The first image of this striking set of photojournalistic pictures was selected as a Single Image Winner in the Magnum Photography Awards 2016. Discover more inspiring work from all 44 of the winners, finalists, jurors’ picks and student spotlights.

I arrived in the Ukrainian city of Luhansk in the early summer of 2014. It was still a peaceful town then, although the feeling of an impending disaster was already in the air. Every day which followed, the dread became even stronger.

Inevitably, the conflict between separatists and the official Ukrainian authorities gradually escalated into war. Southeast Ukraine became embroiled in full-scale hostilities. That summer turned into the bloodiest time for the strategically important city of Luhansk.

Locals had to survive without water or electricity while undergoing a daily shelling. As the conflict intensified, each new day could turn out to be their last.

There are often two armed sides in any war. For me, as a photojournalist, the most interesting side in this conflict was the third one—ordinary civilians. Disaster came into their lives unexpectedly.

These people were participants in a military confrontation against their will. They experienced the most terrible things: the death of their friends and relatives, destroyed houses and the ruined lives of thousands of people.

According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service [since dissolved], more than 900,000 Ukrainian citizens have been displaced by the conflict. The fate of those who stayed behind is to live every single day like there is no tomorrow. Despite several ceasefires and suggestions for resolving the conflict, no side is ready to lay down their arms.

I stayed in the Luhansk region for approximately two months documenting the dramatic, historical events occuring in Ukraine. This series of photographs reflects the most awful events I witnessed in the summer of 2014.

—Valery Melnikov
Luhansk region, Donbass, Ukraine
June, July, November, 2014

Editors’ Note:
This series was also the winner of the Photojournalism Category in the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2015.