The war in eastern Ukraine entered its second summer. Stalemate, trench warfare and artillery attacks increasingly characterised the conflict. While the crumbling Minsk ceasefire curbed a return to mass offensives and full-scale war, soldiers and civilians on both sides continued to die and the official UN death toll approached 7,000.
Civilian neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka bore the brunt of nightly barrages. Many families spent their days queuing to collect humanitarian aid, their nights huddled in bomb shelters. Donetsk's city centre, cloistered from the combat, assumed a strangely functional air, disrupted occasionally by the sound of heavy machine-gun fire echoing over its streets.
Donetsk, July 08, 2015 - Leaders of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) Alexander Zakharchenko (R) and self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) Igor Plotnitskiy (C) give a press conference. © Pierre Crom
Behind an under-reported stretch of the front line, the neighbouring, self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) has been plagued by splintered loyalties, rival factions and local warlords competing to control private fiefdoms in the rebel-held rust belt.
A continuing influx of foreign fighters from disparate regions - the Balkans, the Caucasus, western Europe and all corners of Russia - has helped fuel the conflict. Cossacks are one such group, that martial people who formerly patrolled the frontiers of Imperial Russia. One afternoon in July, scores of men and women were initiated into the Don Cossack Army in the war-ravaged town of Pervomaisk, LPR, before returning to the trenches.
Pervomaisk, July 11, 2015 - Remains of artillery projectiles are displayed under a statue of Lenin in Pervomaisk, a town controlled by Russian-backed forces. © Pierre Crom
Rebel authorities have dismantled almost all traces of Ukrainian identity as the territory intensifies a Soviet revival. Flags bearing the hammer-and-sickle of the USSR are a regular sight. Propaganda dominates both sides of the divide. The war of information is fought just as fiercely as the war on the battlefield. A destroyed Ukrainian tank on display in a Luhansk park was seen emblazoned with the popular, pro-Russian rebel hashtag: #savedonbasspeople.
Pervomaisk, July 11, 2015 - New recruits pose for a photograph after the swearing-in ceremony. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
July 17th marked the one-year anniversary since the MH17 passenger plane was blasted from the sky, killing all 298 on board. In the epicentre of the disaster, and now Ukraine's rebel heartland, locals held a solemn service in honour of the victims. A highly-politicised event followed, dominated by flag-waving and inflammatory rhetoric that laid blame for the catastrophe with the Ukrainian military, despite mounting evidence that Russian-backed rebels were responsible.
As summer ended and children returned to school, the Ukrainian government and rebel authorities made a fresh agreement to end ceasefire violations. Hopes that this deal will secure a permanent end to the slaughter remain low to non-existent.
Luhansk, July 11, 2015 - A child plays in a destroyed Ukrainian tank tagged with a propaganda slogan by Russian-backed separatists. © Pierre Crom / ANP
Grabovo, July 15, 2015 - Residents built a monument for the victims of the MH17 catastrophe. © Pierre Crom / ANP
Grabovo, July 16, 2015 - Russian-backed separatists arrive on the crash site a day prior to the MH17 commemoration. © Pierre Crom
Grabovo, July 17, 2015 - Residents living on the MH17 crash site commemorate the victims a year after the catastrophe. © Pierre Crom