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No Shelter from War. The conflict continues in the east of Ukraine

© Iva Zimova
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No Shelter from War

Nikishyne, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Alexandra Mikhalovna (76) stands in front of her destroyed house in the village of Nikishino. Eastern Ukraine has seen heavy fighting between pro-Russia separatists and the Ukrainian army in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. “My children evacuated me in September – or was it October? I can’t remember, they took me to the city of Torez. On February 26, I returned to my home, I’m living now in the summer kitchen.

Since the very beginning of Ukraine’s ongoing internal convulsion I have been visiting the country regularly and has travelled from East to West and North to South, documenting the effects of the complex situation on the lives of ordinary Ukrainians. In one of my project I decided to picture individuals in the East of the country, the Donbas region, in front of their destroyed houses.

Kamyanka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Vala (57) holds some plastic sheeting that she got from Czech NGO People in Need. She can now cover her roof which a part was destroyed by artillery fire during fierce fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels.

The conflict continues in the east of Ukraine. Over 13, 000 have been killed and more than a million displaced people by the ongoing fighting. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and all their worldly belongings. When I met people who lost everything I asked them about their experiences.

Nikishyne (Nikishino), Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Palin Demyanko (78) peers through broken windows at the damage to her house inflicted during fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels.
She blames the Ukrainian president Poroshenko for the damage to her house and says she’d like him to be hung, this despite that it was the rebel side that shelled her village.

The shell was a gift we received from Ukraine”, says one. A second blames pro-Russian separatists. A third cannot believe that brothers are shooting at brothers. Be that as it may, the result is the same. Both sides have lost everything they held dear; lives, homes, and hopes. Many in the Donbas region had saved what little they had to buy their families houses or apartments. They slowly improved and modernised them but in a split-second, only ruins were left. I travelled in many parts of the war-torn Donbas. I spoke with innocent people who just happened to be living in occupied territory. I photographed them in front of their damaged or destroyed homes, listened to their frustrations, and hugged them, promising everything would soon be fine. The battle for Ukraine is not only a fight on the front lines. It takes place in heads and hearts.

Nikishyne (Nikishino), Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Taras (10) stands in front of his destroyed house. “We hid in the teacher’s house. We had no food, we ran to our house with a white flag in our hands. Ukrainian soldiers were shooting at us with submachine guns. One day at the end of September…there were bombs landing ever 45 seconds. Shelling started from eight in the morning and ended at eight in the evening. The whole building was shaking. In the garage we had a car, we were able to get to it and we drove as fast as we could, bullets following us. We counted how much money we will need to repair our house. 520 000 Hryvnas (USD 25 000) will be needed. We will never be able to fix it.

Seleznivka, Slovyansk, Ukraine
Yushchuk Elena Ivanovna sits in the remains of her house, destroyed during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian Army. “I do not know where to start. What a mess. Where do I start? I’m alone, on my own, who will help me repair my house?

Donetsk, Ukraine
Sveta stands beneath her apartment window in Donetsk’s Oktyabrsky district. The residential area, located 600 meters from Donetsk International Airport, found itself caught in the crossfire between rebels and the Ukrainian Army. Since May 26, 2014 Sveta’s family has spent most of the time hiding in a cellar, On November 1st, 2014 her family fled what she called ‘hell on earth’. Sveta blames the Ukrainian army for shelling roads and homes.

Khryashchevatoe, Lugansk Region, Ukraine
Nikolai Ivanovich (66) stands in front of his bomb damaged house. Nikolai and his family hid for weeks in their cellar after the shelling of the village began. They were evacuated by Ukrainian Army on 18 August 2014, but the vehicle was hit by shell and Nikolai daughter (33) was killed.

Kamyanka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Zoya Petrovna Moiceeva (66) stands in front of her destroyed house in the village of Kamyanka. She and her husband Vladimir (74) stayed in the village during fighting between Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels. They do not have a cellar, and so during the bombing they sheltered in the house or in the backyard. Their house is now in ruins.

Debaltseve, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Raisa (67) stands in front of her house in the 8th Marta (March) District, destroyed by shelling. She says: “My husband couldn’t bear the fighting between the Ukrainian Army and the pro-Russian rebels. It was a grievous blow to him. His heart couldn’t stand it any longer; he had a heart attack and died on his way to the hospital.” Only one room in the house survived the shelling; the rest of the house is totally destroyed.

Nikishyne, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Halina Rublova (66) sits on a bench in front of her destroyed house on the Kolkhoznitskaya Street. “When they started bombing, I hid as everybody else from our street in the school, where there is a bomb shelter. Then when the school was hit we escaped to the Club center on Lenina Street. In September we escaped this hell to the town of Rosepnaya. I lost everything, everything.

Nikishyne (Nikishino), Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Lidia Radenko Timofeevna stands among the ruins of her house in the village of Nikishina. “Our street was bombed first. Our son took us onto Lenina Street. When the bombs began to fall on Lenina Street, we escaped to Torez city. We returned home in late February, when fighting had stopped. Half of our home was gone.

Iva Zimova
the authorIva Zimova
Iva Zimova, Czech and Canadian born in 1956

. I first developed my photographic eye in Montreal, where I studied photography at Dawson College. But Dawson Collage teaches commercial photography, and in any case I found that I was more comfortable wandering the streets with my camera than being locked up in a studio.

 Montreal’s streets were not enough for me, however, so I started to travel to different places. I became resolved to document the lives of people who are persecuted or neglected. In 1998, during the war in Kosovo, I encountered the Czech NGO, People in Need, and since then I have contributed to their efforts with my work. It’s very important for me to be involved in the environment that I am photographing. To be accepted by the people I photograph and to become one of them is a part of what I do. This takes time, but it allows me to be a privileged witness of social occasions and rituals that would otherwise be off-limits: births, baptisms, spiritual ceremonies, weddings and funerals. I always carry my cameras (one digital and one film camera) with me in my backpack. The pack becomes a part of my body and if I don't have it on me, I feel like I'm missing something. To have my cameras with me at all times gives me the opportunity to photograph anything that I find interesting, at anytime. I am represented by Panos Pictures.”

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