November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Jonathan Alpeyrie/Photographer Interview

Local Ukrainians buried after gun battle

©2014 Jonathan Alpeyrie

April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine: Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. Here, family members of Sasha, the youngest man killed in the gun battle, are seeing his dead body for the first time. The circumstances of their deaths are unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blame on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region.

…………………………………………………………………………………….

“Journalism”

&

the Conflict in Ukraine

with Mike Foldes

Born in Paris in 1979, Jonathan Alpeyrie moved to the United States in 1993. He graduated from the French high school of New York City in 1998, before going to the University of Chicago to study medieval history. Jonathan started his career shooting for local Chicago newspapers during his undergraduate years. He did his first photo essay in 2001 while traveling in the South Caucasus. In addition to Ukraine, he has photographed conflicts in South Caucasus, East Africa, Nepal, Mexico, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Alpeyrie is a staff photographer for Polaris Images. His work has been published in Paris Match, Aftenposten, Time, Newsweek, Wine Spectator, Boston Globe, Glamour, BBC World, Popular Photography, The New York Times, VSD, American Photo and ELLE. A photography book about WWII veterans with Verve Editions is in the works, and scheduled to come out next year. 

…………………………………………………………………………………….

Q: In a recent statement that appeared in L’Oeil de la Photographie, you wrote, “The Western press does not understand the nature of the conflict: I was more appalled by the lack of understanding by the Western press who was convinced that Russia was the enemy, and furthermore, that the Western powers were right to intervene. As always the reality on the ground is different from what the general public is being fed by the mainstream media.”Can you please explain “the reality on the ground”?

A)The reality on the ground is, first and foremost, a historical one. In 988 AD, Rus king Vladimir the Great of Kiev converted, and his people, to Byzantine Orthodoxy in the region, creating a Christian state in what is now Eastern Ukraine. Today, for locals, this historical founding moment is still of great importance as it unifies the Slavic civilization. Therefore, a division within this entity is indeed a very difficult notion to accept for many Eastern Ukrainians and Russians alike, as it would be seen as truly illogical proposition.These historical implications cannot and should not be discarded by Western powers, and the ever powerful mainstream media. It is, in fact, an oddity to think that they both are willing to put aside these considerations, as Western Europe as well as the United States are also Christian nations.This lack, and this unwillingness to understand the past, especially for the US government and most of its media, has lead to much misinterpretation of what Russia is, and what it is trying to become. As it is true for the United States, Mr. Putin defends his country’s interest, and its place in the world. What would the United States say and do if Russia would today, directly challenge America’s zone of influence in Asia, like Japan or the Philippines, or even challenge its hegemony in Mexico, right on its border? I assure you, the United States would not allow it. Well, the situation in Eastern Ukraine is no different: the Eastern Ukraine was shaped by Russia. Not the West.Though I fully understand that geopolitical logics are in place in this crisis, and the US, aided by its smaller less significant ally, Western Europe (maybe with the exception of Merkel’s Germany, who is a close ally to Russia), I am also appalled by the mainstream media’s lack of seriousness, let alone its inability to remain neutral. Though it is safe to say that most mainstream media leans on the political left, which by essence proves its illegitimacy as an impartial entity, it also copies from each other most information spread around by social media and incompetent reporters. I will say it again, a journalist with no historical understanding of the region he works in, makes him a bad journalist. And there are many.

…………………………………………………………………………………….

V10N4 Jonathan Alpeyrie

Portfolio of photographs from the conflict in Ukraine, 2014. Copyright Jonathan Alpeyrie. Courtesy of the photographer and Polaris Images.

