TIME Ukraine

Coal Mine Blast in Eastern Ukraine Kills 1, Traps Dozens

Relatives of miners leave the main entrance of the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk after a blast occured on March 4, 2015.
John MacDougall—AFP/Getty Images Relatives of miners leave the main entrance of the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk after a blast occured on March 4, 2015.

With more than 30 workers trapped, miners were enlisted to clear rubble, but operations were hampered by limited access to the deep subterranean network

(DONETSK, Ukraine) — An explosion ripped through a coal mine before dawn Wednesday in war-torn eastern Ukraine, killing at least one miner, rebel and government officials said. An injured miner reported seeing five bodies.

With more than 30 workers trapped, miners were enlisted to clear rubble, but operations were hampered by limited access to the deep subterranean network.

The explosion at the Zasyadko mine in Donetsk, an eastern city under separatist control, was not caused by shelling, rebel authorities said. Eastern Ukraine has been wracked by fighting between government forces and Russian-backed rebels for almost a year, a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people.

The blast Wednesday occurred more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) underground as 230 workers were in the mine, separatist authorities in Donetsk said in a statement, blaming a combustible mixture of methane and air — a common cause of industrial mining accidents.

By mid-afternoon, one miner was confirmed dead, 198 workers had been evacuated from the mine and the fate of 32 others was unknown, Donetsk rebel officials said.

It was not possible to immediately reconcile the figures given by different authorities.

One lightly wounded miner being evacuated, who gave his name only as Sergei, told The Associated Press that he saw five bodies being pulled out, but provided no further details.

Another injured miner, 42-year-old Igor Murygin, said at a hospital in Donetsk that he was blown off his feet by the impact of the explosion.

“When I came to, there was dust everywhere. People were groaning,” said Murygin, who doctors said had burns over 20 percent of his body.

Murygin said the mine had installed new equipment and that nothing appeared to be out of order.

The rebels said 15 miners were sent to medical centers in Donetsk.

“For now, I can say only that 32 people are below ground. One person has died,” Ivan Prikhodko, administrative head of the Kiev district in Donetsk, where the affected mine is located, told Donetsk News Agency. “Until rescuers get to them, speaking about how many people have died would be unethical.”

A mine rescue services representative, Yuliana Bedilo, also said only one death had been confirmed.

Miners arriving for their morning shift, shortly after the accident, have helped in the recovery operation. Reaching the stricken portion of the mine has been complicated, however, as one of the three entrances has been forced closed by artillery shelling that has blighted Donetsk. That entrance is the closest to the area where the trapped miners are located.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Kiev that rebels had prevented a team of 60 Ukrainian rescue workers from reaching the mine to provide assistance. But leading rebel representative Denis Pushilin denied that Ukrainian authorities had offered any help.

“If we truly need assistance, we will turn to Russia,” Pushilin was quoted as saying by the Donetsk News Agency.

Separatist officials trickled into the grounds of the mine throughout the morning, but all refused to respond to questions, a stance that frustrated many miners’ families.

Valentina Petrova came to the Zasyadko mine looking for her 47-year-old son, Vladimir.

“He was supposed to retire next year. Everyone is angry that they say on TV that 32 people died but nobody tells us anything,” she said.

Workers complained volubly about the long history of safety violations at the Zasyadko mine.

One, who gave only his first name, Kostya, said two of his brothers had been injured in earlier blasts at the same mine.

“We work like crazy for peanuts. We want this place to be safe. We want our children to be able to work here,” he told the AP.

The mine has a history of deadly accidents, including one in November 2007 that killed 101 workers, and two more in December 2007 that killed 52 miners and then five more workers.

Ninety-nine people were killed in Ukraine’s coal mines in 2014, according to mining safety bodies. Thirteen of those deaths were a direct result of the war in the east, where mines have frequently been struck in artillery duels between rebel and Ukrainian government forces.

