Valery Melnikov (Russia) – WINNER

Black days 

I arrived in the Ukrainian city called Luhansk in the early summer of 2014 and it was still a peaceful town, but the feeling of impending disaster was already in the air and every following day it became even stronger. The conflict between separatists and the official Ukrainian authorities gradually escalated into war. The south-east of Ukraine was captured by full-scale hostilities.

This summer became the bloodiest time for the strategically important city of Luhansk. The locals had to survive without any water and electricity under the daily shelling. And each new day could become their last day. There always at least two armed fighting sides in any war. For me, as a journalist, the most important side in this conflict was the third one – ordinary civil people. Disaster came into their lives unexpectedly.

These people found themselves participants in the military confrontation against their will. They experienced the most terrible things: the death of their friends and relatives, houses destroyed and lives of thousands of people ruined.

This series of photos reflected the most awful events that I witnessed in the summer of 2014.

Luhansk region, Donbas, Ukraine, June-July-November 2014 

Valery Melnikov is a graduate of Stavropol State University, becoming an award winning photographer and reporter.  For over a decade he has successfully worked for the international news agency "RIA Novosti" and "Kommersant" newspaper. Valery has also worked as a freelancer for AFP news agency in 2009-2010. When not on work assignments, Valery runs multiple independent projects and exhibitions of his images that he brings back from those trips.

His professional biography includes coverage of the Ukrainian conflict of 2014 up to the present; the uprising of Mali Republic in 2013, coverage of the Syrian Civil War in 2012; the Lebanese war in 2006;  as well as the infamous conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 and hostage taking raids by terrorists in Stavropol region back in 2001 and Beslan in 2004. Valery has dedicated his life to journalism and he continues taking pride in any project that he is working on. With the great sense of urgency Valery brings people together through incredible footage out of the most dangerous parts of the world, for people to see and become a part of those documented events.

Now Valery has focused on projects relating to the political and social changes in the modern world. The most important part of those changes are the problems of people living in the military conflicts zones.