Photographers' Blog

Lives washed away

Zepce, Bosnia

By Dado Ruvic

For many days since the floods in the Balkans began, I have woken up with tears in my eyes. I have been looking at my friends in disbelief, watching as their lives slowly crumble.

Bosnia has been devastated by the worst floods to hit the region in living memory. More than a million people have been cut off from clean water, 100,000 buildings have been left uninhabitable and over half a million people have left their homes.

From the beginning of this crisis, I have felt a struggle within myself between the man who is watching his friends and family suffer, and the journalist, who is trying to document it all for the rest of the world.

Part of my family has been cut off by the floods. Some have become homeless, some have been left with almost nothing; just a plastic bag carrying a few sets of clothes, a piece of bread and a bottle of water.

Teachers, farmers, chefs… They have all become refugees. Their priorities in life are no longer taking a trip to the seaside, buying a car, or a new house. Just like in the old days of conflict in the Balkans, they are now struggling for mere survival.

Underground with Bosnia’s women miners

Breza, Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Dado Ruvic

Since I started photography, miners have always been an attractive subject matter for me. They provide all photographic elements in one place. Throughout the years, I have often worked on stories below ground for the local newspaper, spending shifts with miners. As March 8th neared, I came up with the idea to do something different related to International Women’s Day. The story, which I had planned a few years earlier but had no reason to shoot, was now ready: Women miners.

GALLERY: LONE FEMALE MINERS OF BOSNIA

One morning I went into the Breza mine and the first person that greeted me at the door was a very strong, smiling woman named Sakiba. I felt the spirit of mining through her. After she finished the morning’s preparation and made a few phone calls, we went to the change rooms. After I awkwardly donned mining clothes, our day started, and a crowd of dirty particles were smiling on my camera. At the entrance to the pit, there was a second miner Šemsa, waiting for us.

Both women have been working in the mine for over 20 years. Every wall, every pillar, every soul in this mine politely bowed to them. We descended in the elevator to about 400 meters below ground. About one year ago a major fire broke out in the mine and one of their friends died. During the time we spent together Šemsa said she finds it difficult to descend into the pit — it stirs very bad memories that are hard to deal with. However, she comforted herself in believing that death was meant for everyone, including her friend.

A city divided and paralyzed by politics

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Dado Ruvic

Mostar; where half of its heart has stopped beating

At the entrance to the city on the left side, the beautiful slopes of mountain Prenj greeted me proudly defying the environment and covered in snow. All the splendor of colors and suns’ rays that penetrated through it was broken after I saw a house that was completely destroyed in the war beside the main road. Even twenty years later the house had not been restored. For me, this city has always been beautiful, complete with the most beautiful bridge in the world – the Old bridge.

However, when we traveled to the other side of the bridge, the city was spooky. There were dilapidated buildings and ruins where just dogs and ghosts of the past lived. After twenty years they still carried the weight, pain, suffering and wounds that will never heal. I’m sure that the younger generation will not be poisoned by nationalism; they don’t have to watch buildings being destroyed by bullets every day.

Surely they wonder though and certainly hate grows. There comes that poison called nationalism, perhaps. I wonder all the time, while I’m walking, taking photographs. I felt so proud as I photographed the old part of the town, because I could show the world one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But the pride, the joy, the happiness just disappeared when I realized the harsh reality – I had to show the other parts of the city. My soul was hard as I photographed half reconstructed, and in most cases never renovated, buildings. I listened to the stories of people selling souvenirs and random passer-bys as they talked about the divided city; about “them” on one side and “those” on the other side. All the beauty disappeared.

In the darkest corner of my soul

By Dado Ruvic

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian war.

I was only three years old when the war broke out. Although I was only a child, I keep the dark images of horror, blood and the suffering inside me, buried deep in the darkest corner of my soul. I was only a child, but the memories of war will never fade away. It is something all of us carry as a burden on our souls, each every one of us in our own way.

Regardless of my memories, I try to do my job impartially and without any influences. I want to see things rationally. I want to cover the stories that matter; the stories that carry the message. I want to say and express what some people dare not say. The photos are not merely photos, they are tears. They are screams of the desolate despair. They are pain.

In Bosnia, more than 10,000 people are still missing and have not been found. These are not only numbers. They are someone’s children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives. Ten thousand people still without a trace; in the darkness. Twenty years after the war, 10,000 is not merely a number. Year after year, I witness the excavation of the new mass graves. And the years go by, as if carried by the winds of sorrow.

Sarajevo, where they died with dignity

By Chris Helgren

I was trying to think of something good to write, something positive about this anniversary. But it’s just an impossible task when remembering the smell and mood of the morgues and hospitals tasked with the dirty work of the war. While I was there, I don’t think I met a single family untouched by the violence. Whether it was through loss of a relative or starvation or frostbite or all of the above, every Sarajevan had a sad story to tell. One of those who couldn’t tell me was 10 year old Elvedin Sendo, whose body was brought into the Kosevo hospital morgue with grass stains on his shoes. He was killed when Bosnian Serb shells hit his school’s playing field in the Hrasno neighbourhood, two weeks short of the war’s first anniversary.

