Melnikov’s work, a series of photographs titled ‘Black Days of Ukraine’, which chronicles the events of the ongoing armed conflict in the eastern regions of the country, won him first place in the Long-Term Projects category.
Ironically, when he originally began working on what eventually became the Black Days of Ukraine, he didn’t expect it to become some such a big project, Melnikov told Sputnik.
"I started working on this series – back then I didn’t expect it to become a big project – during summer 2014 in Lugansk Region, when a full-scale military conflict broke out and the war in southeastern Ukraine began. And for three years straight now I have been visiting Donbass to cover the military conflict there," he said.
At some point however, as the conflict kept raging with no end in sight, Melnikov decided that the story of this obscure war must be told and, having resolved to continue his work until peace is restored in the region, started molding a collection of disparate photos into something more cohesive – something that eventually became the Black Days of Ukraine.
"This conflict, which currently gets undeservedly little attention, is called a 'forgotten war' by some journalists, but it is a tragedy of the people of Donbass that must not be forgotten and the world must be made aware of it," the photo journalist explained.
Melnikov also remarked that he can’t exactly say that he’s proud of some of his photographs as they depict scenes so tragic that one simply cannot feel any pride when recalling them; some of these events however were so memorable that they have remained with him. One such event occurred during the onset of the conflict in Lugansk Region in July 2014, when Stanitsa Luganskaya – a small village located 15 kilometers (about 9.3 miles) away from Lugansk – was hit by a Ukrainian airstrike.
"I arrived at the scene of this tragedy when buildings were still burning and people were counting the dead. This was one of the most grievous and tragic moments that I’ve seen," Melnikov said grimly.
- A member of a rapid response unit rests in a barrack before a curfew patrol in Lugansk© Sputnik / Valeriy Melnikov
- Destroyed houses in the village of Zhelobok, Lugansk Region© Sputnik / Valeriy Melnikov
- Lugansk on the eve of elections© Sputnik / Valeriy Melnikov
- Center: Alexei Mozgovoi, commander of the Prizrak (Ghost) battalion of the Lugansk People's Volunteer Corps, speaks with his soldiers in Lisichansk where the battalion is stationed© Sputnik / Valeriy Melnikov
Valery Melkinov's powerful and evocative photo series, "Black Days of Ukraine," offers a stark depiction of the human side of the conflict between rebels and the government-led army in the country. The series brings the lives of civilians, children, soldiers, and many others living in the war-torn country into sharp focus, with an emphasis on the impact on the lives of the people living there. An accomplished photojournalist, Valery Melnikov's work in Ukraine has seen him win awards including the Bourse de Talent in France and the Magnum Photography Award in the United States.
The World Press Photo competition is the largest and most prestigious annual collection of awards given in the photojournalism profession. The competition, founded in Amsterdam, dates back to 1955; a separate annual competition for multimedia productions was created in 2011. Since 1994, World Press Photo has also run the Joop Swart Masterclass, which offers mentoring to aspiring young photographers.