___

Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

TIME Ukraine

Top U.S. General Says Washington Should Consider Arming Ukraine

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill
Joshua Roberts—Reuters Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Martin Dempsey testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 3, 2015

"Putin’s ultimate objective is to fracture NATO," says General Martin Dempsey

The U.S. military’s leading general says Washington should now consider providing Ukrainian forces with lethal aid to help combat the nation’s pro-Kremlin insurgency.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey argued during a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the allegedly Russian-backed rebellion threatens to undo more than six decades of peace in Europe and could potentially splinter the NATO alliance.

“I think we should absolutely consider lethal aid and it ought to be in the context of NATO allies because Putin’s ultimate objective is to fracture NATO,” Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The general’s remarks echo similar pleas made in recent months by a plethora of top American foreign policy officials. The U.S. has already provided approximately $100 million in nonlethal aid to Ukraine, but has refrained thus far from directly arming the country.

However, experts question whether supplying Kiev with advanced weaponry would force the Kremlin to reassess its policy goals in Ukraine.

“Russia is not going to give up in Ukraine, because it is protecting its strategic interests in Ukraine,” Alexander Korolev, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, tells TIME. “Even if the costs of the conflict are very high for Russia, Russia will be willing to bear those costs.”

On Monday, the U.N. published a report claiming that an estimated 6,000 people have been killed and at least 1 million displaced since the pro-Russian uprising erupted in southeastern Ukraine last April.

“All aspects of people’s lives are being negatively affected, and the situation is increasingly untenable for the local inhabitants, especially in areas controlled by the armed groups,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement.

Representatives from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported this week that fighting in rebel strongholds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions appears to be waning, after a tenuous cease-fire was inked in Belarus last month.

But during a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said lasting peace wouldn’t be achievable until Moscow returns the Crimea peninsula, which was annexed by Russian forces last March.

“There could be no slightest way of normalizing or getting back to business in the relations between Ukraine and Russia without returning to status quo and establishing full Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea,” he said.

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in February, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world, including Stephanie Sinclair‘s work on child and underage brides in Guatemala in the latest installment of her decade-long project spanning 10 countries to document the issue of child marriage around the world. In Guatemala, over half of all girls are married before 18, and over 10% under 15. Many girls marry men far older than themselves, end up withdrawing from school and become mothers long before they are physically and emotionally ready. Sinclair’s powerful pictures and accompanying video capture Guatemalan girls trying to come to terms with the harsh realities of early motherhood, especially for those who have been abandoned by their husbands.

Stephanie Sinclair: Child, Bride, Mother (The New York Times) See also the Too Young To Wed website.

Sebastian Liste: The Media Doesn’t Care What Happens Here (The New York Times Magazine) These photographs capture a group of amateur journalists trying to cover the violence in one of the largest urban slums in Brazil, Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro.

Ross McDonnell: Inside the Frozen Trenches of Eastern Ukraine (TIME LightBox) The Irish photographer documented the Ukrainian soldiers in the week preceding the most recent, fragile cease-fire.

Sergey Ponomarev: Pro-Russian fighters in the ruins of Donetsk airport (The Globe and Mail) Haunting scenes of the Pro-Russian held remains of Donetsk airport.

Alex Majoli: Athens (National Geographic) The Magnum photographer captures the people of Greece’s struggling capital for the magazine’s Two Cities, Two Europes feature on Athens and Berlin.

Gerd Ludwig: Berlin (National Geographic) Ludwig documents Germany’s booming capital for the magazine’s Two Cities, Two Europes feature on Athens and Berlin.

John Stanmeyer: Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge (National Geographic) These photographs show the desperate conditions facing Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Edmund Clark: The Mountains Of Majeed (Wired RawFile) The British photographer’s latest book is the Bagram Airfield U.S. Military base in Afghanistan, which one held the infamous detention facility. Also published on TIME LightBox.

Sarker Protick: What Remains (The New Yorker Photo Booth) This moving, beautiful series documents the photographer’s grandparents. The work was recently awarded 2nd Prize in the Daily Life stories category in the World Press Photo 2015 contest.

