Ukraine’s simmering war with Russian-backed fighters has claimed the lives of 13,000 people over the last 5 years. It is a war which the country's newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky - a former comedian with no political experience - will have to address.


Civilians die in this war, but in unexpected ways. People collapse in huge queues to cross the front line. Battling severe heat and deadly cold, most of those crossing are elderly. They can only collect their Ukrainian pension from Ukrainian territory. 


The BBC's Olga Malchevska and Ed Ram traveled to eastern Ukraine to understand the impact that the crossings are having on people's lives.



Documentary film shot and directed for BBC News available here.


Photo essay shot and produced for BBC News available here.

About 30,000 civilians, mostly elderly, cross the contact line every day.

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Eighteen civilian have collapsed and died crossing the front line since December, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) reported in April.

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Karolina is nine months pregnant. At the crossing point in Mayorsk, she is travelling to see family on the other side. "It's difficult now.  I'm scared that I might have to give birth on the way," she says.

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Infrastructure to deal with the volume of crossings has continued to be built since the start of the conflict in 2014.

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Most don’t eat or drink for fear they will need the toilet. Not because there aren’t any toilets, but because they might lose their place in the queue.

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At Stanytsia Luhanska, the checkpoint in Luhansk, the queue moves slowly as permits are checked on either side of the front line. Between the checkpoints is a walk of up to 3km (1.9 miles) across the contact line.

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Human rights campaigners argue that the queues would be eased if the Ukrainian government worked harder to simplify the pension system for those living in the breakaway territories.

The Ukrainian government says it tried to open an additional checkpoint to ease the queues but the Russian-backed forces wouldn’t agree to it.

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More than 4,000 Ukrainian military forces personnel and volunteers have died in the conflict since war started in April 2014.

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Checkpoints that hold the line between Ukrainian held territory and no-man's land are guarded full time.

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Yevhenia Patrivna's apartment is half a kilometre from the front line on the Ukrainian government held side. Like thousand of others, she has to cross military check points to collect her pension. 

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Traditional Ukrainian decorations hang in Yevhenia Patrivna's apartment. 

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Many people who lived near the fighting have left. 

Yevhenia Patrivna

says she's exhausted by the war but has nowhere else to go.

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The contact line which separates Ukrainian Government controlled areas and areas controlled by Russian backed fighters stretches over 300 miles. Internally displaced people cross at one of five crossing points to visit friends and relatives.

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The road that crosses the front line is mined on both sides and a curfew on shelling during daylight hours is not always observed.

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The fighting between Ukraine and Russian backed fighters has killed around 13,000 people. Three thousand of them have been civilians, the UN said in February 2019.

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Whole neighbourhoods have been rendered uninhabitable after five years of war. 

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Weather in eastern Ukraine can be extreme. During long winters, temperatures regularly plummet to -15 degrees celsius and in summer the heat often exceeds 30 degrees.

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Residents in a tower block 500m from the front line say that they no longer bother to replace their windows. They fear shelling will blow the glass out again. 

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Civilians who live between battle lines talk of dead lock. Caught in a war with no end in sight. 

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