TIME On Our Radar

Marcus Bleasdale Wins Robert Capa Gold Medal

“This is a war about corruption, it’s a war about poverty, it’s a war about misrule, mismanagement, bad governance"

Early one morning in December 2013, in the town of Bossangoa, less than 200 miles northwest of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, photographer Marcus Bleasdale was documenting the plight of nomadic Muslim herders who had recently been attacked by predominantly Christian fighters.

One of them had been struck by a bullet and needed immediate medical attention. Bleasdale assisted in taking him to the hospital for treatment, but rather than stay there, the man wanted to rejoin his family. When they returned to drop him off, the town had completely changed.

“I’ve been in a couple of attacks in these small towns over the years in Central Africa, and it’s very easy to see that the population is acutely aware of what’s about to happen,” Bleasdale told TIME in a recent interview. “The houses have been closed up, the businesses have been closed up, there wasn’t a single person on the road,” he continued. “As we were driving away, the attack started. We could hear the guns starting just to our left and right.”

The group immediately went to a nearby African Union base to find shelter. “We saw thousands of people from the city running towards this compound,” Bleasdale recalled. “It was a matter of 30 minutes before we realized this was a countrywide, coordinated attack.”

The scenes that day, which Bleasdale called “desperately sad,” played out across Central African Republic, the landlocked former French colony of some 4.5 million people in the heart of the continent. Two days of unprecedented bloodshed between the largely Muslim Séléka fighters and anti-balaka militias—comprised of Christians, animists and ex-soldiers—would leave hundreds dead in the capital and many more across the country, rocketing the conflict into the international spotlight and prompting an influx of foreign troops to try and tamp down the violence.

In January 2014, after the country’s self-installed Muslim leader stepped down and Séléka went into retreat, what Bleasdale called an “uneasy peace” that lasted just a few weeks gave way to an “all-out attack” on the largely Muslim population that was remaining. An unstable security situation since then has kept the country and its people in limbo.

“This is not a religious war,” he said. “This is a war about corruption, it’s a war about poverty, it’s a war about misrule, mismanagement, bad governance.”

For his work, commissioned by Human Rights Watch, Foreign Policy and National Geographic, Bleasdale has been named the latest recipient of the Robert Capa Gold Medal by the Overseas Press Club of America. It’s the first time the Medal has been bestowed on a photographer for work produced, in part, for a non-governmental organization.

Read: Magnum Photographer Jerome Sessini Wins Olivier Rebbot Award

The award, named after famed war photographer Robert Capa, who died after stepping on a land mine in Indochina in 1954, is among the industry’s most prestigious and honors the “best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.”

Previous recipients have included Larry Burrows of LIFE and Horst Faas of the Associated Press for their coverage during the Vietnam War; James Nachtwey for stories in Lebanon, El Salvador and South Africa; Getty Images photographer John Moore after the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan; and Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times for work on Iraq and Liberia.

For his part, Bleasdale recognizes the company he’s in. “That’s really what went through my mind a little bit when I found out that I’d been honored,” he said. But he quickly noted that his work would not have been possible without his team, including loyal fixers and drivers, and especially Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.

Bleasdale’s career in photojournalism began in the late 1990s, documenting the war fueled by diamonds in Sierra Leone. From there, he pivoted to Central Africa and specifically began to focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo and how natural resources were being used to finance the conflict there.

Documenting the shift and struggle over money and natural resources in developing nations is a natural fit for Bleasdale. He studied business during his university years, focusing on economics and finance, and then spent nearly a decade as an investment banker.

“I tend to still kind of have this economic training in my mind when I work as a photographer and specifically when I work covering conflict,” he says. “When I document conflict, I don’t necessarily document the conflict itself but I try to look at the economics behind the war, and what is financing it.”

Bleasdale hopes to return to Central African Republic within the next few months, with an aim to focus on real life beyond the horror. “I have a lot more work to do there.”

TIME baltimore

State of Emergency Is Declared in Baltimore as Riots Erupt

Days of angry but peaceful protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray devolved after his funeral Monday into scenes of rioting, arson and looting that carried into Tuesday, leaving more than a dozen police officers injured and prompting the declaration of a state of emergency as reinforcements arrived to restore order.

