Russia has always coveted the Donbas. Its name means “Donetsk Basin” and it refers to the geologic coal basin whose mines have fueled the region’s critical industries.
But there’s more to Donbas than coal and the steel plants that depend on it. The region’s capital, the city of Donetsk, was a crossroads for different ethnicities and languages, and used to be the second-wealthiest city in Ukraine after Kyiv. The region stretches southward to the white sands of the Azov Sea coast and the iconic port city of Mariupol.
When the Kremlin invaded Donbas in 2014, it set up proxies who created sham local governments that were ruled from Russia. While the occupied territories slowly turned into a wasteland, life in the Ukrainian-controlled parts of the region continued mostly as usual.
Last February, Russia shattered that fragile peace when it sent hundreds of tanks and thousands of soldiers across international borders into Ukraine, launching the largest land war in Europe since World War II. Donbas has seen more of that fighting than any other part of Ukraine.
Ukrainian photographer Serhii Korovayny spent time in Donbas before the war and returned there earlier this month to document how the region has changed. The whole region now is a war zone with a heavy military presence: “Because of the fighting and shelling, the place is dangerous for civilians,” he said. “There is no room for normal life in Donbas after the full-scale Russian invasion.”