Kyrre Lien

2014 - Ongoing

THE HYMN SILENT NIGHT fills the hotel lobby. In the distance, the hollow rumblings of bombing can be heard. It is Christmas in Donetsk, a stronghold in the rebel held territory of Eastern Ukraine.

Since the Russian-backed rebels took control over this territory in the beginning of 2014, more than 10 000 people have been killed and nearly two million people have been displaced.

Shops are closed, most industrial enterprises have been closed and the inhabitants that have not taken up arms have been left without work. Society has come to a grinding halt, in a war between east and west – between culture and power.

“I will always be a soldier”, says 23-year-old Dima. He traveled from Russia to become a mercenary in Donetsk, fighting for the rebels. He is planning to get married there, in the rebel state which is now his new home.

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  • Three hours before this picture was taken, Gala was on her way to work in Donetsk, when the grenade exploded just a few meters away from her. It tore trough her apartment leaving holes in it's way - perfect for a cloth hanger.

  • Danila (4) and his mother Tatiana play at his grandparents' house in Grabovo, the little town where the passenger plane MH17 where shot down in 2014, killing 298 people.

  • Michael near his parent’s house on the outskirts of Donetsk. He struggles to see a future in the self-declared republic of Donetsk, so he has now moved to St. Petersburg.

  • The curfew begins at 11 in the evening and lasts throughout the night, with the army strictly enforces the new law.

  • During the night, many students choose to drink vodka and dance to Russian music. But they have to stay there the whole night until the curfew is lifted next morning, unless they want to risk getting arrested.

  • The centre of Donetsk was once filled with western chains like McDonalds and Ford. Now most of them are gone, leaving the exhaust from tanks in the streets.

  • ”I will always be a soldier”, says 23-year-old Dima. He travelled from Russia to become a mercenary in Donetsk, fighting for the rebels.

  • Olga has just lost her husband, a soldier fighting for the rebels. Her father sits at the table, smoking. “What is this war good for? What? What?” he sobs. Ina, comforts Olga. It's Ina's job to deliver the news to the widow when a soldier is killed. If they are lucky, and bureaucracy is on their side, Olga will get a small, monthly compensation from the rebel government. But this money will not be enough to feed a family.

  • The soldiers decorate and try to make their homemade bunkers a bit nicer. The cat is helpful for that, as well as combating all of the rats that crawl around in the roof during the night. Outside, shelling is always a danger that lurks.

  • Nikita, a student in Donetsk a late night. He got in a fight on New Years Eve, which didn't end well.

  • On July 17, 2014, rebels shot down MH17 over Eastern-Ukraine, with 298 people on-board. The bodies were left in the scorching sun for several days, guarded by pro-Russian separatists armed with AK-47 rifles, but after some time local miners started recovering the bodies.

  • A cemetery on the outskirts of Donetsk is filled with fresh graves for soldiers. After a while, we where told to leave by authorities. "It's mines all over here", they said.

  • Soldiers on the back of a lorry heading to a front line position outside of Debaltseve.

  • Donetsk International Airport was one of the most modern airports in the whole region when it was finished in 2012. Now it's just an empty shell. Both the Ukrainian army and the Russian-backed rebels have had heavy losses here.

  • Zaryana and Evgeny found each other during the war and hopes to build a future together if the war comes to an end.