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Putin on Ukraine in Washington September 29, 2015

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Metaphor Online, Ukraine, Ukraine Invasion , comments closed

The following is an excerpt from Vladimir Putin’s speech in Washington in  his attempt to return to the fold of international acceptance. He has been responsible  for turning Russian into a pariah state and is now using Syria as a means to deflect attention from his war mongering in Europe. He has brought out the same cliches to justify the invasion of Ukraine, without mentioning Russian involvement. He blames the Ukraine situation on the expansion of NATO and calls it a “civil war”.  Crimea does not get a mention, MH17 is avoided.

The people of Donbas are rolled out as as the orchestrators of “civil” protest. The Russian mercenaries who have destroyed Donetsk airport and invaded Ukraine and manned the Block Posts and created an exodus of 1.4 million people are not mentioned. The nine thousand victims of the Russian war machine are not mentioned. One can hardly expect honesty from Putin. It has always been in short supply.



“First, they continue their policy of expanding NATO. What for? If the Warsaw Bloc stopped its existence, the Soviet Union have collapsed (ph) and, nevertheless, the NATO continues expanding as well as its military infrastructure. Then they offered the poor Soviet countries a false choice: either to be with the West or with the East. Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation was bound to spark off a grave geopolitical crisis. This is exactly what happened in Ukraine, where the discontent of population with the current authorities was used and the military coup was orchestrated from outside — that triggered a civil war as a result.

We’re confident that only through full and faithful implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015, can we put an end to the bloodshed and find a way out of the deadlock. Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be ensured by threat of force and force of arms. What is needed is a genuine consideration for the interests and rights of the people in the Donbas region and respect for their choice. There is a need to coordinate with them as provided for by the Minsk agreements, the key elements of the country’s political structure. These steps will guarantee that Ukraine will develop as a civilized society, as an essential link and building a common space of security and economic cooperation, both in Europe and in Eurasia.”

Ukraine’s National Day of Independence 24 August 2015 August 24, 2015

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Twenty three years ago the fledgling nation of Ukraine celebrated its first anniversary  of independence. I took a photo then that still means a lot to me personally. It was a day of optimism and celebration and the photo of the National Guard singing national songs on the streets of Kyiv and people celebrating remains etched into my memory. There is a sadness over the country now as the invasion that started with Crimea and spread to the East of the country continues to take the lives of innocent civilians and defending Ukrainian soldiers and the soldiers still march in the pessimism that envelops their country.



Larry Towell Magnum in Ukraine. Interview by Aaron Vincent Elkaim for VICE magazine August 11, 2015

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Portrait of Larry at home in rural Ontario. By Aaron Vincent Elkaim.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim: So how did you get into photography?
Larry Towell: When I was young, I studied visual arts. As a visual arts student you’re told that you’re special and that you have something to say by virtue of being an artist, and I learned that it’s not true. When I went to Central America for the first time in the early ’80s, there was a war going on and I realized as an artist I had nothing to say whatsoever because I hadn’t even lived long enough to know anything. What I did discover was that I wanted to see what other people had to say and interpret their lives, record their stories, because their stories were far beyond mine both in terms of interest and meaning. This was at the time that the US was covertly funding the Contra in Nicaragua, the people had successfully overthrown the American backed dictatorship. The old National Guard of the Somoza Dictatorship had fled to Honduras where the CIA began to train them to try to overthrow the revolution in Nicaragua.

So I interviewed the family members and victims of the Contra in Nicaragua, which were mostly civilians… that started my trip. I met people who had their legs blown off by land mines provided by the US. We’re talking about an impoverished country with a population smaller than Toronto fighting the largest superpower on earth, and I thought that was the story… and it was. It started from there. The work became a book called Somozas Last Stand, [published by] a small Canadian press. That led me to work in Guatemala where the CIA had overthrown the democratically-elected Arbenz Government in 1954. Since then, 100,000 Mayan Indians have been killed, something that wasn’t even in our news. 40,000 people had disappeared, and people are still being exhumed from their shallow graves to this day. So I began to interview the relatives and I thought this is where I want to be this is what I want to hear—these are the stories that matter.