[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-uprising-jan-2014_0.jpg]250005_Kiev Standoff
January 30, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Anti-government groups have barricaded entire streets to keep away police forces loyal to the Yanukovych government. Heavy clashes between both parties has left its marks on the area, with destroyed vehicules, assault resistant barricades, and burned tires. The standoff between both parties has shown that no one is ready to give way for a true compromise. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-uprising-feb-2014_0.jpg]210010_Kiev Protest
February 5, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been hit by more than two months of unrest following a decision by president Viktor Yanukovish not to pursue trade and other deals with the EU. After days of clashes, the EU and the USA are moving torwards economic sanctions. Opposition leaders have agreed with such a move, which, they say, would bring further attention to their struggle. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-women-feb-2014_0.jpg]250007_Women of the Revolution
February 5, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Women are marching for peace near the barricades. After months of protest in Maiden Square thousands of Ukrainian nationals, from all over Ukraine, have volunteered to help in anyway possible. Hundreds of Ukrainian women have also joined in to help. Some by cooking food for the men outside, others by organizing the struggle through the web. Some even have been forming a para-military unit. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-uklraine-april-2014_0.jpg]170009_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Police riot is retreating inside the building after being attacked. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-gas-april-2014_0.jpg]180008_Donetsk Breakup
April 28, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Pro-Kiev protestors rally in the center of town in order to show their support for the current government. Only a few hundred strong, they decide to move and take their protest through the streets of Donetsk, where hundreds of pro-Russian separatists are waiting for them. Clashes quickly fallow, with the police barely getting involved as most of them are pro-Russian. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_aleksandrovka-ukraine-militia-april-2014.jpg]150016_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Armed separatists are attending the burial of the men killed in their village. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-maidan-fighters-april-2014_0.jpg]120003_Ukraine Breakup
April 19, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Masked men are guarding the area near the occupied administration building. Ukraine's foreign minister has said that operations against pro-Russian militants in the Eastern part of the country have been suspended over Easter. However, the stalemate remains between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-throwing-bricks-april-2014_0.jpg]70008_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-police-line-may-2014_0.jpg]70020_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A police officer is trying to reason with attacking pro-Russians. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-carrying-casket-april-2014_0.jpg]70009_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. The bodies of the men killed during the gun battle are being taken outside for the crowd to see. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-russian-position-april-2014_0.jpg]70015_Slavyansk
April 21, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. An armed pro-Russian gunman is standing guard in front of the administration building they captured 2 weeks before. Fifty miles north of Donetsk, the town of Slavyansk is under the control of heavily armed pro-Russian gunmen who say they want a referendum on the region's status. After a deadly shooting the previous night, the separatist "people's mayor", Vyachelav Ponomarev imposed a curfew and issued an appeal to Russian to send troops. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-service-april-2014_0.jpg]100004_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-soldier-in-field-may-2014_0.jpg]130001_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Slaviansk Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A Ukrainian soldier is taking position at a roadblock during clashes in a near by village. Ukrainian troops fought pitched gun battles monday with pro-Russian militias around Slavyansk. In the mean time, the government in Kiev has been tighting its grip around the rebel city by adding new roadblocks ever closer to the city itself. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-body-may-2014_0.jpg]110007_Donetsk Breakup
May 3, 2014, near Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A separatist was shot dead by pro Kiev forces during a attack on a bridge. The Ukrainian military is continuing its military operations around the rebel held cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. Swift armored raid are launched, now each day on rebel positions, inflicting casualties, both civilians and separatists. As a defense measure the pro-Russians burn their tires to cover their retreats. Today, in and around Kramatorsk rebel positions were hit by these raids killing perhaps as much as 6 people, triggering a gun battles on the streets of that city. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-2-may-2014_0.jpg]80011_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Locals are participating in the funeral of a young 21 year old girl, called Julia, who was shot and killed alongside two men while driving their car in the middle of a gun battle which took place in the center of town between advancing government troops and pro-Russian militias. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-may-2014_0.jpg]120014_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. The family of the late Julia is morning during the funeral at a local cemetary. Locals are participating in the funeral of a young 21 year old girl, called Julia, who was shot and killed alongside two men while driving their car in the middle of a gun battle which took place in the center of town between advancing government troops and pro-Russian militias. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_aleksandrovka-ukraine-home-april-2014.jpg]220018_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Family member of the youngest man killed in the gun battle, called Sasha, are seing his dead body for the first time. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)

…………………………………………………………………………………….

