Share Story

Pisky, Ukraine was once a summer getaway hotspot. It was the place rich families would holiday during the warmer months, living in palatial estates complete with swimming pools and diving boards.

Unexploded ordnance, like these mortar rounds and BMP ammunition, lie all over Pisky. The War in Eastern Ukraine saw heavy shelling with mortars, self-propelled artillery, and Russian-supplied GRAD rockets. Many Ukrainian towns and villages now lay in ruins as a result of the bombardments
A Ukrainian soldier playfully tosses a grenade during a visit to old 93rd Brigade positions.
Pisky was once a popular summer retreat, the shores of its river lined with palatial mansions and summer houses.
Ukrainian soldiers were often under-equipped for the combat they were placed in. Boxes of 7.62 mm ammunition (used in small-arms carried by infantry) like this were commonly discarded due to corrosion or defects. Ukrainian soldiers were often under-equipped for the combat they were placed in. Boxes of 7.62 mm ammunition (used in small-arms carried by infantry) like this were commonly discarded due to corrosion or defects. Following the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s government voted in agreeance to spend over $2 billion AUD on the modernisation and development of military hardware.

I watch stray dogs run throughout town scrounging food, the sound of guns chattering in the distance breaks the eerie silence over Pisky. The cold air bites at my skin, a sign of the winter creeping across Ukraine. I catch falling snow in my hands while I walk.

“Once you see Pisky, you don’t need to see Chernobyl,” a Ukrainian soldier says to me.

It’s not hard to imagine Pisky being a beautiful place to visit, despite the carnage and destruction.
Snow falls on the ruined horizon of Pisky.
Pisky’s two sides are divided by a river, this bridge serving as one of the few reliable ways across.
Easy to miss, this mortar round struck the ground and didn’t detonate. There are still landmines and unexploded mortars littered throughout Pisky, proving a dangerous and difficult project for Ukrainian sappers tasked with disarming and destroying munitions.

After months of non-stop fighting and conflict, Pisky is now destroyed. Pisky lies extremely close to the Donetsk Airport, the scene for battles that would end in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers from both sides of the war.

Buildings in Pisky have been converted into military positions, fortified fighting positions in windows are a common sight. Basements became bunkers, a hopeful safe haven during devastating artillery barrages.

Pisky’s sole healthcare facility sits destroyed following lengthy battles and shelling in and around the town.
The exterior of Pisky’s hospital, riddled with holes from small-arms fire, rockets, and shrapnel.
The interior of Pisky’s Cultural Centre. Stocked with libraries, a music room, and cinema, the Cultural Centre was another prominent target for shelling.
A piano toppled during fighting in Pisky’s Cultural Centre.

I am told that the Ukrainian forces in Pisky rarely saw the enemy they were fighting against. Instead, it was long-range warfare: tank strikes, artillery barrages, and snipers. Pisky was a town where life and death came down to being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. One reading room I stepped into was hit by a tank shell. Nearby, books have been pierced by a bullet from a sniper rifle a kilometre away. There was no escape from the constant danger and death.

Looking out of the second floor of Pisky’s Cultural Centre. Visible on the horizon is the structure Ukrainian soldiers climbed, planting the Ukrainian flag atop.
A broken sport trophy on the floor of Pisky’s Cultural Centre.
A brief burst of colour inside of a school in Pisky. The text on the left reads, 'Don’t play outside until late, don’t go far away from the house, guys. Don’t make your parents nervous/stress.'
A cross made by Ukrainian soldiers in memorial to people who lost their lives fighting in and around Pisky during The War in Eastern Ukraine.

We walk into an old school, wind howling through long hallways. Chairs are still up on tables, books left open, waiting for a class that will never come. Notebooks and equipment are strewn about, happy education slogans and bursts of colour a glaring contrast to the background of destruction. Ukrainian soldiers erected a makeshift cross in the school’s courtyard, a memorial to friends and comrades lost in the fighting.

The text on this encouraging picture reads, 'Learn to learn.'
I told my media liaison of my plans to visit Chernobyl, to which he replied, “You don’t need to visit Chernobyl after seeing Pisky.
An abandoned classroom in Pisky’s school. The yellow tube contains a chemically preserved fish.
Dead plants sit on a ledge, a destroyed part of Pisky’s school in the background below.
A mural on a wall in a classroom in Pisky’s school. Stools and chairs still remain on tables following the the displacement of Pisky’s civilian residents.
Looking back-to-front in the previous picture.
Old science equipment inside of a storage cupboard in Pisky’s school.
An abandoned classroom. A faint outline reads, ‘Glory to Ukraine.'
Many of Pisky’s homes and apartments were destroyed by combat in and around the village. This apartment complex is riddled with damage from rockets and shrapnel, one window having been destroyed by a RPG.
This wall was destroyed when a Russian-supplied Separatist tank shot with it’s main cannon from over a kilometre a way. Nobody was killed in this attack.
More damage after a Russian-supplied Separatist tank attack.
The office of an unknown Pisky official.
This building collapsed after extensive shelling during the intense combat on Pisky’s outskirts.

Our last stop is a church on the edge of the town. The outside of the church has been destroyed by damage from artillery. It’s one of the most visible structures from Separatist positions. Inside, clothes are strung up to dry, and a makeshift shrine sits in the corner. We take a moment to reflect.

This church in Pisky is extremely visible to Separatist positions, and a frequent target for small-arms fire and shelling attacks, despite the cease-fire.
Ukrainian soldiers constructed a makeshift religious shrine inside a church in Pisky.
More religious materials arranged by Ukrainian soldiers inside of a church in Pisky.
Brick buildings like this stand defiantly.
Following the evacuation and displacement of Pisky’s residents, many dogs and pets were left abandoned. This dog cowers in front of a fence riddled with damage from shrapnel.

Over 3,000 people called Pisky home, and a handful remain. The U.N. estimates that more than 1,400,000 civilians have been uprooted by the terror of the War in Eastern Ukraine, with over 2,500 having been killed. Despite the death and devastation, some residents stay behind in Pisky with nowhere else to go.

Photos & Words By Bryce Wilson