The Mayor’s office announced Tuesday that some 202 people had been arrested overnight, and that 144 vehicles and 15 buildings had been set on fire. At least 15 police officers were injured.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said late Monday he activated the National Guard as a “last resort” to tamp down the violence as night fell. “People have the right to protest and express their frustration,” he told reporters, “but Baltimore City families deserve peace and safety in their communities and these acts of violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Up to 5,000 troops from the National Guard would be available to keep the peace on Baltimore’s streets, Maj. Gen. Linda Singh told reporters Monday night. Singh, the adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, said the troops will be acting at the direction of the Baltimore police.

“We are going to be out in massive force, and that just means basically that we are going to be patrolling the streets and out to ensure that we are protecting property,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

State police said they had also requested an additional 5,000 officers from around the Mid-Atlantic region to assist with the chaos in West Baltimore. Hogan’s statement followed a news conference by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said a city-wide curfew would go into effect Tuesday, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m, and last for one week. A separate curfew for juveniles is already in place.

“It is very clear there is a difference between what we saw over the past week… and the thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city,” she said.

Monday’s riots came hours after funeral services were held for Gray. His death on April 19, following a fatal injury sustained in police custody during his arrest one week earlier, has become the latest to ignite the national debate on race and police brutality. Baltimore police denied using force against the 25-year-old; one of the family’s attorneys said Gray’s spine was 80% “severed at the neck.” The Justice Department and the FBI are conducting civil rights investigations into Gray’s death.

On Monday afternoon, a group of 75 to 100 youths making their way toward the Mondawmin Mall were met by officers in riot gear, the Baltimore Sun reports, and the confrontations escalated from there. Projectiles like bottles, bricks, rocks and sticks were aimed at lines of officers, who had protective gear, shields and tear gas at their disposal. Live footage from a news helicopter showed the scene intensify, with people standing atop a police cruiser and smashing in its roof and windows.

Elsewhere in the area, others were seen flooding into local businesses, like a check-cashing store and a liquor store, then returning outside with their hauls. One CVS drug store that was looted was later set on fire, and television cameras captured people slashing the fire hoses to prevent firefighters from putting out the flames. In a live televised interview as footage showed smoke billowing from the store, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings said “We never expected anything like this.”

The escalation prompted the Baltimore Orioles to announce on Twitter that Monday evening’s home game against the Chicago White Sox had been postponed after consultations with city authorities; it will be rescheduled for a later date. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is a former Baltimore mayor and a presumed Democratic presidential candidate, said he would forego several paid speeches in Europe and return to Baltimore.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a statement later in the evening, condemning what she called “senseless acts of violence by some individuals,” and said the Justice Department was ready to provide assistance to the city as needed.

MORE The Wire Creator Calls for End to Violence in Baltimore

Late Monday, a fire began to engulf a senior center that was being built by a nearby church. The pastor, Rev. Donte L. Hickman, told the New York Times that he considered the fire to be set deliberately and was “probably a result of what is taking place because of all the injustice that people feel in the community.”

An attorney for Gray’s family, Mary Koch, said during an interview on CNN that the violence had “completely detracted” from his death and the family’s quest for answers. In a brief statement to reporters at around 11 p.m., local time, Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka, called the violence “wrong” and said “I don’t think that’s for Freddie.”

Around that time, at the scene of one of the blazes around the city, Rawlings-Blake spoke again to reporters. The mayor, who was born and raised in Baltimore, called the scenes of destruction “extremely heartbreaking.”

“This is one of our darkest days as a city,” she said, “and I know that we are much better than this.”

— With reporting by Josh Sanburn / Baltimore and Zeke J. Miller / Washington, D.C.

Read next: Baltimore Mourns Freddie Gray as Officials Call for Reform

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Inside Sudan’s War-Torn Darfur

Photographer Adriane Ohanesian followed refugees hiding in the Marra Mountains

The outcome had been all but certain. On April 27, two weeks after polls opened in Sudan, election organizers announced that President Omar al-Bashir, the 71-year-old incumbent, had won 94% of the vote.

With his quarter-century reign extended—the opposition boycotted the ballot and polling stations in Khartoum, the capital, were said to be largely deserted—Bashir will continue to avoid the International Criminal Court, where he faces charges of war crimes over his role in the conflict in Darfur.

More than 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the unrest in Darfur, which ignited in 2003 after the government aimed to crack down on an insurgency in the western region. The U.N. estimates some 2 million people have been displaced as a result.

