Skip to main content

Donetsk: Photos of a besieged city draining of life

By Susannah Cullinane, CNN
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
Children are taken into the cellar of an orphanage for shelter during intense shelling in Marynivka, Ukraine, on August 19. Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie spent the day with locals, going in and out of bomb shelters as missiles were launched on the city. Children are taken into the cellar of an orphanage for shelter during intense shelling in Marynivka, Ukraine, on August 19. Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie spent the day with locals, going in and out of bomb shelters as missiles were launched on the city.
HIDE CAPTION
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
Donetsk under siege
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie returned to Donetsk, Ukraine, two weeks ago
  • Donetsk is held by pro-Russian rebels but the Ukrainian Army has gradually encircled it
  • Alpeyrie's photographs show the life of the residents surviving under siege
  • The images show them sheltering in cellars or clearing rubble from their homes

(CNN) -- Bodies torn apart by the weapons of war. The bloody corpse of a man hit by shelling as he walked under trees, a shopkeeper's mutilated body in front of her store, a broom lying nearby.

Some three months after pro-Russian rebels declared an independent "Donetsk People's Republic," Ukrainian government forces are encircling the city of Donetsk.

Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie was in the city in May and returned two weeks ago to find it battle-scarred and slowly draining of life as its people flee.

It's always hard when we see people getting killed where you are, that's tough, because they're just regular people and they're not really involved in the war.
Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie

The images he has captured show the anguish of the immediate aftermath of shelling -- the relatives of victims, people left homeless, the dead. Others depict those left behind sheltering in Soviet or WWII-era cellars and boarded-up buildings as their homes are engulfed by the conflict.

The photographs, many too graphic to show here, leave no doubt about the true horror of the destructive conflict.

"If you go north of the city towards the airport you have entire areas that are no-man's land -- they are not controlled by anybody and they are being shelled daily ... with mortars and tanks," Alpeyrie tells CNN.

"You see some families that have remained there -- mostly elders and a lot of people that don't really have any money, they have to stay. You also get people who stay because they don't want to leave their homes. It's been their family home for a long time and they have their belongings inside, so they want to stay close to that. "You do have a lot of elders who are pretty tough and they're very pro-Russian, so for them that's also their struggle but a lot of them are hoping that this will end quickly."

The center of Donetsk, in peacetime much like any other modern city, is less damaged, though suffering from water shortages and largely shut down, he says, abandoned by an estimated half of Donetsk's population of around one million. "People do get killed. If you're walking down the street it's like a lottery, you just don't know," Alpeyrie says.

Pentagon condemns Russian convoy movement
Russian aid convoy to enter Ukraine
Ukrainian military tries to retake Donetsk
Photographer describes Syria captivity

The day before Alpeyrie spoke to CNN, the group he was with -- fellow photographers and a local driver/translator -- had almost been killed in the town of Marynivka. Four people died nearby.

"It's always hard when we see people getting killed where you are, that's tough, because they're just regular people and they're not really involved in the war," he says.

The team's driver was one of the residents trying to earn a living while it was still possible. Many of those still facing the dangers of Donetsk have sent their children away, Alpeyrie says. The trains have stopped running from Donetsk, so the refugees travel by bus, many making the perilous journey through fighting in Luhansk region to reach Russia.

Others go south to Mariupol, traveling through the conflict's front line to safety, Alpeyrie says.

There, where the fighting is at its most intense, photography is not welcomed by the rebels.

"You can hang out with them if you want, but since just they get hit all the time and as you can't take pictures or photos there's no reason to hang out with them," Alpeyrie says.

However, recently Alpeyrie and some colleagues got lucky -- obtaining rare images of a rebel funeral.

Click here to read the backstory and the unique images he captured.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:17 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Donetsk's neediest line up for food handouts. There are long queues at the bus station as people try to leave town. There are no banks left open.
updated 5:25 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Barking overwhelms the thud of artillery fire. An animal shelter is crammed with 1,000 dogs, many orphans of the conflict with owners who have fled or been killed.
updated 3:51 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Reza Sayah looks into why thousands of Ukrainians have left their old lives to volunteer to fight.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva speaks to The New Republic's Linda Kinstler about Putin's motives with Ukraine and China.
updated 10:36 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
President Barack Obama speaks at the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
updated 5:58 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The Commander of NATO forces in Europe says Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian troops -- all heading into Ukraine.
updated 8:58 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, a preliminary report by Dutch aviation investigators said Tuesday.
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
On a country road in eastern Ukraine, a scene of bucolic tranquility was suddenly interrupted by the aftermath of carnage.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
In the city of Donetsk, the devastation wrought by weeks of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces is all too apparent.
updated 8:00 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
A few miles south of the town of Starobeshevo in eastern Ukraine, a group of men in uniform is slumped under a tree.
updated 9:43 AM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
A shopkeeper's mutilated body, relatives' anguish, homes destroyed ... this is Donetsk.
updated 7:12 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A 20-minute drive from Kiev takes you to a neighborhood that feels more like Beverly Hills than central Ukraine.
updated 9:12 AM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Photos illustrate the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as fighting continues to flare in the region.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Future imports, exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts continue.
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.
ADVERTISEMENT