Abandoned photographs found on the front line of the Ukraine conflict reveal intimate moments of life before the war. Now the Australian photojournalist who discovered them hopes he can return the photos to their owners.
In the wreckage of a building close to the obliterated Donetsk airport, where nearby clashes continue between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists, Samuel Eder was walking and watching carefully for booby traps when a strange device caught his eye.
Eder, a former photo developer, recognized the device as a darkroom enlarger, used to make prints from film. The photojournalist from Australia soon realized he was standing in the remains of a Soviet-era photo laboratory.
With the permission of a Ukrainian officer escorting Eder and a friend along the front line, they began sifting through the wreckage of the long-abandoned photo lab. The pair soon uncovered thousands of negatives and color slides of life in the Donbas before the current war tore the region apart.
Eder removed the images from the ruined building — a move which the Australian believes was justified. He told RFE/RL if he hadn’t removed the hundreds of rolls of film to digitally scan them they would soon have decayed to nothing. “There were thousands of people who fled this town, they had to leave these memories to rot, and maybe we can help restore a little bit of what the war took away.”
Eder hopes publication of the photographs will help him to return the abandoned negatives and slides to their owners. This selection of the photos, published here for the first time, came without any information, but RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service was able to identify several locations as being in the Donbas region and Russia. Most of the photos appear to have been shot during the Soviet period.
The Australian says that anyone who recognizes themselves or their loved ones in the photographs can contact him directly.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and Merhat Sharipzhan.