Adriane Ohanesian, a Nairobi-based photographer from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., first went to Sudan in 2010 and worked on a project about a marginalized group, the Beja, in the Red Sea State. That’s when she became interested in Darfur. Later that year, she traveled south to focus on the referendum and independence; South Sudan became its own country in July 2011. In 2012, she turned her focus to the fighting in the Nuba Mountains, but she hadn’t forgotten about Darfur.

Ohanesian had heard about a large group of civilians who had fled into Jebel Marra (the Marra Mountains) and away from government attacks and aerial bombardment. She and a Dutch journalist, Klaas van Dijken, began looking into how to document their suffering. They eventually received permission for access from the rebel group Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW).

In late February, they made it to caves located a two hour’s walk outside of a town called Sarong, from where the hundreds of civilians had fled. It was around dawn, Ohanesian says, and everyone was lighting fires to stay warm and make tea. “I don’t think any of these people had seen a foreigner in this area since 2010,” she said. “One woman burst into tears when they saw us.”

The two did a few interviews through their translator, and many of their stories were about government forces and aligned militias, coming into their towns, raping women, and pushing residents from their homes and into the mountains.

“I would hear these people’s stories… but I couldn’t see it for myself, which is always the challenge [for photographers],” says Ohanesian. “You see these people in the cave and on the mountains but you can’t see what’s happened to them before that, and that’s the really horrific part that I wish I could show but can’t.”

Ohanesian has committed her career to documenting humanitarian crises, traveling to places like Somalia, South Sudan and Burma. But Sudan was unique. “I’ve just never been to an area like this where people just have nothing,” she says. “The best thing I can do as a photographer is to show what I’ve seen on the ground and to tell others … If that sparks some sort of response, that’s wonderful.”

Adriane Ohanesian is freelance photographer based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

TIME Television

Watch Hillary Clinton in New HBO Documentary The Diplomat

The film opens at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23

Richard Holbrooke’s career as an American diplomat spanned nearly half a century before his death in 2010. In April, two decades after Holbrooke helped seal the Dayton Peace Accords, making an end to the war in Bosnia that had become Europe’s most brutal conflict since World War II, a new documentary by his eldest son will explore the diplomat’s legacy.

In a first look at the official HBO trailer for The Diplomat, David Holbrooke aims to understand his father’s work. He interviewed dozens of people along the way: journalists and policy makers and military leaders.

Among them is Hillary Clinton. Holbrooke supported her bid for President eight years. Had Clinton won the White House, many believed Holbrooke was positioned to become her Secretary of State. Instead with Barack Obama in the Oval Office and Clinton leading the State Department, Holbrooke was appointed by the President a special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the clip, Clinton remembers one of Holbrooke’s particularly aggressive episodes of diplomacy.”He was so intent upon making his case and I’d push open the door to the ladies room and he follows me in,” she says.

“Richard Holbrooke is the most alive person any of us have ever encountered and will ever encounter,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Power went to Bosnia as a journalist when Holbrooke was the U.S. envoy trying to find a path to peace. He later became her mentor.

THE DIPLOMAT premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23 and airs on HBO in the fall.

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Discover the Cultural Treasure Turkey Threatens to Flood

Construction of the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam threatens the ancient village of Hasankeyf

“Absurd.” That’s how documentary photographer Mathias Depardon describes the surreal scene of a mosque’s minaret jutting out from the water as a boat passes by in Savaçan.

The tiny community along the Euphrates River in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern region was flooded by the filling of the Birecik Dam’s reservoir about 15 years ago, pushing its residents and others nearby into a new settlement erected by the country’s housing authority.

Activists worry Hasankeyf is next. The small village with ancient roots on the edge of the Tigris River is upstream from the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam, the last major dam to be built within the decades-long Southeastern Anatolia Project, Turkey’s largest hydropower project that is comprised of 22 dams and 19 power stations. Once construction on Ilisu is done—Turkey was forced to secure alternative funds after European backers pulled out, putting it behind schedule as environmental campaigns steadily lobbied against it—the filling of an 11 billion cubic-meter reservoir will inundate some 74,000 acres, including Hasankeyf.

Ankara has long-positioned the dam as a provider of irrigation and jobs to an impoverished corner of Turkey, and considers it part of the solution to the country’s dependence on foreign energy imports amid increasing domestic demand, as the dam is expected to generate some 2% of Turkey’s current electricity supply. The tradeoff, aside from the further of squeezing crucial supplies downstream in Syria and Iraq, exacerbating already strained tensions from decades of cross-border water disputes, is that part of Hasankeyf—along with its found and still hidden archaeological treasures—and other nearby sites will morph from open air exhibits on ancient Mesopotamia to underwater treasure chests. (Hasankeyf was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s 2008 Watch List.)