Muhammed Muheisen: Leading a Double Life in Pakistan (The Washington Post In Sight) The Associated Press photographer captures a group of cross-dressers and transgender Pakistani men to offer a glimpse of a rarely seen side of the conservative country.

TIME Ukraine

U.N. Rights Office: Death Toll in Eastern Ukraine Passes 6,000

An elderly woman walks across a destroyed bridge, in an area with heavy fighting in Donetsk, Ukraine, March 1, 2015
Vadim Ghirda—AP An elderly woman walks across a destroyed bridge in an area with heavy fighting in Donetsk, Ukraine, on March 1, 2015

The conflict has led to a "merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure," the U.N. says

(BERLIN) — More than 6,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict almost a year ago that has led to a “merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure,” the U.N. human rights office said Monday.

Hundreds of civilians and military personnel have been killed in recent weeks alone after an upswing in fighting particularly near Donetsk airport and in the Debaltseve area, the Geneva-based body said in a report covering the period from December to February. The strategic railroad town of Debaltseve was captured from Ukrainian government forces last month by pro-Russian separatists.

While Russia denies its troops are fighting in Ukraine, the U.N. cited “credible reports (that) indicate a continuing flow of heavy weaponry and foreign fighters” from Russia.

“This has sustained and enhanced the capacity of armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ to resist Government armed forces and to launch new offensives in some areas, including around the Donetsk airport, Mariupol and Debaltseve,” it said.

U.N. rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said many civilians stay in embattled areas “because they fear for their lives if they try to move.”

“Many others stay to protect children, other family members, or their property,” while some are forced to stay or unable to leave, he said.

The report cited “credible allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances, committed mostly by the armed groups but in some instances also by the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.” It noted video footage appeared to support allegations of summary executions by the rebels.

The displacement of 1 million people has also increased the risk for women from sex traffickers, the report found.

Zeid called on all sides to comply with a recent accord signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, that foresees the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line.

TIME russia

5 Disputed Numbers That Explain Geopolitics

Ukraine
Vadim Ghirda—AP Russia-backed separatist fighters stand next to self propelled 152 mm artillery pieces, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2015.

From Argentina’s economic woes to Iran’s nuclear timeline, statistics that are up for debate can tell us a lot about geopolitics. 

Every world leader uses data for political purposes. But some take it a step further. Here are five disputed stats where the controversy itself sheds light on a deeper political question.

1. How many Russians are in Ukraine?

Estimates of Russian troops in Ukraine differ dramatically depending on which side of the border you’re standing on. (That is, if you can find the border—Russian-backed separatists continue to take territory in southeast Ukraine). Ukrainian President Poroshenko proclaimed last month that there are more than 9,000 Russian troops and 500 tanks and armored vehicles in his country. But Russia claims it isn’t that many—zero, to be exact. According to a spokesman for Putin, “there are no Russian tanks or army in Ukraine.” Other players split the difference: in August, a separatist leader claimed that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian citizen “volunteers” provided assistance to the rebels.

(Reuters, CNN, LA Times)

2. How quickly could Iran build a nuclear weapon?

When Western leaders emphasize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, there’s a recurring, essential question: How long would it take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a bomb? Iran consistently downplays the threat: an Iranian source cited the ‘breakout time’ at a minimum of 18 months. But Washington believes it’s drastically shorter: about 2-3 months. There’s also fierce debate about how long that breakout time should be. In ongoing nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration wants to ensure it would take at least a year. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to eliminate Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons altogether.