What kind of work were you producing and how were you getting it out there?
At the time I was doing writing, poetry—very bad poetry—and taking pictures. I was trying to survive, I had a wife and child, I was teaching folk music at night school. I wasn’t publishing very much, a little bit here and there and that’s why I called Magnum. I didn’t know much about them, but I knew they were an agency and I hoped they could sell my pictures. So I sent them my work and they took me in. That’s when I decided to be a photographer.


How important was Magnum in your development as a photographer?
Very important. Magnum was a community, I realized when I got in what Magnum was. I don’t think they realized I wasn’t a committed photographer yet. It provided a target, and it provided a huge challenge. Once I found out who Robert Capa was and Cartier Bresson, Susan Meiselas, Joseph Koudelka, Eugene Richards, I was like, who the freak am I? So I went to work as a photographer. And I continued to work in Central America, then Palestine and around the world in areas of conflict.

The main thing was to be challenged. In those days, there was no Facebook and Instagram—there was just you and your camera and the person you were with who was your subject. You weren’t appealing to this audience out there, fans and all this bullshit that contemporary photographers unfortunately have to put up with. Some of them do very well at it, unfortunately.

So I learned to work alone—in those days it was a solitary profession. I fed my work through Magnum, but I also learned a lot from the photographers. I would shuffle my work and show it to different photographers and eventually it helped my editing process and my photography. In the arts in general, we are only as good as the people who come before us. We may think we’re natural born but it’s not true, it’s all a lie. We learn as we go along and we owe a lot to the people who come before us.

Tell me about your photographic process. Do you often work on multiple projects at once?
Right now I’m working on four books or so. I try to work on a least two or three simultaneously. When I was in El Salvador, I was about midway through my Mennonite project and I was just beginning Palestine. That way I could take a trip for three weeks, edit, go back to where I came from or go somewhere else. As I’m editing and forming a train of thought, when I go back I know what I want to do, I know what I need, I know what to go for—I’m not just stabbing in the dark with individual pictures. And, of course, if you just work on one thing you burn out, you lose interest. So if I move from project to project, it’s fresh again, because the environment is changing and the story is evolving when you’re gone.


You’ve worked on some stories that must be quite emotionally difficult. How does your work affect you as an individual?
I don’t know? My wife tells me I have PTSD, but I know I don’t… just kidding. Everybody asks that question, how does it affect you? A photojournalist’s job is to monitor power. That doesn’t mean you have to do it, but if you’re not then you’re not doing your job. I don’t see it as The Bang Bang Club, but more asking: what’s really going on here?

I just did this project on Afghanistan, photographing between 2008-2011, some of the time imbedded, and the problem is, you can never photograph what’s going on. What’s going on is in Washington, or other places in the world. Not what they are showing you, that’s not what’s going on, that’s just the ramifications, you really cannot photograph power in certain situations. So I was trying to analyze what was going on outside of the range of the camera and I pursued that rather than, “Where is the next shot going to come from and how can I get there?” and I think that is what our job should be.

I heard you say that you try to work within the story, that you try to become part of it so you can truly understand it. Getting so close, that must affect you?
First of all, I can say I was always very honoured to be with the people I was with. If you’re standing in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City with barefoot Mayan Indians whose relatives have been killed, and they are being photographed by the paramilitary and they know when they get back to their villages they could be killed, that’s an honour. It’s just an honour to be with those people. And I find very often that the subjects are very inspirational people. I think it’s a healthy thing.

What drives your work?

These stories aren’t getting out. Especially with the collapse of the media. So I think it’s important to go and show people things that a) they don’t know about; and b) they don’t want to see; and c) are too challenging. As opposed to say social networks in this day and age when everything is about yourself—the degrading of photography as far as I’m concerned. It’s aloof and non-professional. It’s a different world now.

Do you find it difficult to publish with integrity in the modern age.

I think it’s easier to maintain your integrity with mainstream media than with today’s social networking environment. ‘Cause at least the mainstream media is content oriented. Whereas pop-culture media and social media is often celebrity.