Turkey says archaeologists are working to excavate, record and preserve “as much as possible.” And, like others impacted by dams, residents due to be displaced by water can move into a new settlement built across the river.

Depardon, who is half-French and half-Belgian, heard about the project after he moved to Turkey a few years ago. For the 34-year-old photographer, who estimates that he shoots 30 to 50 assignments in a given year, the disappearing village became part of his personal project: an environmental portrait of a land steeped in history before it’s drowned.

A lot of people have assumptions about what Hasankeyf will be like, he says, especially in light to what happened to Savaçan: “People don’t go [to Savaçan] with the nostalgia of the place. Obviously, they didn’t know the place before that, they’d never been there. But they go there and they visit as they would an entertainment park.” Still, he adds, not everyone in the area is against the dam.

Hasankeyf is the iconic at-risk community, Depardon says, but his project is more of a visual look at overall Turkish dam policy that’s driven, he says, by anti-environmental policymakers in Ankara. That’s part of why he named the project Gold Rivers. The expected completion of the dam this year, and the energy that it will help generate, will help pad state coffers while impacting local tourism industries: “The water is now money.”

Mathias Depardon is a documentary photographer based in Istanbul, Turkey. Follow him on Instagram @mathiasdepardon.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt

Cairo-based photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy goes inside the spiritual celebrations

It was late 2013 when Mosa’ab Elshamy wandered back into the Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo. As a young boy, the photographer, who recently joined the Associated Press, accompanied his grandmother as she and others worshipped. Some people were holding onto the shrine of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, while others were reciting passages from the Quran or weeping openly. “Inside, it doesn’t really feel like time has passed. The emotions that are there, the sounds that you hear—you can walk in and it’s going to feel exactly the same,” he tells TIME. Outside, the differences are apparent: more cafés, more traffic, more security.

Elshamy was looking for something to photograph that was a bit less restrictive than Cairo’s streets had become after Egypt’s revolution in 2011. And he found it. For more than a year, he documented the celebrations, or Mawlids, of saints and other holy figures of the Sufis around the country, marking his longest personal project to date.

Some 15 million of Egypt’s 90 million people are followers of the mystical Sufi philosophy of Islam. Worshippers at the Mawlids greet the shrines throughout the year to talk about their wrongdoings in the hopes that they can absolve them of their sins, Elshamy says. Many people will also go to ask for things, like women struggling to have children or men who cannot find jobs. Those who reject this religious philosophy say it’s a form of shirk, or idolatry, that has no place in Islam. (Attacks against shrines aren’t uncommon, especially in areas controlled by radical extremists.)

Part of what attracted Elshamy to the observances is the intimacy and spirituality of it all, displayed in ways that aren’t usually seen elsewhere in Egypt. “You don’t [typically] get that image of men, but here you see people almost publicly being proud of this vulnerability,” he says, “and I thought that was great.” Another main reason are the celebrations that surround them. Prayers and emotions displayed inside the mosques are met with rowdy festivities outside, including playgrounds and vendors, musicians and dancers. “It’s a lot bigger than just a religious celebration.”

The last Mawlid he photographed this past October was at the shrine of Abul-Hassan Al-Shazly. He was buried where he died—in Humaithara, of the Red Sea Governorate—and the mosque was built around him, so his worshippers travel there every year to honor him. Part of the celebration, Elshamy says, involves climbing one of the mountains the religious figure apparently stepped on, each day near sunset, then praying and singing while overlooking the mosque before descending to spend the night around the complex.

The weeklong celebration can coincide with the ‘Id al-Adha festival, so they’ll mark that occasion at the same time.

Elshamy says the project is what restored his faith after “a very tough year” in photography. “It was the year [when] many colleagues left Egypt or stopped photographing or switched to a more comfortable genre. I think everybody had to adapt in a way, when it was obvious how much more difficult it is becoming to just be on a street with a camera, or just try to document a protest or a clash.” This was his way of adapting, shooting something that was new and non-political and that he could continue to do freely.

“In a way this has been a bit of a silver lining, to discover things like this scene that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to,” he says. It all goes back to why he takes photos in the first place: “Seeing for yourself and keeping a record of what you see.”

