Ian Birrell


What makes Ian Birrell’s colourful, insightful and elegiac reports from Ukraine so compelling is the stark contrast between the elegance of his writing and the horrors he describes. A consummate story-teller, he also demonstrates considerable skill in getting people in the toughest situations imaginable to open up to him. One piece, from the Daily Mail, is a reflection on “the nihilistic stupidity of war” after six months on the front line: passionate, personal and profound, it is spun round a retired military officer he met in a ruined suburb of Kharkiv.

“It is always the living human wreckage, not the corpses or the smashed buildings, that is most disturbing,” writes Birrell, citing the man who crawled out of a shallow grave where he had been buried with his two brothers after surviving an execution, the exhausted doctor operating without anaesthetic in a hospital basement, or the young mother raped at gunpoint by Russian soldiers. 

The judges praised Birrell’s “breadth, energy and determination to get inside the detail of his stories.” His Ukraine work, which vividly depicts the reality of life in a war zone and is shot through with a strong sense of justice, “stands out in a crowded field.”