I think the work speaks for itself, I think it will always speak for itself. If the intent is right, it will find an audience—maybe small, I don’t know if that’s bad. And you never know if you’re involved in a struggle, social or political. You never know what effect you’re going to have. It’s sort of like the gears of a clock, one little gear pushing against another little gear pushing against another little gear and eventually the whole clock starts to work but you may be pushing one little gear, and part of the whole process and not even realizing it. So you just don’t know. You can’t change the world but you can be part of the process for change, and sometimes you don’t even know it.

 I really agree with this philosophy because otherwise, how do you maintain your belief in what you do? You can’t expect to see the ramifications of the work you do in terms of change, but that change might happen in any number of ways that you’re associated with, but might never actually realize.


First of all, you will see change immediately, but the change will be you. You will change. That’s the first step. Beyond that, the bad guys will never tell you that you affected them. Sometimes change takes generations. The main thing is to be on the right side, and if you’re not on the right side… then you’re probably going to make a lot of money. But If you believe you have to change the world with your work, which is a very pretentious belief, then if you don’t change the world then you failed. But that’s the only way to look at it. The only thing that makes sense, so you have to be governed by an inner clock, an integrity. I think that’s what we should be doing. We lose it sometimes—I know lots of photographers who come in as journalists and go out as corporate advertising photographers making rather than $400 a day $15,000 a day. I know lots of those people.

Can you find a balance between the two?

Depends. Some people can, some people can’t. I don’t think I could. I do know people who walk the line in both worlds and I know people who don’t. I can’t speak for everybody. But I don’t do corporate work as a matter of personal policy.

I know you play around quite a bit with multimedia, can you tell me about that a bit.

Play around is the word I guess. When the digital recorder was invented, I started carrying it and recording sound, because I’m a musician and I do audio recordings and music, and when video cameras became hi-definition and small, I started shooting video while i was recording sound. [I do that] almost all the time now. I’m actually hoping to make a film from the many many hours of footage I have from just my travels that I’ve never used for anything. Usually I write songs, and get some musicians together and make a record, which creates part of the soundtrack for multimedia pieces I’ve done.

I use it to challenge myself, I use it to reinvest myself. And it has certain capabilities, but a still photographer isn’t necessarily going to be a good videographer, and a still photographer isn’t necessarily a good songwriter either. But the music is something I’ve done all my life so it’s not new to me. It was just displaced for a while. And multimedia, I think only because it’s possible to do so nowadays that I do it, and everybody does it for that reason. But is it good or not? I don’t know. Is it good enough? I don’t know. It’s more of a personal fulfilment and challenge. But at schools and universities, you meet students who are studying still photography and they are learning video editing simultaneously. It’s part of the language today and there is so much of it, I don’t know where it’s going to find a home. So many pictures out there, so much video out there, it’s non-stop. And people haven’t really found their audience, that’s the problem. Finding your audience so you know who you’re talking to at least.


As an emerging photographer, the reality today is that you must fund your own book. No publisher is going to take that risk on someone who is unproven. What are your thoughts on paying for your own book publishing/printing?

You shouldn’t, it’s vanity press. Although if you raise money together, with the help of the publisher, that is a different story… then it’s a partnership. But don’t pay with your own money, that’s vanity press and it has always been around. Self publishing is also a little different, if you have an audience you can generate revenue by selling the books yourself.

How important is it to get the first book out?

It’s very important for you morale, but the content won’t be very good. The first book is always bad. At the time, you think it’s great. My first books, I won’t even show them to anybody. I’ve got boxes of them downstairs. I won’t even take them out.

It’s a process. Each one gets better, you get better at it, you become a better designer, you become a better photographer, or you become a better storyteller, become a better craftsman at your own work.

You have to be self motivated and you have to be able to take a lot of rejection. You have to be able to enjoy rejection until rejection becomes so wonderful that you just can’t wait to get another rejection so that you can get back to the grindstone so you can get more rejection.

Anything else you would like to add Larry, any final words of wisdom?