Mosa’ab Elshamy is Cairo-based staff photographer with the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @mosaaberizing. Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism. Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME Behind the Photos

Back and Forth in Central African Republic’s Unholy War

One photographer's year-long look at the unending cycle of death and uncertainty in a country mostly neglected by the international community

That Central African Republic even managed to squeeze into last year’s news cycle is a grim feat. After all, it was stacked against heavyweights like the July downing of a Malaysian jet over eastern Ukraine, protests across the U.S. over several police killings of unarmed black men, an unprecedented Ebola outbreak, as well as a summer war in Israel and Gaza.

Each of those stories, and many others of similar intensity, commanded audiences around the world for their mystery or shock or tragedy or absurdity. And, notably, for their visuals.

The same could be said for the conflict in Central African Republic, which saw some of the darkest days of its independence last year as it struggled to rebound from a coup a year earlier. Among those who committed to documenting the spiral is French photographer William Daniels, who has made some half a dozen trips there over 14 months.

Daniels was initially drawn to Central African Republic because of its unknown complexities and absence in most mainstream media. Landlocked with 4.6 million people, it lies at the center of a bad neighborhood. Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo are at its south; Cameroon is to the west; Chad and Sudan are to the north; and to the east is a long border with South Sudan, where, away from most front pages of global news outlets, a raging civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Months of tit-for-tat attacks led to two days of street warfare that December, leaving hundreds dead in the capital and an international community scrambling to react. France swiftly approved a contingent of troops to restore order in its former colony; the soldiers were named “Sangaris,” after a butterfly in the region with a short life-span. Some 5,600 peacekeepers from the African Union deployed around that same time.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

But the intervention would do little at first to quell the violence. Some critics called the French operation too narrow for its focus on Séléka when anti-balaka shared blame. At the start of 2014, with the retreat of Séléka into the east and resignation of Djotodia, who would be succeeded by popular Bangui Mayor Catherine Samba-Panza, anti-balaka began to fill the void. Their retaliation in some cases would eclipse the brutality of what prompted them to assemble.

Reports of atrocities would soon build up, as experts and journalists warned of whole Muslim villages being looted and torched, with their residents being forced to seek refuge in churches, schools and medical clinics. Hundreds of thousands would flee into neighbors like Chad and Cameroon.

A recent United Nations report found that anti-balaka had carried out the ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim minority. As many as 6,000 people had died in the conflict so far, but “such estimates fail to capture the full magnitude of the killings that occurred.” The commission couldn’t conclude that there was a genocide but made clear that both Séléka and anti-balaka were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All year, Daniels aimed to unravel the tale of how a people who historically hadn’t seen violence along sectarian lines devolved into just that: Muslims and Christians, neighbors, turning on each other because they shared the holy beliefs of those who attacked them, looted and burned down their home, or killed members of their family.

The implosion of the conflict allowed him to dig deeper each time he returned. After covering the more newsworthy unrest in late 2013, he flew back several times last year to bear witness to the grim aftermath.

In February, he recorded the violent assault by anti-balaka on Muslim communities. In April, he documented the exodus out of the country and violence in Grimari, a small town near Bambari that lies at the entrance to Ouaka region. While on assignment then for Al Jazeera America, he captured the plight of refugees trapped in a Muslim enclave, and in September he got a peek inside Séléka.

Daniels admits that the balance of keeping to the news while going below the surface to probe the conflict’s tangled roots has been a challenge.

“It’s difficult to shoot daily life in the street in this country,” he says during a call from Bangui in December. “It was difficult before and it’s much worse now because as soon as you show your camera, someone will get upset and someone will ask ‘what are you doing?’ and someone will ask for money. It’s a nightmare and very, very uncomfortable.”

BanguiA Christian man is destroying burn out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that was set on fire earlier, in the capital Bangui.
William Daniels—Panos A Christian man destroys burnt out cars in rage, next to a looted mosque that had been set ablaze. Bangui, Central African Republic. Dec. 10, 2013.

Returning to Central African Republic as much as he did last year allowed him to gauge any progress.

The overall security situation in Bangui was less tense in December than early fall, with more shops and markets open for business and more people back at work, he says. “Each time I come back, it’s a bit more.” In the capital, for example, where in late 2013 he photographed a man filled with rage destroying a burnt out car next to a looted mosque, a basketball court now stands in its place.

