Here in Ukraine, it is early June and the air is still frigid as the early evening twilight has begun to fill the sky. The darkness rolls in heavily and lazily, like a fat person in a Walmart motorized shopping cart. It moves sluggishly along the streets and alleys, bringing vapors ashore from the Sea of Azov. The fog obstructs your vision and impedes your movement, much like that oversized motorized cart operator. 

Shyrokyne, once a popular seaside resort village, is now decorated with the marks of combat. Vacationers and commerce have been replaced with soldiers—most of them volunteers. These men and women hold the line for Ukraine against the looming Russian threat, which resides but a football field away. Here, they are unevenly dispersed amongst the village, where anyone could realistically be anywhere, in any building. If something went really wrong, you could really only know for sure if they were friendly if you were to see their faces.

The Ukrainians keep you guessing. They wear a collage of uniforms, mostly counterfeit copies and donated surplus from various nations around the world, making it impossible to identify friend or foe at first glance. In this obscured landscape, Ukrainian and Russian forces linger in scattered pockets throughout the abandoned structures and streets of the village. The area is not marked, meaning there is no clear zone of combat. There are no walls, no obstacle belts, nor signs that truly signify what area is controlled by whom—only a few hills that buffer battered resort buildings, a creek, the sea, a few roads, and a pocket of buildings that are hugged by a valley in the center of the village.

This pocket of buildings has become a default no man’s land, yet much uglier in scale than the flatland scenes imagined from a World War One battlefield. To stand in the stench of it and feel the universal, yet all-becoming vibrations of steady indirect fire, to see that the lines are obstructed by Lucifer’s jungle gym, is overwhelming. In the midst of it, scattered throughout the center of the village, are tight corners, mined approaches, unexploded ordnance from persistent shelling, random firing positions, observation posts, resting ruins of collapsed structures, as well as the resilient concrete and steel Soviet-era buildings now shuttered and locked with steel plates and bars.