I wish I had some wisdom… I guess the main thing is, you’ve got to get out of bed in the morning, you’ve got to get on a plane. Somehow, you have to find how to get somewhere and you have to be with the people you’re with. That’s all you can do. And not everybody is going to survive, let’s face it. There are two things everyone is in the world: one of them is a photographer and one of them is a poet.

To see more of Larry’s photos check out his website or his work with Magnum Photos. To see the photos he selected for VICE’s annual Photo Show, including the ones from Aaron, find out more here.

Photographs from Ukraine by Larry Towell for VICE:

VICE News look at conditions in the ”so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’” found nothing good to report.

“Crossing from government-controlled to rebel-held areas in Ukraine’s war-torn east is a process that can now take days,” wrote Harriet Salem last week. “With a fresh round of fighting flaring all along the frontier, the roads in and out are often sealed for hours at a time; earlier this month a public bus was hit by grad rocket fire at a checkpoint in Volnovakha killing 12 people onboard.” (The grad rocket fire came from Russian mercenaries. Editor Metaphor Online.)

Dealing with such grim circumstances has sadly become routine for many residents of Donetsk, where rebels have been clashing with government troops for months. Magnum photographer Larry Towell, a Canadian who has covered conflict from Nicaragua to Israel, was there in November and December documenting how everyday people in the area are dealing with war and the suffering and destruction it causes.

Russia vetoes MH17 resolution at the United Nations Security Council July 30, 2015

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Pavel Gubarov Separatist leader at the crash site of MH17 Friday 18th of July 2014. Was this man responsible for the order to shoot the ‘bird’ from the sky? Or was it Colonel Igor Strelkov, the ‘shooter’ of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, who first celebrated the downing of the plane with a 5:07 pm announcement on the 17th of July on his social web site.

Photo Bohdan Warchomij

Was it on Vladimir Putin’s direct or indirect order?
There is only one interpretation: One is that he controls Russia single handedly. If so, he must be held personally responsible for what his agents did.

Not surprisingly Russia has used its veto at the UN to block a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal into the MH17 air disaster in July 2014.
The veto of the UN resolution does not put Mr. Putin in a favorable light. In fact it suggests that he accepts some culpability for the crime and is using the veto as a personal defence mechanism.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the Russian veto  ”an affront to the memory of the 298 victims of MH17 and their families and friends”.

She said Australia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Belgium would seek an alternative prosecution mechanism, without giving further details.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said: “There can be no reason to oppose this [draft resolution] unless you are a perpetrator yourself.”

Photo Bohdan Warchomij

In Memorium: An Anniversary Report on the Tragedy of MH17 Bohdan Warchomij July 17, 2015

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A year is a long time since the shooting down of Malaysia Airline’s MH17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014. But that day remains branded on my memory as graphically as any event I have ever covered. English videographer Elliott Crawford came out of his bedroom in the Mariupol flat we were sharing and announced the breaking news to me. I was as shocked as  the rest of the world and immediately began a web investigation that pointed to a Bukh (BUK) heat seeking missile fired from separatist territory as the perpetrator of what was essentially a war crime.

I worked through the night until 2am and at 4am Australian editors began to call and asked me to cover the story for them. I immediately called a driver and fixer from Mariupol we         had used before in the liberated towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk but there was no response and a Ukrainian woman at a Mariupol taxi company found me a willing driver and we packed our kit in a hurry and headed out under a leaden sky. It was 5 am. We headed in the direction of Torez to the village of Hrabovo where the smouldering remains of MH17 and its precious cargo of 298 passengers and crew had plunged to earth.
It was difficult to get through Ukrainian Army checkpoints and through separatist checkpoints. We had SBU accreditation but had not yet made contact with the separatists based in Donetsk.
I dislike the use of the word ‘separatists’ as there is ample evidence that Russian regulars without insignia were used in the Crimean invasion and mercenaries from the  wars involving Chechnya and Georgia have been involved in the East Ukrainian invasion. Adding to that  the Ukrainian Anti Terrorist Operation estimates there are now over 9000 regular Russian Army operatives involved in what seems more and more another ‘frozen’ conflict that benefits only Moscow. I spoke to many of them at the block posts (checkpoints) they controlled and they talked freely about being paid to work in Ukraine.


