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In Photos: Civilians Are Trapped and Pounded by Artillery on the Eastern Ukraine Front

VICE News is in eastern Ukraine, where the local population suffers indiscriminate shelling from both sides and the death toll has now topped 5,000.
Toutes les photos sont de Henry Langston

On Friday, Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) Prime Minister Aleksandr Zakharchenko announced his intention to seize all of the Donetsk region in a new offensive against Ukrainian forces. Yet over the past two weeks the area has been pounded by artillery from both sides, leaving dozens of civilians killed and wounded.

The fresh wave of shelling across the eastern Ukrainian front from the start of January has helped to push the casualty figures for the conflict in the region up above 5,000, according to the UN.


This war is characterized by both sides firing indiscriminate artillery at each other, hoping to strike military targets but more often than not end up hitting civilian areas, spreading terror and panic throughout the local population. With many either too poor to leave or with nowhere to go, or sometimes both, many civilians are trapped between the two sides. All photos by Henry Langston.

In the town of Uglegorsk, Yelena, 55, presents a photograph of her two grandsons who were killed in a grad strike a week ago as they played with their toys at home. "When we found them they couldn't hear us scream and cry, but maybe they heard us in heaven," she said.

Vassili, a coal miner, from the town of Gorskoe, shows the makeshift bomb shelter that normally acts as his food pantry. Gorskoe sits on the edge of Ukrainian territory in the Luhansk region, close to the line of control with the separatist forces of the Luhansk People's Republic. Over the past few days, the shelling of Ukrainian checkpoints has increased and Vassili fears shells will soon land in Gorskoe, "What kind of war is this? It's stupid, who uses artillery like this, it's like a game of tennis," he told VICE News.

Aleksandr Kihtenko, governor of Donetsk Oblast, speaks at a rally in Kramatorsk on Ukrainian national unity day on Friday. Kramatorsk used to be under DNR control until Ukrainian forces took it back in June and it is now firmly in DNR sights once again. Kihtenko that stressed Ukrainian forces would be able to successfully defend the town from any DNR attack.


A Ukrainian soldier prepares a meal inside a makeshift kitchen built into a trench system that makes up one of the frontline positions in the village of Kodema. The position lies around nine miles from the DNR stronghold of Horlivka and comes under daily grad fire. The soldiers here are worried that the timber roofs on their shelters won't protect them from the new bunker busting missiles that DNR forces are apparently using.

One town next on the DNR's target list is the strategically important town of Debaltseve that sits inside an area of Ukrainian territory known as the Debaltseve pocket, which is surrounded by the DNR on three sides. A destroyed gas station on the edge of the town.

Lieutenant Yuriy Formenko of the Ukrainian 43rd infantry battalion and the unit mascot, Sgt. George, in the bunker kitchen of their frontline position in Kodema. Formenko and his men are tasked with holding the line if and when the expected DNR offensive come.

A few days previously a shell smashed into the hospital in Dzerzhynsk, a mining town to the west of Horlivka, that has been hit daily for a week. No one was killed but the hospital has had to try and fund the repairs itself, and has had no response after petitioning for financial aid from the government. As we spoke to the nurses, the sound of shelling grew closer and every time there was an explosion both women burst into tears. Ryza, a Russian speaker, scoffed at the DNR's claim to be fighting to protect Russian-speaking citizens in eastern Ukraine.

A Ukrainian tank moves along the only road into the Debaltseve pocket as Ukrainian forces move in reinforcements for the expected DNR assault on the area in the coming days.

Follow Henry Langston on Twitter: @Henry_Langston