“It’s becoming better in places like Bangui but that doesn’t mean it’s better everywhere,” he says. “And there’s still a potential in many places for a big explosion of violence.” A U.N. mission took over from the African Union force in September and France plans to withdraw 1,200 troops—”we allowed this country—one of the poorest in the world—to begin healing,” President François Hollande said—but bouts of inter-communal violence still flare up often.

Thirty percent of the country’s population is considered as being in “a moderate to severe food security situation,” the U.N. said on Jan. 13, and 440,000 people are still internally displaced. More jobs are needed, too, especially for youths. A recent report by Save the Children estimates that some 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls were part of armed groups, well above the 2,500 thought to be involved at the start of the conflict. And elections, originally scheduled for February, have now been delayed to at least summer.

It’s that grim assurance of uncertainty and global neglect, in part, that will keep him going back. Support from grants and hefty stipends helps. In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. (Disclosure: This reporter helped shape his entry essay.) And in December, he was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch.

Daniels continues to see the challenge of documenting the personal impact of the country’s strife. It’s easy to get aggravated at the scenes witnessed, but it’s his recognition that it’ll take time, and patience, and a lot more aid, to turn things around that keeps him grounded and motivated. He may return as early as next month.

“It would be pretentious to say that my pictures could completely change the situation,” he says. “But I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s happening here. I think it’s important to keep testifying.”

William Daniels is a Paris-based photographer represented by Panos Pictures.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

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Beneath the Front Lines of the War in Eastern Ukraine

A brutal ground war is tearing apart the region's coal-mining community as the long winter settles in

The miners didn’t hear the impact of the shell and kept extracting coal from the earth more than half a mile below the battlefield. They continued their work for several minutes, oblivious to the danger they were suddenly facing.

The shell, said to have been fired on Nov. 22 by the Ukrainian army in its war against pro-Russian separatists, had struck a shed at the state-owned Chelyuskintsev coal mine in the Petrovskyi district, located on the western edge of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The resulting explosion damaged the electrical and ventilation systems that serve the mine’s deepest shaft. A phone call from the security supervisor at the surface brought troubling news to the deputy director, who was working down below with more than 50 miners: they had just two hours of oxygen left, and the nearest elevator was now unpowered.

French photographer Jerome Sessini happened to be photographing at the mine that day. “At the beginning, the miners were quite relaxed and some of them were joking with us because it was a bit weird to see a photographer at the bottom of the mine,” Sessini told TIME. “The miners changed—their attitudes changed—so I felt something very serious was happening.” The deputy director reassured him that all was well, saying “don’t worry, everything is okay, just walk and everything will be fine.” (He wouldn’t find out until more than an hour later the kind of threat they had faced.)

The men began to find their way up and out of the mine on foot, using their headlamps to light the way. Shadowed by Sessini, they walked for about 30 minutes until they reached a rusted cable car powered by a small rescue generator. The car took them along a railroad eight kilometers (five miles) away to an elevator that ran off a power source unaffected by the shelling. They were now 270 meters (885 feet) below ground level. The elevator hauled them to the top of the mine. An hour and 20 minutes after the shelling, the men reached daylight—safe from the threat underground but back into the war zone.

Since last spring, the Russia-backed separatists have fought government forces for control of the eastern region of the country, one of Ukraine’s main industrial hubs and its coal-mining heartland. At least 4,700 people have been killed in the fighting, the U.N. estimates, and more than half a million are internally displaced.

Based in Paris, Sessini has spent much of the past year covering the unrest and its civilian impact in Ukraine. From the pro-independence demonstrations in Kiev, which erupted after the country’s former president opted against signing an association deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia, to the rise of the separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, he has intimately documented the country’s fracture into civil war.

In July, Sessini was among the first on the scene after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a missile, killing all 298 people aboard. That’s where he first came into contact with miners, when they were scanning the fields with firefighters, looking for victims. Aware that mining is the region’s backbone — some families have taken up the profession for generations — he was interested to go deeper and arranged with his translator to find an active mine that would let him in.

Ukraine’s country’s coal industry, Europe’s fourth largest, has been hit particularly hard by the conflict. Sixty-six of eastern Ukraine’s mines had been lost as of Nov. 18, according to Euracoal, a Brussels-based trade association, and just 60 remained in operation. The drop in production—Ukraine produced 2.3 million tons of coal in October, according to its State Statistics Service, down almost 60% compared to the same month a year earlier—has created a critical shortfall.

