Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

Photo of people in a field in the Russian city of Donetsk, near the Ukrainian border.



The People’s Republic of Chaos: Donbass, Eastern Ukraine

Please join the Harriman Institute for an exhibit of Maria Turchenkova’s photographs.

“A year ago, it was impossible to imagine a war in Europe as nasty as the war taking place now in Ukraine. Shelling of populated areas, kidnappings, torture. At least 6,000 Ukrainian people are dead. Over a million and a half have lost everything, including faith in the safety of their homes, and have left, becoming internally displaced persons. Meanwhile, to many Russians, Crimea’s reunification with “Mother Russia” has become a symbol of Russia “regaining” the strength of the USSR in the face of a “threatening” NATO. And for many on the Crimean peninsula, the annexation is seen as a path to a better life in Russia.

The Donbass, the conservative mining region in eastern Ukraine, was inspired by the example of Crimea and encouraged by Russian politicians and Russian state media to follow the same path. Not long after Crimea’s annexation, they declared the establishment of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. The people of Ukraine quickly found themselves divided along the lines of “separatists” and “terrorists” in the East, and “fascists” in the West, split between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. Ideology and politics have isolated the two sides in separate realities. The People’s Republics believe they are battling NATO and fascists. Ukrainian militia believe they are fighting only the Russian military. And the local people of the Donbass are trapped in the crossfire.”

—Maria Turchenkova

About the Artist

Turchenkova is the Harriman Institute’s 2015 Paul Klebnikov Fellow and a freelance photojournalist whose work has appeared in Le Monde, Time, the New York Times, The Guardian, Novaya Gazeta and several other publications. To see more of Maria’s photography, visit: