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Echoes of Donbass - A documentary project by Tymofiу Melnykov

We continue to share the documentary projects of the finalists within the framework of grant support from the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers. Tymofiу Melnykov traveled to Donetsk region to work on the documentary project Echoes of Donbas.

 

In November 2023, I went on a business trip to the Donetsk region. The main point of the route was the town of Hirnyk in the Donetsk region. It was located 12 kilometers from the front line at the time of the trip and 25 kilometers from occupied Donetsk. Before the war, it was home to more than 10,000 residents, and now only a few remain. Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the town has been under constant shelling. Most people have left the city, and those who remain are forced to survive.


The purpose of the trip itself is a humanitarian mission to support the remaining residents. Volunteer groups are constantly traveling to the region to bring food, water, hygiene products and heating supplies to help the local population. The city itself has been without electricity, heating, water and cellular service for days, weeks and months. It can be reached via the main Dnipro-Donetsk highway, the main transportation hub for the entire country with fighting in the east.

Entry to the Donetsk region

15.11.2023


The drive from Dnipro to the destination takes about 3 hours, more than 250 kilometers. Volunteers drive this distance every day, back and forth. They drive fully loaded trucks to provide residents with everything they need. Without humanitarian aid, life in this region is impossible, and there are no grocery stores in the towns near the front line.

Coal storage facility in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region

15.11.2023


Loading coal into a truck for delivery to people

15.11.2023


Stepova coal mine

16.11.2023


Coal is the heart of Donbas. The entire region is covered with coal mines. The coal industry brings profit to both local residents and the entire country. After the war started in 2014, many mines were occupied by Russia. Now, after the beginning of a new phase of the war in 2022, the remaining mines have begun to operate in a limited mode. This has greatly reduced the income of the local population.

Volunteers Alina and Pavlo in their car

15.11.2023


Throughout the trip, I was accompanied by a volunteer group consisting of Alina, Pavlo, Volodymyr and Maksym. They work for the charity organization Children New Generation. Their volunteer missions to Donbass are carried out almost every day in shifts. Without their help, people would not be able to exist here. The volunteers themselves are locals; after the war in the East started in 2014, they lived for a year in occupied Donetsk. Later they moved to the territory controlled by Ukraine. But when the war moved into a hot phase again, and the Russian army began to advance, seizing Ukrainian land, they decided to help their home region.

Unloading coal at night in the yard of local resident Natalia

15.11.2023


The main goal of this trip is to help people prepare for the hard winter. With the support of HelpDesk Media, caring people raised money to help Donbass residents. And volunteers agreed to help organize the delivery of the aid. The main problem for the locals is the heat in winter. Despite the large coal reserves in Donetsk Oblast, it is very difficult to buy it here now. People don't have enough money to do so, and due to the low volume of coal production, there is not enough coal for everyone. So the mission was to find coal and deliver it to those who need it most.

One of the closed waste heaps on the road to Hirnyk

16.11.2023


There are a lot of spoil heaps in this region - artificial mountains made of rock that has been removed from a mine. People can find some coal on them to heat their homes. But now, for military reasons, most of the spoil heaps cannot be accessed, it can be dangerous.

Public mobile water tanks

16.11.2023


In many areas of Donbas, there is a complete lack of water: in some places, like Donetsk itself, since 2014, and in others more recently. In this part of the Donetsk region, there has been no water since mid-2023. After the Russian army bombed the dam of the Karlivka Reservoir, thousands of people are forced to live without water supply. Water is brought here by volunteers and local authorities. It is shared - in many yards there are public tanks where residents can collect water on their own. People are forced to live like this for months, saving water, hoping that the next time the tanks will not be empty.

An elderly woman with a water cart in Hirnyk

16.11.2023


People are forced to organize their everyday life in the complete absence of water supply. The need to bathe, wash dishes or do laundry can be a real challenge for them. To live a normal life, they first need to go and collect water from mobile water tanks. They have to do this every time they go out, fearing that shelling could start at any moment.

Street bomb shelter in the center of Hirnyk, Donetsk region

16.11.2023


Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine (from February 2022 to November 2023), there have been more than 5,700 air raids in Donetsk region. Each of them poses a significant risk that the outcome for local residents could be fatal. During the same period, media and city authorities reported explosions in the region more than 1,100 times. More than 650 artillery attacks were recorded. This is the highest figure in the whole of Ukraine, and the most tragic. Many residents are forced to stay in their homes because they have nowhere else to hide.


