insight into what it’s like being a child living in a disputed territory run by separatist militants while a conflict rumbles on in the background.

There’s no sign of the low-level conflict in the Ukraine abating any time soon. Sadly, this short but powerful piece of journalism gives us little cause for optimism.

 

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