(Reuters, Institute for Science and International Security, New York Times)

3. Can China boast that its economy is #1?

Last year, the International Monetary Fund projected that China’s economy was about to overtake the United States’ when measured on a purchasing power basis (a less common way of measuring GDP that takes exchange rates into account). China became the world’s largest trading nation back in 2012. But even China is pushing back against any perception that it’s on top: the state-run news agency Xinhua ran a piece in January titled “China denies being world’s No. 1 economy.” Beijing is careful to stress that it’s still very much a developing country, not yet wealthy enough to take on a lot of global responsibilities. They have a point. Despite relentless growth—last year’s economic output topped $10 trillion, more than five times higher than a decade before—China’s output per person is still nowhere near that of the U.S.

(New York Times, Bloomberg, Xinhua, Economist)

4. Just how valuable for Americans would the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) be?

One of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy priorities before he leaves office is to ink the TPP, a trade agreement that includes a dozen countries that collectively account for 40% of world trade and roughly a third of global GDP. The administration is quick to point out the estimated economic benefits. According to John Kerry, “TPP could provide $77 billion a year in real income and support 650,000 new jobs in the U.S. alone.” But not everyone buys that jobs claim. The White House’s statistics come from a 2012 book by the Peterson Institute that didn’t provide a precise jobs estimate. The book’s author said he avoided doing so because, “like most trade economists, we don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.”

(Congressional Research Service, Washington Post)

5. How is Argentina’s economy doing?

Argentina’s economic troubles are common knowledge. So is the government’s tendency to cast the numbers in a rosier light. The government claimed 30% growth in GDP from 2007 to 2012 (5.3% annual average rate), but a study last year claimed that GDP only grew half that much and the size of the economy was at least 12% smaller than official government estimates. Then there’s the issue of inflation. The government estimates 21% inflation for this year—but some private economists expect a rate of nearly 40%. Furthermore, the government’s official exchange rate doesn’t reflect reality: one U.S. dollar is officially worth about 8.7 pesos, yet the informal rate is as high as 13.

(World Economics Journal, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, BNamericas, Bloomberg)

TIME russia

Putin’s Approval Rating Rises to 86% Despite Slumping Economy

Cyprus Agrees Military Deal With Russia
Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades (L) during a joint press conference in Novo Ogaryvo State Residence on February 25 in Moscow.

Despite sinking relations with the West—or maybe because of it—Putin is nearly as popular as ever at home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin saw his approval ratings tick up to 86% even as the economy reels from Western sanctions and falling oil prices.

Levada Center, a Moscow-based pollster, released a poll Thursday showing Putin’s approval ratings increased one percentage point from a month earlier.

Putin’s approval numbers have soared nearly twenty points since early 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and sent relations with the West tumbling to the lowest levels since the end of the Cold War. His ratings reached a high of 87% in August.

The high ratings come even as the Russian economy faces recession. The ruble has lost nearly half of its value in the past twelve months, and the government expects the economy to shrink 3 percent this year, the first drop since 2009.

It can be hard to tell how reliable polling numbers are in Russia, though Levada is considered the most dependable. It’s likely though that Putin’s showdown with the West has won him fresh support amid a surge in nationalism — and the Russian media’s positive spin on everything Putin may have also helped boost his popularity.

TIME energy

Russian Gas Flows to Eastern Ukraine in ‘Humanitarian’ Gesture

eastern-europe
Getty Images

Ukraine’s state gas company cut off gas to the rebel-held region as of Feb. 18

Russia says it has begun supplying gas to the war-ravaged area of eastern Ukraine, now that the government in Kiev says it can no longer deliver fuel there because of heavy fighting and damage to fuel-supply networks.

Ukraine’s state gas company, Naftogaz, said Feb. 19 that it cut off gas to the rebel-held region the day before “[d]ue to the extensive damage of the gas transport networks, the supply of gas … [and] the ongoing hostilities in the region.” It includes the self-described republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Within hours in Moscow, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of his cabinet that he had directed the Energy Ministry and the Russian gas giant Gazprom to draw up “proposals of humanitarian aid in delivering gas for the needs of these regions, unless of course [Kiev] doesn’t take any action to supplying gas according to the normal schedule.”