In Hrabovo (Grabovo in Russian) the separatists allowed all journalists through to the still smouldering engines of MH17, a Boering 777. The fact that we didn’t have separatist accreditation didn’t seem to matter. It was a studied response to international pressure and concern. Denial came subsequently, including a poor forgery that blamed the attack on a Ukrainian fighter plane. There was an attempt to contain the fallout from this tragedy. Igor Nikolayevich Bezler’s  who after studying at the Dzerzhinsky Military Academy and  serving in detachments of the Russian General Staff GRU retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2002 Bezler moved to Ukraine. According to Ukrainian officials, in February 2014 he was contacted by agents of the Russian General Staff GRU. Complying with their instructions, Bezler supposedly moved to Crimea where he participated in number of violent events connected with taking over of military installations and government facilities. In April 2014, as a member of a diversionary group, Bezler helped take over the SBU (Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny) headquarters in Donetsk Oblast and the MVS district department in Horlivka.On April 14, 2014, a YouTube video showed a man claiming to be a lieutenant colonel of the Russian army addressing police officers at the pro-Russian-held Horlivka police station and naming a new police chief. The man was subsequently identified as Bezler. Ukraine accused him and Igor Strelkov, the Shooter, of making the decision to fire the BUK missile. He made the call to kill the “little Birdie” flying above, initially thinking it was a Ukrainian AN-26. Strelkov confirmed the call. On instructions from Moscow, after finding out it was a civilian plane, there were calls to control the site and the collection of the black box.

When we arrived there had been no attempt to rope off the death scene  or to prevent access to the victims. A (at the time) high ranking  leader and self-declared Donetsk ‘people’s governor,’ Pavel Gubarev was conducting media interviews to all who would listen denying responsibility,

Paul Gubarev self styled Governor of Donetsk at the Hrabovo crash site Photo Bohdan Warchomij

There was circumstantial evidence that the victims had been interfered with by the separatists and that belongings had been stolen. We had arrived in Hrabovo  at 12.30pm having forded rivers where bridges had been destroyed, on roads that were virtually impassable.

It was an apocalyptic scene that I will never forget. A woman’s leg ripped from her body had skidded into a bucolic wheat field. It was a peaceful beautiful resting place but tragic in its implications. Myself and the two English videographers covered a couple of square kilometres of terrain with the taxi driver looking after me and carrying my camera bag. Confronted by the horror of death I often left the camera bag behind, meandering in a daze. Body parts jutted from smouldering fuselage, carbonised. Blackened faces wore the trauma of the missile attack on their faces. Body parts had been piled on top of each other without any respect. Demarcation of body parts was signified by white ribbons on sticks placed by the rescue workers in red trucks  from Ukraine.
I self censored my images and sent only photos of wreckage to News Limited for a story that appeared in a full page article in the Sunday Times, knowing that they were unpublishable in Australia. Ironically the full panoply of images including the ones that I carefully composed in order to shield the identity of the victims are available on the web via a simple google search.
I naively thought the missile attack would be a game changer but the Russians immediately went on the attack near Donetsk under the cover of a humanitarian convoy which proved to be a decoy as  tanks continued to roll across the border. It was important for Putin that the separatists were not defeated as the Ukrainian army continued to gain ground. As I travelled through Europe, from Warsaw pact countries like Poland and the Czech Republic Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande travelled to Minsk to play political mind games with Vladimir Putin, the man I consider centrally responsible for the war in Ukraine and for the death of the Australians on board the Boering 777. Putin’s strategy to involve weaponry and regular soldiers proved a turning point in a war that had been swinging on balance to a revitalised Ukrainian army.

