Gray Zone

Gray Zone

Valery Melnikov, 2019 Finalist

The Donbass region of Ukraine exists in an uneasy gray zone, in the aftermath of a military conflict that is no longer active – but which remains without peace. In the The Gray Zone, Valery Melnikov explores a region which is not only a territory, a piece of land, it is the sensation of a person completely immersed in the darkness of the unknown in the face of war. This is the vital state of existential loneliness of a person who has lost all hope.

Monument to early Soviet politician Sergei Kirov. Kirov was a close friend of Joseph Stalin. His assassination in 1934 marked the beginning of the Great Purge in the former Soviet Union. Gorlovka, Donetsk region, Ukraine.

Abandoned house, in the village of Kominternovo, Donetsk region, Ukraine.

Zinaida Pavlova, 76, lives in the village of Kominternovo in the Donetsk region.

Ozerianovka is a front-line village in the Donetsk region.

A local resident looks at a hole in the wall made by an artillery shell in the village of Donetsky, Lugansk region.

A local man cleans a satellite antenna, which is the only source of television. The settlement of Molodezhnoye, located near the front line. Lugansk region, Ukraine.

Aftermath of an attack on the village of Kominternovo. Donetsk region, Ukraine.

A dog with a collar made from machine gun tape. The settlement of Molodezhnoye located near the front line. Lugansk region, Ukraine.

A child in a house near the front line. Outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine.

Post office destroyed by shelling. The settlement of Molodezhnoye located near the front line. Lugansk region, Ukraine.

A local resident in one of the districts of the Donetsk region. After the start of the conflict in the Donbas, many villages in the frontline zone were empty. Lonely old men and women are abandoned and forgotten by relatives and social services.

The settlement of Molodezhnoye is located near the front line, Lugansk region, Ukraine.

The last residents of the village of Shakhty 6-­‐7 in the north-­‐western outskirts of the city of Gorlovka in the Donetsk region.

Destroyed tank. Aftermath of an attack on the village of Kominternovo, Donetsk region.

Alexander, Kominternovo village, Donetsk region, Ukraine.

An abandoned water well in the Yasnoye settlement in the Donetsk region.

The Iversky Monastery, destroyed in the conflict, on the outskirts of Donetsk.

Nina Romanovna, 73, lives alone in the village of Veseloe, Donetsk region.

A resident of the Yasnoye settlement in the Donetsk region.

Vasily Fesko, 73, in a house in the village of Sakhanka, in the south of Donetsk region, which is located on the front line. Before the conflict in Donbass, more than 1,000 people lived here, and now the population has declined dramatically.

A man repairs a power line destroyed by shelling in the village of Donetsk, Lugansk region.

A local resident collects coal from a mine dump in Donetsk.

Men near the village of Zolotoe in the Luhansk region.

Empty freight trains in Donetsk. The economic blockade of the uncontrolled part of Donbass by Ukraine led to a strong reduction in coal production and the closure of many mines.

Photographer's Statement: 

The first time I visited the Donbass region of Ukraine was at the beginning of summer of 2014, right at
the beginning of the military conflict. Nobody knew at that time how long this conflict
would last, and how difficult and painful the consequences of this conflict would be.
The people of Donbass truly hoped the war would end quickly, and that peace would come back to
their long-suffering land. Five years went by. The active phase of the conflict is over, but there is no peace yet. With this war, the hearts of people have been filled with uncertainty, despair, a and complete lack of hope.

Along the contact line between the two fighting sides, a so-called Gray Zone has been created. This is a conditional name for the territories without a specific status, with no official government or law enforcement. There are no operational hospitals or schools there, and there is no work. People's lives are in constant danger because of the possibility of fighting. This protracted conflict and its foggy future has turned the entire region of Donbass into a territory of the Gray Zone, into zones without any clear boundaries in space and time.

The Gray Zone is not only a territory, a piece of land, it is the sensation of a person completely immersed in the darkness of the unknown in the face of war. This is the vital state of existential loneliness of a person who has lost all the hope…

Valery Melnikov
valery.melnikov's picture
Valery
Melnikov

Born in Nevinnomyssk, Valery Melnikov studied journalism in Stavropol, Russia. His photographic career began when he started to work for The North Caucasus newspaper. For ten years he was a staff photographer for Kommersant publishing house and since 2009 for international news agency Rossiya Segodnya.

He has dedicated himself to documenting the political and social life of societies in conflict. Valery’s professional biography includes coverage of Chechen war, conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, Lebanese war in 2006, uprising of Mali Republic, Syrian civil war. In 2014, Valery began documenting war in Eastern Ukraine. This work continues in his current ongoing project, Black days of Ukraine, about ordinary civil people who became the participants of the military confrontation against their will.

Valery has received many awards for his work, including World Press Photo, Magnum Photography Awards, Pictures of the Year International, Sony World Photography awards, LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards. His work has been exhibited in France, Austria, Italy, USA, Germany, UK, Russia and other countries.

Valery currently lives in Moscow.

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