After four trips to Ukraine over the course of two years, I thought I had already documented everything important in that country. I started with the Euromaidan demonstrations and photographed consistently until war broke out in Donbass, the region located in the eastern part of Ukraine.

I documented the riots in Kiev from November 2013 to February 2014, including the tragic day, February 20th, 2014, on which 90 protestors died under police fire.

After that, I moved to the Donbass region to document the outbreak of war between the government army and the pro-Russian separatists. I witnessed and documented life in the city of Donetsk when it was besieged by government troops, the fights at the Sergey Prokofiev airport, and the devastation of Debaltsevo in the days immediately after the battle.

Like many photojournalists, I honestly thought I already witnessed everything. After capturing the violence and distributing my photographs, I started covering other stories.

I was very wrong.

My contacts in the country kept writing and asking me to go back. They wanted me to keep telling the world the story of what was going on—that the Minsk peace agreements were constantly violated and that the war was anything but over.

In the end, I went back to Donbass. Since my last visit, the front line had moved slightly north, freeing the city of Donetsk from war, but embracing instead lots of little villages on the outskirt of the city; small towns hardly visible on a map in which life went on, immovable, for decades.

This fratricidal war, the first conflict in Europe in the 21st century, transformed little agricultural villages into theaters of pitched, bloody battles.

The whole social structure of these places was destroyed: those who could escape left; those who did not have the possibility—either because they did not have the necessary paperwork or simply because they didn’t know where to go—stayed. Many joined the troops to fight.

For those reasons, during my last trip back in July, I focused my attention on Spartak, just one of these many villages. I focused in particular on a group of fighters who were headquartered in a little abandoned building; their mission was to spot their enemies’ location and inform their fellow soldiers.

I documented their daily routines and their lives, side-by-side with the civilians who lived next door, with a keen interest on the human aspect of their actions. I tried to “undress ” the soldiers to highlight the humans hiding beneath the uniforms.

During this time, I shared a lot with these people, including a dangerous moment where we were trapped together during a bombing in an underground bunker. We spent the night unsure whether or not we would make it; some soldiers were crying, some praying. Others were simply astonished and unable to say or do anything.

In that moment, the true essence of war finally dawned on me: it is a black hole capable of swallowing men, social and cultural structures, things, animals and plants. It’s capable of bringing everything back to a primordial chaos.

I believe that the story of this absurd war has yet to be told. The majority of it is largely going unnoticed by the world.

—Giorgio Bianchi

Editor’s Note: Bianchi’s project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents!