Tens of thousands between deaths and wounded, over a million refugees.
The Donbass Civil war, in the eastern part of Ukraine, literally erased from the map dozens of cities and villages, becoming the theater of the first bloody conflict in Europe in the twentieth-first century.
A strange destiny those of Russians and Ukrainians; two populations that, until 1991, were part of the same country, the USSR.
The Euro-Maidan riot of 2014, that led to the loss of power of President Viktor Yanukovych, later triggered a series of chain events that ended in the Donbass conflict.
Despite the numerous cease-fires issued in Minsk, the war is still ongoing since September 2014.
The deadliest conflicts are happening in the outskirts of Donetsk, just next to the international airport.
The airport itself, under the jurisdictions of the rebellious troops since January 2015, set the stage for what was the last pro-Russians troops attack ending with the conquering of the critical railway connections of Debaltsevo. Since then the conflict became a wearing field battle; As it was during the First World War, attacks are preceded by long-lasting artillery fighting and in many cases the conclusion is an advance of few hundred meters.
Since June 2016 the intensity of the fighting grew exponentially, especially in the area north east of Donetsk between the villages of Spartak, Adevka e Yasenavataya.
It is calculated that every day during the summer, each contended exploded up to two thousand artillery shots along the front line.
After four trips in Ukraine over the course of two years I thought I already documented anything important in that country starting from Euro-Maidan demonstrations up to the war in the Donbass, the mines region located in the eastern part of the country.
I documented the riots in the capital Kiev in the period from November 2013 and February 2014 , including the tragic occurrence of 20th February 2014 during which 90 protestors died under police fire.
I then moved to the Donbass region to document the outbreak of war between the government army and the pro-Russian separatists: I witnessed and documented life in the city of Donetsk besieged by the government troops, the fights at the Sergey Prokofiev airport and the devastation of Debaltsevo in the days immediately after the fights.
I honestly thought I already witnessed everything and, as many other photojournalists did, after having captured on camera the violence of those days and sold the pictures , I started covering other stories.
I was very wrong.
My contacts in the country kept writing me asking me to go back to keep telling the world the story of what was going on, that the Minsk peace agreements were constantly violated and that the war was anything but over .
And in the end I went back to Donbass. Since last time the front line moved slightly north freeing from war the city of Donetsk, but embracing instead lots of little villages on the outskirt of the city; small towns hardly visible on a map and in which life went through immovable for decades.
This fratricide war transformed little agricultural villages in the theater that staged the first bloody conflict in Europe in the twentieth-first century.
The whole social structure of those places was destroyed: those who could escape left and those who did not have the possibility, either because they did not have the necessary paperwork or simply because didn’t know where to go, stayed with many joining the troops to fight .
For those reasons in my last trip back in July I focused my attention on one of those villages, Spartak, and in particular on a group of fighters with headquarter in an abandoned little building; their mission was to spot enemies’ location and inform their fellow soldiers.
I documented their daily routine and their life side by side with that of the civilians living next to their building, with a keen interest on the human aspect of their actions; I tried to “undress ” the soldiers to highlight the men hiding beneath the uniform
During this time I shared with them their life also in dangerous moments such us during a bombing: trapped in an underground bunker, miraculously reached on time, we spent the night together unsure whether we would have made it; some soldiers were crying, some praying others were simply astonished and unable to say or do anything .
In that moment it finally dawned on me what the true essence of war is: a black hole capable of swallowing men, social and cultural structures, things, animals and plants and also capable of bringing everything back to primordial chaos.
I really think that the story of this absurd war, going unnoticed beyond the world’s eyes, is yet to be told.