“Welcome to Sarajevo again”

May 31, 2011


It was June 28, 1995, when Sean Maguire and I arrived in Sarajevo for another few months of covering the conflict in the Bosnian capital.

The drive was uneventful as we left Split on the Adriatic Sea and drove overnight over Mount Igman. As always, Sean drove the car. Upon arrival in Sarajevo we went to sleep to be woken up by huge blasts. Two aircraft bombs attached to four rockets were launched from the ground from Serbian positions towards Sarajevo. One of them hit the TV station where all the local and foreign TV crews were working out of and the second an apartment block nearby.

Still half asleep we jumped into our armored Land Rover and drove in that direction, only to find another tragedy unfolding in front of our eyes. “Welcome to Sarajevo again”, I said to myself not knowing that it was going to be a very long and eventful summer. Almost every day we took pictures of one tragedy or another, as people tried to cope with life in the besieged city.

The month of August 1995 was quieter as there were fewer bombs falling on the city. People began to walk outside, feeling safe enough to visit local cafes and markets. They seemed to enjoy the feeling of life returning to something close to normality.

On the morning of August 28, 1995 Reuters photographer Danilo Kristanovic and I left for a drive in an armored car through the city looking for feature pictures in the center of town. When we arrived at our destination, we parked our Land Rover on one of the streets. The city center was full as people were sitting in cafes enjoying sunny weather while others were shopping for food at the outdoor and indoor markets. We passed by the entrance to the local market and walked towards the Cathedral, a few hundred yards away.

As we turned the corner we heard a loud explosion. We knew that the sound of the incoming round meant a mortar attack. We turned back and began running towards the place where the round fell. The view was horrible as people ran and screamed. Usually in a situation like this my first reaction is to help people but in this case it was overwhelming. Bodies and body parts were lying everywhere and the wounded were screaming for help.

We took pictures for maybe ten or twenty minutes and even today I don’t remember how I managed to work. Afterward we ran to our car and drove some of the wounded to the local hospital. Then we went to our office to develop our pictures and transmitted them on the wire. I had never seen anything like that before.

A few hours later some members of the U.S. Embassy arrived at our office and took some copies of the pictures that we had taken. Within two days, NATO began its bombing campaign against Serbian positions around Sarajevo, which was the beginning of the end of the war. In fact, the war was over.

The pictures we took that day were some of the most important pictures in my life but I would never like to repeat them again.

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