Read more: As IMF Extends $17.5 Billion Credit To Kiev, Gazprom Demands Debt Repayment

Gazprom said it immediately began supplying gas to eastern Ukraine through two pumping stations on the two countries’ shared border. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said his company was pumping the fuel at a rate of 12 million cubic meters per day. This was in addition to the 30 million cubic meters of gas per day that Ukraine already was receiving, according to Sergei Kupriyanov, a Gazprom spokesman.

Gazprom’s fuel deliveries to Ukraine – and their occasional interruptions – have been just one sore spot in the sour relations between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine receives most of its gas from Russia, and at the same time pipelines transiting Ukraine provide Western Europe with about 30 percent of its gas, which comes from Russia.

In February 2014, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who favored continued cordial relations with Russia, was confronted by a popular uprising of citizens demanding closer ties with the European Union. He fled to Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Russia is now suspected of providing weapons and even manpower to a heavily armed pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine. In response, the EU, the United States and, most recently, Canada have imposed strict economic sanctions on Russia.

Because of its reliance on Russian gas, Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk says he’s ready to find other sources of energy by getting more gas from its European neighbors and increasing oil and gas exploration in his own country.

Read more: Could Turkey Become the New Ukraine?

“We have proved that we are able to get rid of Russian gas dependence,”Yatsenyuk said on the Ukrainian 1+1 channel on Sunday. He noted that in 2013 Ukraine bought 95 percent of its gas from Russia, but reduced that to only 33 percent in 2014, with the balance provided by Europe.

The state-run gas supply and transit company Ukrtransgaz reports that Ukraine imported 5.1 billion cubic meters of gas from Europe in 2014, a 59 percent increase over 2013. It said that is attributable to the new Voyany-Uzhgorod pipeline.

Since the pipeline opened in September 2014, it has accepted 0.6 billion cubic meters of gas from Hungary and 3.6 billion cubic meters from Slovakia, while imports from Russia plunged by 80 percent to 14.5 billion cubic meters. As a result, Ukraine saved about $1.5 billion in 2014 by buying less costly fuel from its neighbors.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

More from Oilprice.com:

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine’s Maidan Protests Anniversary Met With Bombs, Fresh Fighting

APTOPIX Ukraine
Sergei Chuzavkov—AP People march in downtown Kiev on Feb. 22, 2015, to commemorate last year's Maidan protest that toppled the country's pro-Kremlin government

A bombing in Kharkiv raises new questions about the fragile cease-fire hammered out earlier this month

Violence erupted in eastern Ukraine’s largest city on Sunday, as thousands across the country commemorated the anniversary of the popular uprising that toppled the pro-Kremlin administration, sparking a separatist revolt that so far has claimed more than 5,000 lives.

In Kharkiv, a northeastern city of some 1.5 million people, a bomb exploded as some 500 pro-Ukraine demonstrators marched through the city. Representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirmed that the blast killed two people, while 11 were injured.

Ukrainian officials have taken four suspects into custody in connection with the attack, according to Reuters.

Another explosive device was discovered inside a shopping bag in the Black Sea city of Odessa on Sunday, though it was defused before it could detonate.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the bombings campaign as a terrorist attack designed “to spread panic and fear.”

“They are trying to make us afraid,” he said in a statement.

Earlier on Sunday, Poroshenko marched with the Presidents of Poland, Lithuania and Georgia, along with tens of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians, through the streets of Kiev to honor the Maidan protests, which culminated with the ousting of his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych one year ago.

In the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, a rebel spokesman said militants had begun pulling back their heavy weaponry from the front in accordance with the truce, according to the New York Times.

Over the weekend, the two adversaries successfully exchanged almost 200 prisoners of war, including 139 Ukrainian soldiers and 52 rebels, reports the BBC.

Nevertheless, the Kharkiv blast and reports that Ukrainian troops had held off a rebel offensive near the village of Shyrokyne continue to cast doubts over the staying power of a cease-fire signed in Belarus earlier this month.

