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Once filled with cafés and shops, the Qabaris neighborhood in the Old City area of Homs has been reduced to rubble. May 12, 2014.
Once filled with cafés and shops, the Qabaris neighborhood in the Old City area of Homs has been reduced to rubble. May 12, 2014.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Once filled with cafés and shops, the Qabaris neighborhood in the Old City area of Homs has been reduced to rubble. May 12, 2014.
In the wake of a cease-fire, residents of Homs reclaim belongings from their devastated homes. May 12, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs, have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood full of cafés and shops. Qabaris neighborhood, old Homs. May 13, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood and its mosque. Khaldiyeh, old Homs. May 13, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs, have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood full of cafes and shops. Residents return to devastated Homs to salvage what remains of their belongings and homes after years of conflict and siege after government troops entered the neighborhoods as part of an agreement that granted rebel fighters safe exit from the city. Qabaris neighborhood, old Homs. May 12, 2014.
A street in the Qabaris neighborhood of Homs lies in ruins. Government soldiers use small fires to melt the plastic from cables and wires stripped from destroyed buildings. They say it is to prevent the wires from being used for improvised explosive devices, but the copper within can also be sold for cash. May 12, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood and its mosque. Khaldiyeh, old Homs, May 13, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs, have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood full of cafes and shops. Residents return to devastated Homs to salvage what remains of their belongings and homes after years of conflict and siege after government troops entered the neighborhoods as part of an agreement that granted rebel fighters safe exit from the city. Qabaris neighborhood, old Homs. May 12, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs, have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood full of cafes and shops. Residents return to devastated Homs to salvage what remains of their belongings and homes after years of conflict and siege after government troops entered the neighborhoods as part of an agreement that granted rebel fighters safe exit from the city, Qabaris neighborhood, old Homs, May 12, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood and its mosque, Khaldiyeh, old Homs. May 13, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood and its mosque, Khaldiyeh, old Homs. May 13, 2014.
Two years of relentless fighting, along with shells and barrel bombs have destroyed this once thriving middle class neighborhood and its mosque. Khaldiyeh, old Homs. May 13, 2014.
Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Mosque, Kalediyeh neighborhood, Homs. May 13, 2014.
The former residents of the Qarabis neighborhood in the Old City of Homs in Syria ought to be forgiven if they start questioning the value of peace. Three days after the successful conclusion of a ceasefire between the government of President Bashar Assad and the rebels who had holed up in the neighborhood for nearly two years, residents were allowed back into the sealed off enclave to salvage what they could from their former homes. Homs, May 12, 2014.
Qaeda's flag is seen flying at the Qarabis neighborhood in the Old City of Homs, May 12, 2014.
The Martyrs of Firdos Cemetery, Zahara neighborhood, Homs. Zahara is an Alawite neighborhood in Homs, where 4000 soldiers that died fighting for the government of Assad are buried in a special cemetery. Homs, May 13, 2014.
Parishioners return to the Church of the Belt of the Virgin Mary for the first time in two years to find it mostly intact, but for a hole in the roof from shelling. Homs, May 14, 2014.
This street corner was hit by a car bomb in April, killing 150 according to residents. The force of the bomb sheared of the facades of nearby buildings. Zahara neighborhood, Homs. May 13, 2014.
The old covered market, Homs. May 14, 2014.
The check point at Khaldiyeh, old Homs. May 14, 2014.
Men gather at a newly reopened mechanic's shop in the Barze neighborhood of Damascus. May 14, 2014.
Posters of the President adorn the offices of the Syrian Ministry of Industry offices in Damascus. May 14, 2014.
Election banners promoting Assad in upcoming presidential elections, in Damascus' covered market, May 15, 2014.
At the al Nawfara coffee shop in the old city of Damascus, professional story teller Abu Shaadi entertains patrons by reading traditional tales of old Syria, May 15, 2014.
A bustling covered market in Damascus, May 15, 2014.
Friday morning before prayers at Damascus' Historic Umayyad Mosque, May 16, 2014.
Recently engaged couple Rama, 27, and Razooq, 31,L, share a drink at Damascus' recently opened Upstairs Bar. May 16, 2014.
Buildings, checkpoints , cars , buses here in the Syrian capital are festooned with fresh portraits of President Bashar Assad, May 16, 2014.
A rally in support of Syria and the president on the Mezze Highway, Damascus, May 18, 2014.
Marjeh Square in Damascus. May 18, 2014.
Buildings, checkpoints and billboards in the Syrian capital are festooned with fresh portraits of President Bashar Assad. Damascus, May 16, 2014.
Young Damascenes gather at the café in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus, May 18, 2014.
Young director Muhamad Abdulaziz has been given free reign by the Syrian government to produce a multi-part television drama about the current conflict. With a cast of 122 actors, filmed in more than 150 locations, it is a wide-ranging project that seeks to incorporate the war, the influence of foreign fighters and the tales of young women who join the fight as wives to some of those jihadis. Abdulaziz, who supports the government, says he has no fear of censorship. Damascus. May 18, 2014.
Courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, May 18, 2014.
Eating out in the Old City in Damascus, May 18, 2014.
Once filled with cafés and shops, the Qabaris neighborhood in the Old City area of Homs has been reduced to rubble. May
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Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
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Syrians Return to Devastation in Homs

