Donbass: No Man's Land

Alfredo Bosco

2014 - 2017


No Man’s Land

Since 2014 a civil war has torn the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine. On one side pro-Russian separatist forces have formed the unrecognised republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, while on the other, the Ukrainian government has employed its National Guard and paramilitary troops.

In the same year, the Minsk protocol, a trilateral agreement between Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, imposed a cease-fire. Although it contributed to a substantial drop of casualties, thus far more than 10,000 according to the OCHA, a brutal side-effect has transformed the conflict into a war of attrition, alarmingly similar to the trenches of WWI.

More than 3 million people are affected and 200,000 civilians live near conflict zones (UN report). For Donbass’ inhabitants life has changed drastically. Many elderly and families from the region’s villages have sought shelter in dormitories and Soviet-era bunkers where they share communal spaces and have learned to live together creating a new form of kommounalka. In Torez’s illegal crumbling mines, thousands of coal miners risk their lives daily for wages that barely provide for their families.

Meanwhile separatist soldiers keep the conflict alive and continue to live in foxholes gaining no territory at all, thus giving the military republic of Donetsk, ruled by Zacharcenko, its only reason of existence.

Regardless of the great human cost, the desire to create the vast, independent and Russian state of Novorossia, an immense geo-political project whose boundaries would stretch from Donbass to Odessa, continues, even though for the past three years expansion hasn’t gone beyond Donetsk, where the cease-fire ruled by the Minsk protocol is violated by both divisions.

Propaganda persuades people in Donetsk to associate the conflict to WWII. For this reason, the May 9 parade, which celebrates the Soviet soldiers’ victory against the western Nazi-fascist enemy, has gained more and more importance over the past years, and the 11PM curfew reminds people that the conflict is still ongoing.

Separatist soldiers repeat to themselves: “our position is their defeat”, but it isn’t hard to see that these are meaningless achievements and that Donbass is destined to a dim future.

As the soil under the soldiers’ boots is indistinguishable from the mud on the miners’ helmets, the new republics’ endeavour for autonomy produces as little result as the miners’ strenuous work.

From an important industrial area of steel plants and coal mines, Donbass has become a vast desolate battlefield. A no man’s land between two enemy lines, between East and West. A buffer zone which allows Russia to exercise political and strategic power while revealing Ukraine’s political inconsistency. A scene of civil war at the gates of Europe for which the UE and Russia have proven to be incapable of dialogue and of an effective resolution.

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  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Spartak; 2016

    Exhausted soldier in a shelter.
    Near the frontline in the area of Spartak the Ukrainian division attacks with overnight heavy shellings. "Unpredictable spikes in the armed hostilities further exacerbated the situation of general insecurity" (UNHR report).

  • Ukraine; Donbass Region; North of Spartak; 2017

    Volunteer shooting the Ukrainian lines with a rocket-propelled grenade. The two forces attack nightly ignoring the current ceasefire.
    The ceasefire ruled by the Minsk Protocol was signed in 2014 but fell apart less than a year later. A renewed protocol in 2015 signed for a second armistice but, as the OSCE reports have shown, also failed to stop the fighting.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Debaltsevo; 2015

    Check point near Debaltsevo.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2014

    The morgue of the city of Donetsk. Every day dozen of corpses arrive from the frontline. Most of them remain unrecognized.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2014

    Separatist rebel sniper during the attack of Donetsk's airport.

  • Ukraine; Donbass Region; Torez; 2017

    Coal miner working in an illegal coal mine.

  • Ukraine; Donbass Region; Torez; 2015

    Miners taking a shower after a long day of work in an illegal coal mine. The level of health and working conditions is incredibly low and all security standards remain unaltered since the Soviet era.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2014

    Commander Givi and his soldiers during an attack against the Ukrainian troops at Donetsk's airport.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2017

    Commander Lom chats with his soldiers in a trench.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2014

    View of the airport of Donetsk during an attack by separatist troops.

  • Ukraine; Donbass Region; Debaltsevo; 2015

    Humanitarian aid distributed in Debaltsevo. In the beginning of 2015, the city was significantly destroyed during the fighting between the volunteers of the DPR (Donetsk People's Republic) and the Ukrainian army.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Petrovsky District; 2017

    Svetlana with her three children and her mother-in-law. The family lives close to the frontline and is afraid of night bombings.
    According to a 2016 report from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), almost 300,000 people in the combat zone are critically food insecure and in need of immediate assistance.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2017

    A political refugee in her bedroom in one of Donetsk's dormitories. After being arrested by the Ukrainian security service in Mariupol she moved to Donetsk where she's being hosted for more than two years.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2017

    A wounded volunteer communicating with the frontline.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Petrovsky District; 2017

    Women watching a Soviet-era movie in the shelter where they've been enduring harsh conditions since the war began.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Luhans’ke; 2017

    Soldiers in a trench near Donetsk.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2017

    Portrait of Lom, a separatist commander and communist activist. Before the war he worked as a truck driver in Italy and later as a coal miner.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2017

    An old veteran from WWII.
    Propaganda persuades people in Donetsk to think that the volunteer fighters opposing to Kiev’s government are fighting a battle similar to the one Soviet veterans won against the western Nazi-fascist enemy.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Donetsk; 2015

    Interior of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Donetsk.

  • Ukraine; Donbass region; Debaltsevo; 2015

    Abandoned trench near the frontline of Debaltsevo.

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