And it’s taken a toll on the thousands of families in eastern Ukraine that rely on the industry. The closures have halted paychecks for months and left many without work. Sessini described the miners as “a very proud people,” the “elites” of the community who are somehow keeping their humanity despite the war: “They try to show they are having a normal life but you can see in their faces a kind of anger and frustration and depression.”

Some families have fled the region in search of stability; others have moved underground into World War II–era bomb shelters. And while miners have mostly stayed on the sidelines of the conflict, desperation and resentment have pushed some into the arms of the separatists.

The Ukrainian government said in late December that it has arranged to import enough coal to avoid power outages in the coming months. The imports will help Ukrainians stay warm during what is sure to be a cruel winter, but until the two sides strike a peace deal, the suffering in eastern Ukraine will continue—above ground and below.

Jerome Sessini is a French photojournalist represented by Magnum Photos. Kira Pollack, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Director of Photography. Follow her on Twitter @kirapollack. Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz.

TIME portfolio

Meet the Young Survivors of the Peshawar School Attack

Portraits of survivors after the Dec. 16 terror attack in Pakistan

Note: All student accounts were told to AP photographer Muhammed Muheisen while on assignment for TIME.

The third Tuesday in December appeared to begin like any other for students of the Army Public School in Peshawar. After offering early morning prayers, dressing in their uniforms and eating breakfast with family members, they went to school. Many pupils at the military-run institution in northwestern Pakistan are the offspring of army personnel. Some 1,100 were there that morning. At nightfall, about a tenth of them would be dead.

The siege began at around 10 a.m., after a group of militants in suicide vests entered the guarded compound from the back. They unleashed a fury of bullets as they surged through the campus. Some went to the auditorium, where a first aid lecture was being given. (About eight hours later, following a heavy response by security forces, the insurgents were dead but had taken more than 140 innocents with them. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.)

Mohammad, 14, was seated on the left side of the hall, listening to the instructor discuss bandaging, when he heard shooting outside a door in the back. A gunman with a long beard and scarf covering half his face entered seconds later. “Anyone in the room whose parents are in the Army?” he shouted three times.

The hall erupted in panic. Mohammad recalled being pushed from behind and falling to the ground, in between chairs, as other students piled on top of him. “I closed my eyes, I stopped my breathing and I lost track of time,” he said. A few minutes later, after the auditorium had grown silent, he started shifting the bodies off of him to get a better look at the scene.

He began moving when he didn’t see any gunmen, but was soon spotted. He jumped through a mess of chairs to a small dressing room off the stage, where a group of students was cowering in silence. There, he found his best friend, who had been shot in both legs and was missing a finger on his right hand. “I sat next to him and leaned my head on his shoulder,” said Mohammad.

Shortly afterward, one of the gunmen opened fire from the doorway, killing those who faced him. Mohammad stayed put after the militant left and until help arrived. “I could only hear soldiers asking if there is anybody alive but I couldn’t respond and suddenly my friend started crying, so the soldiers heard us and came to us.” Mohammad was escorted from the building and into an ambulance as his friend was carried out. “It’s a miracle I’m alive,” he would later say. “It’s a miracle I’m alive.”

His account, told to Associated Press photographer Muhammed Muheisen in the days after the assault, was similar to two students who were in the auditorium and echoed others that would grip the world in the wake of one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks. Muheisen, the AP’s chief photographer in Pakistan, gained access to the school on Dec. 18. He passed through two checkpoints on opposite sides of a gate before entering in the same stairwell the militants had used two days earlier. He retraced their’ path into the back of the auditorium, where rows of overturned wooden chairs were the least of it.

“It smells like blood, death everywhere. As you go down, between the chairs there is blood, bullet shells, body parts,” he tells TIME. “It’s just when you enter this room, you feel this auditorium is kind of a death trap,” he adds. “You could feel what happened in this place.”

He moved through different portions of the main building, including classrooms and a corridor where first-responders traded firepower with the militants. At one point, Muheisen couldn’t hold back tears any longer. “School is supposed to be a peaceful place for children to study, to be educated, but this is a battlefield,” he says. “I’ve never seen such a horrific scene in my life.”

Beginning two days later in the school’s yard, Muheisen met students or the families of victims where a vigil had formed. They were at the school to retrieve their bags and other items that had been left behind. He sensitively approached survivors — “it was obvious in their faces” — to hear their accounts and ask for a portrait. Many were not ready to talk.

One girl, Mesbah, “really broke my heart.” Muheisen sat down next to the seven-year-old and asked if she wanted to say anything. “I remember nothing of that day,” she politely replied. “I have no memory of it.”

