Vodyane village, in Ukraine’s Donetsk oblast, lies less than a kilometer from the positions of Russia-backed separatists. Despite the nearly daily firefights, 10 locals (and 30 goats) have decided to stay.
The remains of a dacha destroyed by a direct hit from a 152-mm artillery shell.
About half of the houses in Vodyane, a holiday village 12 kms from the Black Sea port Mariupol, have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair in fighting between Russia-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military.
A Ukrainian soldier in the loft of an abandoned dacha peers towards separatist lines. While exact numbers are potentially dangerous to reveal, RFE/RL photographer Andriy Dubchak says there are “many [Ukrainian] military men” operating in the village.
Mykola Ivanovych is one of 10 locals who opted to stay in the now militarized village. The 71-year-old looks after his 30 goats and sells milk mostly to Ukrainian soldiers. Photographer Dubchak says the goats remain highly sensitive to the fighting. “As soon as they hear shooting they run in the opposite direction.” The flock has also been known to influence the fighting by clustering around concealed Ukrainian sniper positions, braying for food. “As a result the sniper has to change his firing position” Dubchak says.
Vodyane is often shaken by the rumble of armored vehicles that have cut a path next to the village cemetery.
Another destroyed dacha in the village.
Zoya Kral lost her husband and son during the fighting. She now lives alone in Vodyane, surviving on handouts from the Ukrainian military and the Red Cross.
Kral with her cat, Timka. The cat was discovered badly wounded “with blood covering half of its face” after a recent battle, and Kral is now nursing him back to health.
As RFE/RL photojournalist Andriy Dubchak walked through Vodyane on March 26, a series of explosions, followed by an intense burst of shooting broke out on the outskirts of the village. As Dubchak watched, this column of smoke drifted into the sky.
A crater left by the shell of a 152-mm field gun.
As the sun sets behind the village, fighters on both sides of the conflict prepare for the nightly firefights of a war that is fought largely after dark. The war between Russia-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military has raged for nearly four years and killed more than 10,000 people.