Ukrainian defence personnel recovering at a Kyiv Military Hospital Photo Bohdan Warchomij

After the MH17 disaster I fielded numerous radio interviews from Sky News and the ABC vaguely thinking they would make a difference. I moved from Mariupol to Odessa and back to Kyiv and travelled through Western Ukraine  and looked at the displacement of the peoples of the war zones. I met Crimean Tartars living in Lviv and running their own restaurants, and rebuilding their mosques,  as far from Crimea as possible.  In Kyiv I met young people from Luhansk, struggling to get employment in a new city. In Lviv I met Irina Sulatskaya and Vadim Padalko who explained the incursion by mercenaries into their native Donetsk and their attempts to demonstrate against the incursion and to defend the city against the invaders. They are currently running a business in Lviv, a significant distance from their native Donetsk.

Displaced Crimean Tartars in front of the Lviv Opera House Photo Bohdan Warchomij

I travelled to Perpignan to Visa Pour L’Image and was there when Ukrainian photographer Maxim Dondyuk won a well deserved award for Culture of the Confrontation, a photo exhibition of the people’s revolution in Kyiv’s Maidan. His work has been nominated for this year’s Prix Pictet, a significant international photographic competition. There are just 12 finalists. It was a moment to savour. Dondyuk worked for Russian magazines covering the war and it gave him a precarious access. His photos stand as a testament to the courage of Ukrainians.
The agreements set up in Minsk have been largely ignored and new battles are raging again. The weakness of the EU and the US have contributed to Vladimir Putin’s aggressiveness and his military testing of Nato and Baltic states.
The intervening year has been a disappointment to me and I am sure to the families who have lost loved ones. International politics being what it is there have been little steps in the right direction but very little sense of justice.

Hrabovo crash site MH17 Photo Bohdan Warchomij

In the  future Ukraine will continue to embark on its road to democracy and to deal with issues of corruption inherited from its Soviet past. Ukraine’s GDP will continue to contract, unemployment and inflation will increase as Kyiv transforms the country into a market economy. There will be social unrest. There is already wide spread distrust of Poroshenko and the government. It is an endemic particularly Ukrainian state of affairs.
Russia will continue to suffer from Western sanctions and the economies of Russia, Crimea and occupied Donbas will contract and contribute to humanitarian displacement. The Donbas is ruled by warlords who will increasingly control a Pinteresque no man’s land as their economies shrink and the war in Eastern Ukraine will continue. The Ukrainian army is strengthening and the war zone has stabilised. Perpetual war is a genuine possibility. Russian soldiers are massed threateningly on the border as I write.
 In Malaysia Transport Minister Datuk Seri LiowTiong Lai said recently that the interim report on the downing of MH17 should be released before the anniversary. Whether that happens or not there will be few repercussions for the architects of the disaster. The world has little stomach for confrontation. Ukrainians have been left alone to face the invaders of their territory.

US House of Representatives votes in favour of Lethal Aid to Ukraine March 25, 2015

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From Deutsche Welle:The vote in the US House of Representatives puts pressure on President O’Bama and Russia and introduces a dangerous element to the Ukrainian conflict. There is a presumption that there can be a military solution to the conflict and that the Minsk agreements imply a continued appeasement  of Russia.

A resolution to provide lethal aid to Ukrainian security forces has passed the US House with broad bipartisan support. The move puts added pressure on the White House, which is also considering delivering weapons.

Ukraine Rückzug der Armee aus Ostukraine

The United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly late Monday to approve a resolution urging President Barack Obama to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian separatists.

The measure urges Obama to provide Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapon systems” that would better enable Ukraine to defend its territory from “the unprovoked and continuing aggression of the Russian Federation.”

The resolution passed with broad bipartisan support by a count of 348 to 48.

“Policy like this should not be partisan,” said House Democrat Eliot Engel, the lead sponsor of the resolution. “That is why we are rising today as Democrats and Republicans, really as Americans, to say enough is enough in Ukraine.”

Engel warned that Russia under President Vladimir Putin has become “a clear threat to half century of American commitment to an investment in a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. A Europe where borders are not changed by force.”

