Random Stories from the buffer zone [Southeastern Ukraine]

‘Ms Irina and the Makeshift Trolley.’

Yalta Village, Southeastern Ukraine. Early afternoon on a cloudy, freezing day, Ms Irina is wheeling her makeshift trolley alongside the deserted road, carrying the wood she’ll need to burn to combat low temperatures and extreme humidity. As conflict among separatists is advancing towards her she’s determined to survive the non-declared ‘hybrid war’.  Her little village of Yalta is caught in the geographical and cultural fault-line between the Ukraine and Russia but March is also March here, in Southeastern Ukraine: light, gently curved hills, embroidered in the green of young wheat, the white of almond blossoms, the brown of fresh soil. Here, maintaining a semblance of normality means coping with energy and food shortages on monthly salaries between €150 to €200 though Irina’s state pension falls just short of €70. Tomorrow Irina will return to visit her only daughter in the hospital where she is being treated for a heart condition.. Irina is now the only parent, having buried her husband years ago. The trolley reminds her of taking her daughter out in a pram when she was just a baby. I give her what Euros I have in my pocket and she is convinced I have been sent by God, she is convinced she is not forsaken.

An episode in the “Ukraine and the Art of Limited War”  
Yalta, Southeastern Ukraine. | ref.: 
UKR_4354

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Women and children striving to move a makeshift trolley full of wood, in the streets of Sartana, next to Mariupol. Sartana, a town of 11,000, almost 70% of whom are of Greek origin, is located just hundreds of meters away from the line of fire. Sartana itself is not much of a prize. It is the industrial port city of Mariupol, a few kilometers further south, that Ukrainian forces want to defend at all costs. Several hundred meters away, shelling has just started again, despite the ceasefire between Ukrainian and rebel forces, which was forged after marathon negotiations on February 12. 

As the sound of artillery grows more intense, my nose recognizes that familiar smell - a man standing next to me says that the rebels always wait for the OSCE* teams to leave before resuming their attacks. "As soon as the OSCE leaves, the firing starts," he said. It’s tit for tat, blow for blow as separatists accuse Ukrainian forces of similar deviousness; any attempt to discern a perpetrator is futile. The women and children keep wheeling their trolley, as history keeps turning its wheels. An episode in the "Ukraine and the Art of Limited War".

Sartana, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_4912

*OSCE = Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Responsible to monitor and verifying the ceasefire.

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It is a civil war out there. Inside the Cultural Centre of Sartana, Marina insist in the rehearsal playing her violin despite if there only three musicians left from the orchestra - the rest are blocked on the “other side” of the buffer zone. 
Marina plays an old Greek song “To diko sou paploma” and her violin strives to cover the noise of a mortar shell.

Sartana, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_5108

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'Fishing or Swimming is prohibited'

Despite the ceasefire, the industrial city of Mariupol is a key strategic focus of Russian-backed rebel forces. Across the road from the giant belching chimneys of the Azovstal steel factory, a small group of fishermen stand on a rubbish-strewn bank, hoping to catch a snack from the water. Pollution forms a hard glistening veneer which reflects the setting sun. 

Igor, a steelworker, casts his rod towards the opposite bank as water poured into the river through a rusty drain. The drain starts in the Sea of Azov and runs under Azovstal. He is cynical and jaded, but not nervous. "It's not fighting over there, they're just taking potshots at each other while we wait for those in power to decide what's next... I'll keep fishing here until Putin decides to take Mariupol for real." 
An episode in the “Ukraine and the Art of Limited War” 


Mariupol, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_5241  UKR_4607

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A day on the beach.
While soldiers of the Ukrainian army form defence lines in trenches alongside Azov's sea coastline, citizens keep enjoying their fishing. It’s just 'another day on the beach'.
Only yesterday, mortar shells landing in the sea sprayed up columns of water. An episode of the "Ukraine and the Art of Limited War".

Azov Sea, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_5351

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"Well I'm standing by a river but the water doesn't flow
It boils with every poison you can think of
And I'm underneath the streetlight but the light of joy I know
Scared beyond belief way down in the shadows..."