The story of Sarajevans surviving the siege was one of community and dignity. Water lines were shattered early on, yet people needed water to survive. Sarajevo’s citizens would nervously queue to fill their containers in places known to those on the hills manning the artillery pieces. Once in a while, a mortar would land, kill a few of them, but they’d be back the next day to provide water for their families. A huge screen made of blue cloth, spanning the width of a street, was erected one year to protect pedestrians from sniper fire. Sadly, it wilted under the weight of a rainstorm within a couple of days.

Within a year most families had burned whatever firewood they had around the house, and they’d then venture out to cut down trees closer and closer to the front lines. After these were gone, they burned furniture, then shoes. At a friend’s house party during the third winter, we went through his record collection and burned LP’s by Martika and Michael Jackson. “He’s pretty hot”, was the joke at the time.

A dazed memory

By Damir Sagolj

It is twenty years since the man was killed. His remains were given different names; he became just a number in sad statistics – one of ours or theirs. Behind the broken window of his burnt home, between grave marks of innocents only ghosts live.

I don’t have any of my pictures from the 1992-95 war in Bosnia anymore. I shot many photos – mostly of dead people and destruction. Very few had any life in them. Then, just as the killings stopped and a different war continued in November 1995 I abandoned my photos; I didn’t want to have them anymore.

Not a smart move, but it was what I wanted at the moment – to forget, to put it behind, to move forward.

Getting above the snow

By Dado Ruvic

I was ten years old when a heavy snowfall trapped Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000, and forced its authorities to declare a state of emergency. I remember these as fun days – we didn’t have to go to school and we just enjoyed the snow. But the latest cold spell enveloping Europe has hit Bosnia hard, blocking its traffic, burying in snow and isolating villages, straining its creaking power infrastructure and most importantly taking many lives during the coldest weather in decades. I have only now realized that snow above one metre is no longer fun, when a 20 minute drive turns into three hours.
In the first few days there were many similar photos emerging on the wire, showing the iced-in towns and villages, people cleaning their yards the blocked traffic. I was also sending photos with the same content.

On the second day of covering this weather story, I realized I had to do something different. I wanted to show them things they had never seen before. I was trying to contact friends, colleagues and some old pals for two days before I realized I had no contacts left. I suddenly got hold of Boban Kusturica, the manager of the Serb Republic helicopter service. In my short career, I have never met a man holding such an important position being so down-to-earth, friendly and supportive.

At the start, I wanted to shoot from a helicopter to capture isolated villages in eastern Bosnia. I also wanted to make images of aid workers delivering food and medicine and evacuating sick people from the inaccessible villages. On Wednesday morning, I received a call from Boban telling me his helicopter would come to Sarajevo and pick me up. It seemed a bit surreal to me, as many people consider me young, inexperienced, and thus don’t always take me seriously. I arrived at Lukavica, near Sarajevo, where an improvised heliport was made on a small soccer stadium. Five minutes later a helicopter came to pick me up but we had to wait for some time to depart, because the weather was terrible and the airport dispatcher had not received the flight permission. After ten minutes of waiting, we were granted permission. Unfortunately, we were only approved for a half an hour flight. I could only take panoramic images of the snow-buried villages and we had to go back urgently.

My weekend at the “Hague Hilton”

By Damir Sagolj

I have followed their bloody trail for 20 years now.

As a Bosnian and as a photojournalist, I have tracked them through the ruins of Sarajevo — the target of concealed snipers and heavy artillery from the hills — to the mass graves of eastern Bosnia and the villages that were ethnically cleansed and destroyed forever, past houses, now owner-less, that nobody will rebuild and churches, barren of worshipers.

I visited every single corner of the Balkans’ “vukojebina” — literally, where wolves f** — a term that perfectly captures these remote, forgotten places, far from civilization. Always too late to be a victim, but early enough to see and feel. I followed war crimes with the passion of a journalist and the guilt of a survivor.

That road ends at “The Hague Hilton”, as the detention unit of the war crimes tribunal is sometimes called. There, 40 or so accused war criminals — innocent until proved guilty — live in harmony and comfort awaiting their sentence.

Srebrenica: The story that will never end

I’ve been to more than one hundred mass graves, mass funerals and witnessed the long, exhaustive process of victim identification. I took pictures of bones found in caves and rivers, taken from mud, recovered from woods and mines or just left by the road.

Most of these terrible assignments were around the small, used to be forgotten at-the-end-of-the-road town called Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

The international criminal court said the most terrible crimes of genocide were committed in Srebrenica area when the Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Muslims after the enclave, ironically under U.N. protection as a safe heaven, was overrun by an army led by its ruthless commander.

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