Afaq, 16, closed his eyes as he described where he was in the auditorium when the shots rang out. Seated in the front on the left side of the room, he recalled turning his head to see a gunman and, just as fast, rushing out a door nearby and running home. Batur, 14, did similarly, fleeing the auditorium as the chaos unraveled. He told Muheisen that he asked a rickshaw driver for a ride home, where he sat with his mother and watched it all unfold on television.

Muheisen also met two brothers who survived. The younger one, Muzammil, 12, was “a better talker” than his older brother and vividly recalled how his teacher asked him and his peers to stop crying and “be quiet or we all are going to be killed.” He was escorted out and found his father among the sea of parents awaiting word about their children. As did Muddathir, 14, who was in a classroom when he heard shooting. After being led out of the school and reuniting with his father and brother, he said, “I felt as if I [was] just born into this world.” Muheisen says Muddathir was still “terrified,” like “he’s not out of the school yet.”

Having spoken with 11 students, Muheisen could put together a bleak picture of how they were managing. “They’re lost,” he says, bluntly. “They’re talking but it’s like they’re not aware of what happened.” Most had gaps in the middle of their stories. “From one student to another, the impact is different. But you can see through the body language of the students what they [went] through.”

For his part, Muheisen recognizes his role. “This is the power of what we do and this is the power of photojournalism,” he says. “Those stories would otherwise only remain with the survivors, but this way we give them a voice.” He calls the children he met “heroes,” as they not only had to survive the attack, but now must live with it. While some highlighted how dangerous it is to study there, they told Muheisen of their intent to return to class.

“Education is so valuable and essential but there is a price to be paid to be a student in Peshawar,” Mohammad told him. “I will go back to my school again.” Afaq admitted he is afraid to return to the same school but that the attack had shifted his ambitions: “I always wanted to become a doctor, but now I want to join the army and fight terrorism and save lives,” he said. “I don’t want to just cure my people, I want to make sure that they never get harmed.” Bilal, 16, doesn’t think he’ll return to the school but understands the importance of education: “I have to go back to a school. If we don’t study, we will remain blind, and I don’t want to spend my life being blind.”

Muzammil, not yet in his teens, put it like this: “I will protect my country with a pen, not a gun.”

Muhammed Muheisen is the Associated Press’ chief photographer for Pakistan, based in Islamabad. He joined the AP in 2001, covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and major events in the region. In 2003, he started traveling on international assignments and was part of the team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News in 2005 for their work in Iraq, and again in 2013 for their coverage of the civil war in Syria. He was named TIME‘s Wire Photographer of 2013.

Paul Moakley, who edited this photo essay, is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME.

Andrew Katz is a homepage editor and reporter covering international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @katz

TIME On Our Radar

William Daniels Wins 2014 Tim Hetherington Grant

The photographer has spent the last year documenting the impact of strife in Central African Republic

French photographer William Daniels, a frequent contributor to TIME, was named the 2014 recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant by World Press Photo and Human Rights Watch on Thursday for his ongoing work in Central African Republic.

His project, titled “Roots of Africa’s Unholy War,” was chosen from 198 applicants. The annual honor, established after Hetherington, a British photojournalist and filmmaker died in April 2011 while covering the conflict in Libya, comes with a €20,000 prize that allows the recipient to continue a project focused on human rights issues.

Daniels has made several trips over more than a year to Central African Republic to document the effects of unprecedented violence after the Séléka coalition of mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March 2013. The move bred political chaos and ignited a vicious revenge from armed groups of predominantly Christian and animist fighters called anti-balaka. Last December, two days of street violence left hundreds dead around the capital, Bangui, and forced the global community to respond.

MORE: Bloodshed in Bangui: A Day That Will Define Central African Republic

Throughout the next year, deadly tension pushed much of the country’s Muslim minority into the eastern region or beyond the borders. Rights groups warned of ethnic cleansing as French and African peacekeepers have struggled to contain the violence.

Daniels has balanced keeping up with the news while also investigating the roots of the conflict. The commitment he and other photographers have made to bearing witness — amid huge news draws like the war in eastern Ukraine, ISIS and wrath of Ebola in West Africa — was a main factor in keeping Central African Republic on the radar.

In September, Daniels received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography for the same work. Based in Paris, he has devoted his career to documenting humanitarian and social issues, from disease in Africa and Asia, to the unrest in Libya, to the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

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