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of conducting a hybrid war in Ukraine’s east by propping up the separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, charges Moscow denies. The crisis, which began shortly after Russia annexed Crimea last March, has left more than 6,000 dead.

Photographer Ross McDonnell in East Ukraine March 10, 2015

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I met Ross McDonnell in Ukraine in July or was it August. My memory fails me. He had been in Ukraine for some time and not so long ago he returned to Debatseve to cover the conflict from the Ukrainian army’s point of view. From a safe vantage point I admire his persistence and his courage and his personal record of a history that has been forged by irrelevent politicians.

In the frozen landscapes of Eastern Ukraine, where government forces and pro-Russia fighters are fighting a bitter war of attrition, the specter of another vicious and unforgiving war looms.

“Shortly before the ceasefire, the scene was reminiscent of a World War I battleground,” says photographer Ross McDonnell, who has spent the last two weeks working along the Ukrainian front lines in Donetsk and Luhansk. “[There was] a lot of heavy shelling all day and all night, with tactical machine and mortar fire from open trenches on what was once the main road to Donetsk.”

McDonnell stayed in those trenches, near Schastya, a small town whose name means “happiness”.  For its inhabitants, however, the last few months have offered anything but joy, as it has repeatedly exchanged hands between the separatists and pro-government forces.

For the Irish photographer, who’s been covering the conflict since the first days of the Maidan revolution in early 2014, the goal now is to present a snapshot of the day-to-day life on the battlefield from the Ukrainian side. “There’s a sense of daily life in the trenches [establishing itself],” he says. “Many of the fighters have been there for months and they are exhausted. In Debaltseve, most of the fighters were in the encircled city for three months before withdrawing in the last days.”

See also an earlier Lightbox coverage of Ross McDonnell’s work in Maidan, Kyiv, Ukraine.


Ukraine: Contemporary War March 10, 2015

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Metaphor Online, No Caption Needed, Ukraine Invasion , comments closed

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 8.44.34 PM

The photographic record of the ruins of contemporary war are everywhere to be seen. Buildings once cast as monuments to modernization destroyed in the blink of an eye, homes completely devastated as if hit by a tornado, dead bodies strewn amongst the debris of what was once thought to be civilization, and much, much more. We have written about it previously under the sign of “rubble world” (here in 2008 and here in 2012).” And truth to tell, even now in 2015 it doesn’t seem like it is getting much better.

The photograph above is from Debaltseve in the Ukraine. According to the caption “an elderly woman collects water from a puddle” and then goes on to detail the “particularly intense” fighting that is going on in and around the city. Of course the fighting is not immediately present in the photograph, but what we see might be more demoralizing for that very fact as what we are witnessing is not the death of individuals (which is tragic enough and in its own right) or the demolition of buildings (which can and in all likelihood will be rebuilt by whatever regime takes over), but the utter destruction of civil society. The surrounding buildings mark a modern society, as does the road on which the woman stands; but for all of that she apparently has no water running in her home and so she is reduced to scooping what she can from the ice melting on the street. The garbage strewn around her makes it clear that this is not without its risks, but the will to survive is strong and one cannot live without water; so she does what she can. And when winter gives way to spring and summer and the ice is gone, who knows what she will do.

War’s horrors and tragedy comes in many shades, but as this photograph testifies its effects ripple throughout a society at the most fundamental levels, their most devastating effects implicated by the day-to-day demands on subsistence that stand as a constant challenge to the human spirit and make it hard to imagine the reconstruction of a vibrant and colorful society. The color cast of the scene in this photograph is grey and dreary, and it seems to offer little hope for the future—indeed, multiple shades of grey give little respite, but then this isn’t a movie in a fictional world.  That said, what the photograph may well be showing us is the future—or at least one possible future—that could well test the limits of human resilience.