In total, the conflict in Donbass has been going on for over 130 days. But in reality, this region has been living in terrible conditions since 2014. It was from the moment when the Russian army treacherously occupied Donetsk and Luhansk and later unleashed a bloody war. And then it did it again on a much more horrific scale in 2022, wiping out Mariupol, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and many other major cities in Donbas.


The frontline villages and towns of Donbas are shelled daily. These places are constantly subjected to rocket, artillery, mortar and drone attacks. Most houses are not equipped with bomb shelters and other means of protection. Local residents cannot hide from the shelling of the Russian army. Every day they live in fear that a shell might hit their house. To protect them from the shelling, a mobile bomb shelter was installed in the center of the village of Hirnyk to protect them from shrapnel during the shelling.

Ruslan, Halyna's son, looks at the coal that was brought to his mother

16.11.2023


A little kitten warms up in the house of Ruslan and Halyna

16.11.2023


Halyna, a pensioner from Hirnyk, in her home

16.11.2023


Halyna lives in a house with her son Ruslan right next to the waste heap. They have a small farm and several small kittens. It is very cold in their old house, and they have to save heat by staying indoors and not opening windows and doors. They have no money to buy coal, and one bag of coal lasts for a whole month. Sometimes a local policeman, Oleksandr, comes to visit them and give them humanitarian aid.

Former miner Oleksandr against the backdrop of coal near his house

16.11.2023


The photo shows Oleksandr, a guy from Hirnyk. When he was young, he suffered an industrial injury while working in a mine. Since then, he has lost the ability to walk and has to use a wheelchair to get around. Now he earns his living by repairing bicycles, scooters and various tools. Volunteers brought him coal, because an ordinary miner from Donetsk Oblast cannot afford to buy coal for the winter.

Oksana with her three children on the porch of her house in Hirnyk

16.11.2023


This is Oksana's family, she has a husband and 3 small children. Their house smells strongly of burning, and they have to heat it with food packaging, newspapers, and drying rags. They live in one room to save on heating. Volunteers regularly visit their family and bring them everything they need to continue living. They can't evacuate because they have no relatives in other cities who could take them in.

Oksana's husband heats the stove in their house

16.11.2023


Volunteers brought sweets for Oksana's children

16.11.2023


Pensioner Paraskoviya is forced to stay in bed all the time in her house in Hirnyk

15.11.2023


This is Paraskovia, a pensioner from Hirnyk. Recently, she has not been getting out of bed at all. A few years ago, she suffered a serious injury and has not been able to move around since. She lives with her elderly sister. Together they support each other to survive in difficult conditions.

Consequences of a Russian missile hitting a house in Selydove

16.11.2023


Destruction in a residential building in a residential area in Hirnyk

16.11.2023


Damaged residential buildings in Selydove, Donetsk region

16.11.2023


Every day Donbas is under constant fire from the Russian occupation forces. Thousands of people are suffering: many are wounded or killed, and their homes are destroyed. Many people have been forced to flee their homes and evacuate to safer regions. And the remaining residents are surviving in a bloody war of complete destruction. Thousands of homes have been destroyed since February 2022, and their residents will no longer be able to return to their homes.

Volunteer cafe between Donetsk and Dnipropetrovs'k regions

16.11.2023

 

During the full-scale war in Ukraine, many citizens cooperated for a common goal - to win the war. The photo shows a café on the border of Dnipropetrovska and Donetska oblasts, where all those who help the country in its time of need are fed free of charge. Soldiers, medics, volunteers, journalists and many others can have a free meal before a difficult trip to Donbass. The café owners are ready to help for free, doing their best. And all the volunteers are ready to help the café owners themselves so that they can continue to work for a common goal. The military leave their battle flags, artifacts and chevrons here as a memento.

 

Tymofiy Melnikov is a Ukrainian documentary filmmaker. For seven years of his career, he has devoted most of his time to journalism, namely reportage photography. Since February 24, 2022, he has been engaged in military documentary filming, chronicling the war in Odesa.


The program is implemented with the support of the International Press Institute.



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