TIME Ukraine

McCain ‘Ashamed’ of How U.S. Has Handled Ukraine Conflict

John McCain
Win McNamee—Getty Images Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on the conflict in Ukraine, Feb. 5, 2015 in Washington, DC.

"It is really, really heartbreaking"

Senator John McCain said in an interview Sunday that the United States and its allies haven’t done enough to stop the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine, where government forces and Russia-backed separatists locked in battle claim a cease-fire agreement has been violated and remains fragile.

“I’m ashamed of my country, I’m ashamed of my President and I’m ashamed of myself that I haven’t done more to help these people,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation. “It is really, really heartbreaking.” The United Nations conservatively estimates more than 5,300 people have been killed in the war since April.

PHOTOS: Scenes From Eastern Ukraine Show Cease-Fire in Shreds

McCain is in the camp that thinks the U.S. should send lethal weapons to Ukraine’s military, but President Barack Obama hasn’t made a decision yet. “The Ukrainians aren’t asking for American boots on the ground; that’s not the question here,” he said. “They’re asking for weapons to defend themselves, and they are being slaughtered and their military is being shattered.” Ukrainian forces fought their way out of the strategic rail hub of Debaltseve last week, suffering a brutal and bloody defeat.

The Arizona senator also made a quick dig against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, who recently helped broker the cease-fire deal in Minsk. The two have “legitimized for the first time in 70 years the dismemberment of a country in Europe,” he said. McCain later added that Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants Ukraine not to be a part of Europe and he is succeeding at doing so.”

[CBS]

Read next: Ukraine’s Maidan Protests Anniversary Met With Bombs, Fresh Fighting

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME portfolio

Go Inside the Frozen Trenches of Eastern Ukraine

Despite a fragile cease-fire, the fate of Eastern Ukraine remains in the balance

In the frozen landscapes of Eastern Ukraine, where government forces and pro-Russia fighters are fighting a bitter war of attrition, the specter of another vicious and unforgiving war looms.

“Shortly before the ceasefire, the scene was reminiscent of a World War I battleground,” says photographer Ross McDonnell, who has spent the last two weeks working along the Ukrainian front lines in Donetsk and Luhansk. “[There was] a lot of heavy shelling all day and all night, with tactical machine and mortar fire from open trenches on what was once the main road to Donetsk.”

McDonnell stayed in those trenches, near Shastya, a small town whose name means “Happiness.” For its inhabitants, however, the last few months have offered anything but joy, as it has repeatedly exchanged hands between the separatists and pro-government forces.

For the Irish photographer, who’s been covering the conflict since the first days of the Maidan revolution in early 2014, the goal now is to present a snapshot of the day-to-day life on the battlefield from the Ukrainian side. “There’s a sense of daily life in the trenches [establishing itself],” he says. “Many of the fighters have been there for months and they are exhausted. In Debaltseve, most of the fighters were in the encircled city for three months before withdrawing in the last days.”

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the withdrawal of more than 2,000 government troops from the disputed and strategic town of Debaltseve, trying to cast the move in a positive light while Russia-backed rebels claimed victory.

Despite the bitter winter and heavy losses on both sides, the spirit has remained warm, says McDonnell. “The people are pragmatic, and we get a sense that the soldiering life is a job and a duty,” he tells TIME. “On the Ukrainian side, at least, there’s a huge amount of pride. As individuals, they feel let down by their new government and by the West. They want to think they are ready to defeat the pro-Russian rebels, but they can’t take on Russia itself.”

And there’s no end in sight for this conflict, despite the fragile cease-fire that went into effect recently. “It will depend on the rebels’ ambitions,” says McDonnell, “but after their recent victories, it’s difficult to see any lasting ceasefire.”

Ross McDonnell is a photographer and filmmaker born in Dublin. LightBox has previously featured McDonnell’s work from Ukraine. Follow him on Instagram where he shares short films of life in Eastern Ukraine’s trenches.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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