Photo Credit: Sergey Polezhaka/Reuters

War as Perpetual Memory: from the blog “No Caption Needed” March 10, 2015

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Metaphor Online, No Caption Needed, Ukraine Invasion , comments closed

When War Is a Memory That Won’t Go Away 

Posted by Hariman in visualizing war

Those who romanticize war tell us that it is eternal.  The long, grey line; the camp fires glowing on the plain; the roar of battle, the loneliness of command–these and other verities are found in every era and clime.  The weapons change, but war offers the same terrors, the same fraternity no others can understand, and the same hard truths about the human condition.  There always has been war, there always will be war, and only fools think otherwise.  Thus, the full honor due to those in battle today can be paid only by placing their memorial within the unbroken continuity and epic scale of myth.


This photograph from the Ukraine might seem to be a step in that direction.  Taken only weeks ago, the cold, desolate steppe, abandoned, ruined weaponry, and grey scale tonality suggest that we are in World War II.  The distant line of trees could have been there then, the metal tower looks like it could have been on a Soviet era propaganda poster, and few of us know enough about tank designs to see much difference there.  This war, that war, any war. . . . The photo’s allusion to the past amplifies what is otherwise but a private catastrophe already lost to history.  By setting this war within that war, now a ghostly presence like the fog in the background, the specific wreckage becomes part of a much larger tragedy.

What the photograph does not do, however, is romanticize war.  It does not suggest that this war was inevitable or that character will be forged and tested or that valor will triumph.  Instead of being a lesson in the need for constant vigilance, the photo cuts through the fog of romanticism to suggest that the result in any case is the same: more waste, loss, and oblivion that will lead only to another cycle of violence.  War seems less like mythic ground, and more like a bad memory that just won’t go away.


Or for those still living in the war zone, a nightmare that persists after you wake up.  This very different scene is another repetition of the same.  Now the civic infrastructure supplies the wreckage, while the donkey carts take us back to another time long before tanks and airstrikes.  This neighborhood in Gaza City is in ruins, and feels more empty for that than the open field in the first photo.  This is another scene from Rubble World, which is the home front of our time.

Once again, the photograph places one war within prior wars: here we can see the line go through the bombed cities of WW II all that way back to the Roman occupation of Palestine.  This war, that war, any war.  The armies wreak their havoc, and those still alive struggle to live among the ruins, and perhaps history will be kind enough to rebuild again before another onslaught.  Whatever the outcome, it remains very clear that there is no glory here, and never was, and never will be unless enough people can discover the heroism of peacemaking.

Two photos, two wars, and something more.  Each image has respected the dignity of its subject, without allowing that respect to be hijacked–as it so often is–by the romance of war.

The problem with war is not that it is eternal, but that it is persistent.  Like a traumatic memory, it haunts us, often to pull entire societies backwards into a time of darkness and agony.  At least now perhaps we can begin to see that memory for what it is: the door though which war enters the future, where it will be waiting for our arrival.

Photographs by Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images and Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images.

Truce in Ukraine: Will it hold? February 16, 2015

Posted by bohdan.warchomij in : Ukraine Invasion , comments closed

(Reuters) – Ukraine’s rebels disavowed a new truce on Sunday hours after it took effect, saying it did not apply to the town where most fighting has taken place in recent weeks.

Guns fell abruptly silent at midnight across much of eastern Ukraine in line with the ceasefire agreement, reached after a week of diplomacy led by France and Germany.

But pro-Russian rebels announced they would not observe the truce at Debaltseve, where Ukrainian army forces were encircled and Kiev military said rebel attacks on the town steadily increased from mid-afternoon on Sunday.

“Of course we can open fire (on Debaltseve). It is our territory,” senior rebel commander Eduard Basurin told Reuters. “The territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal. But along the line of confrontation there is no shooting.”

A statement by the Kiev military on Sunday night said the “enemy” was carrying out attacks with varied types of weapons, including Grad rocket systems, and had a plan to try to seize Debaltseve from the west.

In a four-way telephone conversation with the leaders of Germany, France and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the position of the four at peace talks last week in Belarus had been for a ceasefire on all the front lines including at Debaltseve.

Poroshenko stressed that a withdrawal of military equipment and heavy weapons required a “full and unconditional” ceasefire under the Minsk agreement, his press service said.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, responsible for monitoring the ceasefire, said rebels had denied its observers access to Debaltseve.