Despite the ceasefire, key industrial city of Mariupol is a strategic focus of Russian-backed rebel forces. Across the road from the giant belching stacks of Azovstal steel factory, a small group of fishermen stood on a trash strewn bank, hoping to get a nibble from the polluted waters beat to a hard silver finish by the setting sun.

Mariupol, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_4582 

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'Clouds, Death and Apathy'

Mariupol’s (Maria's City) name derives from the Christian Orthodox's Hodegetria icon of the Holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary. Down the road from the giant belching chimneys of Azovstal, a vast industrial plant that was once the pride of the Soviet coal and steel industry, a monumental scene of death and apathy. Long neglected by Kiev, in desperate need of a profound overhaul in infrastructure, the barren moonscape suggests Mariupol’s troubles started long before the war. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the grip of corruption, oligarchs, poverty and apathy got its hold on Mariupol. War came to finish it off.

Mariupol, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_4175

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Given the chance, I'll die like a baby
On some far away beach
When the season's over
Unlikely, I'll be remembered
As the tide brushes sand in my eyes I'll drift away" ["On Some Faraway Beach" Brian Eno.]

Soldiers form defence lines alongside the Azov sea coastline, in trenches created within a children’s playground. Civilians are struggling to maintain normality in their everyday life, dealing with shortages in energy and food supplies - striving to cope on salaries reaching an average of € 150,00 ~ 200,00 per month.

Azov Sea, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_5342

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He said: “If you help me, reach out your hand and help me to create a free Ukraine, you are my brother.” He also added, “However, if you don’t help me, neither reach out your hand, nor hinder me, you are allowed to live here. There is enough room here and you can live here.” That is the key phrase: “There is room here.” Yet in essence: “If you hinder the process, stick spokes in the wheel, then you are the enemy and you need to be destroyed.” Simple.

Discussing with a ‘Private Sector’ (Right Sector) unit commander, in the outskirts of Mariupol.

Makeshift military camp, Southeastern Ukraine | ref.: UKR_4726

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As the conflict with separatists escalates, and attacks reach cities, soldiers are patrolling the streets of Mariupol, Eastern Ukraine. Another day in a troubled but beloved territory

Mariupol, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_4518

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Like the lonely grave found in a wheat field. Like a field that can no longer be fertile, as it now plays the role of mine field, a “killing field”. Like the signs убежище (bomb shelter) found everywhere in every city.Silence. And again, sound of mortar and that heart pounding. And the smell…the smell of ammunition that irritates the nose cavity, causing the release of endorphins as a defense mechanism. It’s war here, in the buffer zone, despite the ceasefire forged after marathon negotiations.

Southeastern Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_5584

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The trauma of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) is visible and totally intolerable - its (their) presence characterizes and follows every step you take into the jungle of the human primordial instincts. Like an undressed doll, medicines and clothes found in a path of IDPs.

Southeastern Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_5185

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Boots, a pair of sneakers, a shopping bag and the Κalashnikov. Door entrance of an apartment in Mariupol. An episode in "Ukraine and the Art of Limited War".
My life
among the ghosts.

Mariupol, Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_4505

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'early morning tea'

It’s six o'clock in the morning, traveling by train through the Ukrainian steppes. The sun dresses and paints the landscape. Traveling in troubled but beloved territories, inside the buffer zone. Drinking tea in glorious tea cups - sharing stories and opinions with fellow travelers. Recalling devastation, extreme nationalism but also honest patriotism, in constant blend with the "Smell"…the smell of ammunition that irritates the nose cavity, causing the release of endorphins as a defence mechanism. It’s war here, in the buffer zone, despite the ceasefire forged after marathon negotiations. Three tea cups, a train crossing the buffer zone in Southeastern Ukraine, stories waiting to be told.  

Southeastern Ukraine. | ref.: UKR_4042
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work in progress. Images: Dimitrios Bouras Text: Maria Georgaki

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