Republic of The Bridge

Members of a volunteer battalion smoke cigarettes under a bridge Image copyright Pete Kiehart

Not far from the rebel stronghold of Donetsk is an incomplete bridge that members of Ukraine's volunteer battalions have made into a temporary home a few miles from the front line. Photographer Pete Kiehart visited the site a number of times earlier this year. Here he talks about the project and life under the bridge.

This is the "Republic of The Bridge", as it has been named by the soldiers who call it their temporary home. Explosions and gunfire ring out at all hours of the day and night here, where the promise of peace offered by the Minsk II ceasefire has not arrived.

The Bridge is controlled by the Dnipro-1 battalion, one of the largest of the territorial defence battalions that were created in early 2014 to fill the gap created by Ukraine's unprepared national army.

Image copyright Pete Kiehart

Volunteers based at the bridge fill a variety of roles, and are required to possess an assortment of skills. Any one soldier may be given the task of conducting raids on Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) positions, manning defensive posts in the trenches, partaking in reconnaissance missions, or performing first aid. They are also trained in the use of tanks and other armoured vehicles, of which the unit operates several variants.

Despite the cacophony, soldiers keep watch and go about chores, like collecting water from nearby wells and preparing meals for themselves and their comrades. Lighter moments do present themselves. A number of dogs have found a home at the bridge, and the soldiers feed and play with them.

Image copyright Pete Kiehart

And one day recently, Volodya, a hard-faced commander who often follows protracted Russian statements with a chuckle and the English words "dark humour," returned from the front line with freshly-picked flowers for his visiting wife.

Image copyright Pete Kiehart

With the constant threat of death and temperatures hovering around freezing for much of the winter, life at the bridge can be difficult. However, the soldiers, resolute in their mission, remain optimistic. "When you realise that behind you lie peaceful cities, you simply forget about any hardship," said Oleksa Koba, a Dnipro-1 volunteer.

Image copyright Pete Kiehart
Image copyright Pete Kiehart
Image copyright Pete Kiehart
Image copyright Pete Kiehart
Image copyright Pete Kiehart

You can see more of Pete Kiehart's work on his website.

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