May 29, 2014

For this week's issue of TIME, photographer Yuri Kozyrev and TIME Middle East Bureau Chief Aryn Baker traveled to Syria to document locals returning to the city of Homs, which lies in ruins. The return came after a ceasefire between the government and rebel forces who held the city for almost two years. Amid scenes of devastation, Kozyrev photographed one-time residents salvaging belongings and searching for signs of their former lives. Kozyrev and Baker also traveled to Damascus -- long a stronghold of pro-Assad sentiment -- where, in parts of the city, locals shop and socialize and life goes on much as it always has.

It had taken years, and several attempts each, to get Syrian visas for photographer Yuri Kozyrev and myself. Despite all that waiting, nothing had quite prepared us for what we would encounter in Syria. From the Lebanese border we drove straight to the city of Homs, where a recent ceasefire had just taken effect, after a two-year siege and massive amounts of shelling. The rebel fighters left, and residents were returning to their former neighborhoods to see what could be salvaged from their homes. It was a scene of utter devastation.

Kozyrev, who has covered wars for decades, goggled at the extent of the destruction. “It’s worse than Grozny,” he said, as we walked through a post-apocalyptic landscape, broken teacups and the cut-glass crystal of old chandeliers crunching under our feet. The smell of explosives was everywhere, and fires burned at intersections, filling the air with acrid black smoke. Government soldiers, brought in as guards, had started stripping all the buildings of the electrical wires, and piled the resulting coils into bonfires. They said that they didn’t want any remaining insurgents to use the wires in improvised electrical devices, but they also admitted that the copper inside fetched a good price.

Photograph by Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME 

We accompanied families as they sought to salvage what they could of their former lives. “It was a powerful, emotional moment to follow them to their houses, or what was left of their houses,” says Kozyrev. “Many seemed unable to find where they once lived among all the rubble.” Some were lucky, and able to recover furniture and old appliances. Others had to content themselves to a few books, or an old photo album. I saw one woman walking out of the destruction clutching her chandelier, a poignant symbol of all that had been lost.

Damascus, with its lively bars, markets and packed ice-cream parlors showed us the other side of Syria. A stronghold of President Bashar Assad, the capital’s central districts have seen little of the war outside of the television news, and Damascenes go about their daily lives with little thought to what is going on in the rest of the country. “In some ways it’s hard to believe when you look at the images of Homs, but people in Damascus seem to think the war is over,” says Kozyrev. “For them, it’s just a question of time until they rebuild and everything is fine.” For us, temporary visitors, we saw a legacy of war that will likely last for generations to come.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

Aryn Baker is the Middle East bureau chief for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @arynebaker.

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