On the Margins of Europe: War Before the War
Until recently the nine-year-long bloody standoff in the Donbass area of Ukraine was one of many “sleeping wars,” just another forgotten armed conflict. In July of 2014, when photojournalist Dmitri Beliakov was on assignment to cover the Malaysian Air Flight MH17 disaster that killed 298 people in the air space above Ukraine, one of the European photo editors asserted that the only reason he was on assignment was the fact that Moscow-backed rebels had effectively killed a large group of Westerners. However, no one in the West, he continued, cared about “the stupid war on the margins of Europe.” Currently, support for Ukraine remains at the heart of Western countries’ foreign policy but is clearly not seen as a matter of life and death to those various countries. More effort should be put into enhancing Western perception and comprehension of the consequences of this unfolding tragedy. It is said that one must consult the past to learn about the future.
Wars are not fought for the interests of ordinary people, as many residents on both sides of the Ukrainian frontline know. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is so shocking in its scale of senseless brutality that it automatically triggers associations with World War II, with its mass killings and destruction in pursuit of the revenge chimera. We still need to understand how we got here.
Dmitri Beliakov is a freelance photojournalist from Moscow, Russia. Born in 1970 in the Vologda region of Russia, he graduated from the foreign languages department of Yaroslavl University and began to take pictures professionally in 1997. In his 26-year career, he covered armed conflicts and photographed countless soldiers, refugees, casualties, and atrocities. His searing battlefield images, often shot in the reflections of windows and through holes in mortar-scarred buildings, have appeared in some of the world’s most prestigious publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes, Der Spiegel, and the Sunday Times of London. Yet, Beliakov bristles at the label “war photographer.”
“I’m an anti-war photographer,” he says. “I hate war because I’ve seen what war does.”