The Human Impact of War
Photos and words by Bryce Wilson.
Pisky 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Images were taken in Pisky, Ukraine.