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Photo Essay: Civilian Life on the Eastern Front

Film-maker Paul Conroy visits the villages close to the front line of Bakhmut to see how ordinary Ukrainians are coping with constant shelling

Volunteers clear the garden of an overgrown house in the village of Semenivka. The house will be used as a centre for food distribution to elderly residents refusing to evacuate the village.. All photos by Paul Conroy

Photo EssayCivilian Life on the Eastern Front

Film-maker Paul Conroy visits the villages close to the front line of Bakhmut to see how ordinary Ukrainians are coping as the Russian army advances

While the world focuses on the barbaric struggle between the Russian invaders and the exhausted Ukrainian defenders for control of Bakhmut, there is another silent but equally deadly struggle at play in the villages surrounding the city.

Elderly residents, whose villages now resemble military garrisons rather than the once idyllic homes they once were, are refusing to abandon their homes, leaving them directly in the path of a Russian advance should Bakmuht fall. 

An elderly resident who refuses to be evacuated from a village close to Bakhmut collects supplies from a volunteer station.

With little fresh water, food or electricity, they depend on food supplies brought in by volunteers, but as the military situation deteriorates, their chances of survival diminish accordingly. 

An elderly lady pushes her bicycle through the aftermath of Russian shelling just miles from the frontline in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Despite pleas from rescuers, she refuses any help to leave and vows to stay when the Russians arrive.

Local villagers have established a food parcel distribution centre in the ruins of an overgrown house, and daily deliveries of parcels see the elderly and infirm limp to the house, collect their parcels and then struggle any which way they can back to their homes. 

A resident of Semenivka, likely to be overun if the Russians take Bakhmut, collects a food parcel from a centre set up by local volunteers.

Once the parcel van leaves, the streets are eerily deserted, and the only sounds are of soldiers shifting weapons and supplies in preparation for what is inevitably to follow.

Further on from the villages is a Ukrainian artillery unit, dug in deeply and camouflaged from the Russian drones that scour the land for targets.

Gunners of the Ukranian army take a break between fire missions in the battle for Bakhmut.

When it happens, it happens quickly. A message is relayed from the bunker, and the self-propelled gun becomes a hive of activity. Within a minute, a three-round salvo is dispatched at Russian forces closing in on Bakhmut, and then an unsettling silence falls on the gun position. 

Press officer left, and a soldiers’ well-being officer accompany us on our visit to an artillery unit overlooking Bakhmut. (names have to be witheld).

Weaving our way back to Kramatorsk, the constant shellfire is a reminder that what passes for calm here is an illusion, an illusion that lasts only as long as the Russian guns remain out of range, and that could change any day now.

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