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Ukraine rebels bury the fallen -- the story behind the images

By Jonathan Alpeyrie, Special to CNN
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie took a series of images of pro-Russian rebels burying four fallen fighters in Ukraine, August 18. Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie took a series of images of pro-Russian rebels burying four fallen fighters in Ukraine, August 18.
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Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
Burying the fallen in Ukraine
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie has been covering the siege of Donetsk, Ukraine
  • Donetsk is held by pro-Russian rebels but the Ukrainian Army has gradually encircled it
  • Alpeyrie managed to follow a rebel convoy to a funeral for their fallen fighters
  • He and his colleagues were arrested but later released after photographing the scene

Editor's note: Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie has been in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine for the past two weeks, covering the Ukrainian military's siege of the city, which is held by the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic." Here he explains how he managed to shoot unique images of the pro-Russian rebels burying their dead.

(CNN) -- Working inside Donetsk presents various challenges as a photojournalist. One of them is working directly with rebel forces defending one of their last bastions against government forces.

Each day their defensive perimeter shrinks due to constant shelling. Journalists need to acquire proper accreditation given and approved by the Donetsk People's Republic.

There are just very unique moments like that when you get lucky -- it was a very personal moment for them, they were crying, you know, it was quite powerful.
Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie

The funeral series of photos is both rare and hard to come by, as the rebels typically don't give access to the kind of events which show their military losses.

If you're a reporter or anybody from the press you have to apply to get two different ID cards from the rebels. One is more general; it allows you to go through checkpoints. It's like an official accreditation.

The second one is supposed to allow you to photograph military areas -- although in practice it's up to the discretion of the local military commander and usually they're friendly but they'll say 'no.' We suspect the document is also a good way to control us and the info we provide to the world, by checking the internet.

This accreditation also carries another risk -- if you're in Ukrainian Army-controlled areas and they see that, they'll probably arrest you ... because it's official documentation from the "Donetsk People's Republic."

Nonetheless, we have both, so every time we go through checkpoints, the rebels check our car and they ask for our accreditation and we show them these documents and they let us through.

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In this case, while driving with our fixer on the road we passed a convoy of rebel cars and two armored vehicles each carrying troops and two coffins. We decided to follow it and try our luck.

After a mile, a car from the convoy stopped us, pointed its machine gun at us and asked why we were following them. We explained to them that we wanted to follow the funeral. For some reason they agreed.

We drove another 20 minutes to a small village on the front lines - you could hear the constant shelling as government forces were nearby.

For an hour we photographed the entire ceremony, only to be arrested as it ended under the pretext that the rebel's faces were shown and some lived nearby.

They put us in different cars, drove us to their headquarters in Donetsk, and forced us to delete all the photos. Which we did. But back at the hotel we managed to retrieve all of them.

There are unique moments -- it was very personal for them, they were crying. It was quite powerful.

See more of Jonathan Alpeyrie's photos of Donetsk and read about the siege of the city.

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