I have experienced on many occasions events which have made me doubt the legitimacy of the press world when it comes to world affairs. After covering over a dozen wars, I have never been confronted to such spreading of misinformation directed to the public, who after all, does not need to be influenced in one way or the other when it comes to current affairs: it is for the reader and the viewer to decide for himself. Dictatorships begin in such ways. History has proved many times over. During my four weeks in the Dombass region covering the crisis there, over 90% of foreign journalists were openly against Putin’s Russia, and therefore agreed with the Maidan movement. Not only is it not the role of these journalists to put forward their personal preferences, it is their role to let the readers decide. Furthermore, I was also very surprised to see that a lot of information taken by the media came from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. Because of its nature, and its propaganda use, social media should never constitute a valuable source of information for any major media. Every morning, Tweets and pro-Maidan Facebook posts, as well as pro-Russian hashtags, influenced the way the crisis was being perceived in the Western world, and often mainstream media outlets took this information and published it! For instance, one morning it read from Twitter: 30 dead in clashes between pro-Keiv and pro-Russian troops. It happened that I was there during the gun battle, and only three people died. The pro-Kiev faked the number in order to show that pro-Russians were killing countless innocent civilians, while pro-Russians used the same casualty count to show that Kiev was also killing left and right. In this crisis, it is mostly a war of information in order to influence one side, while demonizing the other. Too many times the media fell into that trap while reporting false information, which can still be read on the web, on their websites. I once called my contacts at the BBC to retrieve information that was false, which had been reported by a BBC journalist who was not even on site when the event happened, but was reporting from Kiev! The press should not be a tool for propaganda, which often favors government foreign policy, but a force meant to debate and engage in conversation. It seems that the main stream media has forgotten its primary purpose, and many journalists should remember that important fact. The Ukraine is a perfect example of that. From the beginning the Maidan movement was pure and fair, while Russia was evil and wrong to even pretend to exercise its power. Not once there was a discussion about Russia’s legitimacy and its historical connection to the Ukraine. Russia is not an enemy, and quite easily Mr. Obama and his administration could have come up with a deal that would have made everyone happy. Instead, the US administration has increased its sanctions, further humiliating the Russians. I cannot help to make the comparison between the humiliation suffered by the Germans after the end of WWI with the treaty of Versailles, which is a direct consequence of the looming next world conflict. Russia is a powerful nation, with a deep sense of history and pride. This needs to be respected.

Q) How do you respond to those who say the contemporary historical reference is that Ukraine (and Crimea) were legally established and internationally recognized as independent states upon dissolution of the USSR, and their status should remain as such? And, if Putin’s Russia and the EU are co-existing, why would there be such resistance for Ukraine to strengthen economic and political ties with EU?

A) Again, history and demographics are what we should be looking at. Ukraine was reconquered by the Red army from German forces in 1944. Furthermore, an estimated 60% of the 2.7 million inhabitants are Russians, and about 26% are Ukrainians. And finally, Russia has had military bases long before the Ukraine became independent. Therefore it was, de facto Russian land. The international community did not dispute the annexation for all of the reasons stated above. Besides, there was no military contest coming from the Kiev government. It is only the Western part of the Ukraine that wants to join the EU. Historically, Western influence, like Poland, has had a big impact in that part of the Ukraine, formatting a very different mentality in the region. The East has always looked toward Russia, not Europe. One has to remember that the Maidan movement represents a small minority of people, not a majority like the press and some Western government would like us to believe. However, I certainly do not understand why there should be a divide between the West and Russia. We are all Christian nations with a common history and destiny. Mr. Putin wants nothing more than to allow a great Northern alliance to finally take shape. Though it is true that Europe has reached a post-Christian era, for the Russians, however, religion and traditions still matter.

Q) So, you are putting this into the context of a religious conflict, and not the result of economic difficulties, oil interests, or strategic geography?

A) All of the above are true. However, the interesting thing about the religious aspect is the view these Eastern Ukrainians have of us, modern Westerners. For them, it is hard to understand what we have become, both morally and religiously. During my time in the region many pro-Russians perceive the West as a decadent society, a post-Christian society, where old traditions which had once found common ground between Europe and Russia, are quickly disappearing. For locals, these old Christian traditions with the belief of God, and family, are setting apart these two worlds: Religion and all its implications do matter enormously in the region. Religion is one vector which opposes these two worlds, one that has moved away from its Greek/Christian roots, while the other still sees itself has a religious entity defined by the Orthodoxy.

Q) You began by saying that reporters who have no historical knowledge or perspective should not be allowed to report on important issues as these. What can networks and news agencies do to make sure their people on the ground — and their editors back in the office — get things objectively correct?A) I do believe that it is crucial that reporters on the ground have a strong sense of history, not only in the region where they work, but also in general. Historical knowledge brings sensitivity to the journalist and a sense of neutrality needed to remain objective: Bashing the Russians and Putin constantly will not help in that regard. One has to remember the trauma lived by Russians and their neighbors during WWII: An estimated 25 million dead were suffered during the great patriotic war of 1941/45. We cannot blame the Russians for their mistrust towards the West, though it was more then 70 years ago, these events are still very present in people’s minds.

Jonathan, thank you very much!

…………………………………………………………………………………….

All photographs courtesy of Jonathan Alpeyrie.

Find out more: http://www.jonathanalpeyrie.net/

 Tweet

About the Interviewer:  Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.” The foregoing interview was conducted via e-mail in June 2014.