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Documenting the Hard Life in Russia’s Frozen Arctic

“The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out."

The Soviet Union was known for its doublespeak, but when Moscow bureaucrats called the 7,000-km area of the Russian Arctic the “zone of absolute discomfort,” they were speaking the truth. Temperatures in the settlements of the far north, which spans from Alaska to Finland, can dip below –45°C in the winter. Living conditions are wretched, which is one reason Stalin used these towns as gulags. Descendants of some of the prisoners still live in these Arctic communities. Among the people who seem adapted to the conditions are the indigenous herders known as Nenets, who live in tents called chums.

Yet there are billions of tons of oil and natural gas locked beneath the permafrost—a fact that has drawn a new wave of workers to the Arctic, as the photographer Justin Jin documents. It’s not an easy place to work as a photographer—Jin once got frostbite from the cold metal of his camera pressed against his face—but the material is worth it. “The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out,” says Jin, who has worked in Russia for years. “You have the extreme expanse of space, the endless nature, the riches trapped in the tundra. It’s all the contradictions and juxtapositions of Russia.”

Justin Jin is a documentary photographer based in Belgium.

Bryan Walsh is TIME’s Foreign Editor.

TIME Serbia

Serbian 7th-Graders Storm Classroom to Steal Teacher’s Grade Book

A third student asked them to because of his poor grades

Police arrested two seventh-graders in a Belgrade, Serbia suburb on Tuesday, after the pair—clad in balaclava masks and sunglasses—entered their classroom armed with a knife and plastic replica handgun and stole their teacher’s grade book.

A police officer who asked to remain unnamed told Reuters that the act was carried out in agreement with a third student, who was looking to have the record of his poor grades removed.

The two students face charges including violent behavior and jeopardizing public safety.

Serbia has seen notably high rates of school violence since the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. In 2005, UNICEF established a “School without Violence” program in the country, responding to a study conducted by The Institute for Psychology at the Belgrade Philosophy Faculty, which found that 65% of students across 54 schools in Serbia reported having been affected by violent behavior in schools.

[Reuters]

TIME Serbia

Migrants Find a Safer Route Into Europe via the Balkans

Migrants sleep in a park near the main Belgrade's bus and train station, Serbia on April 24, 2015.
Marko Djurica—Reuters Migrants sleep in a park near the main Belgrade's bus and train station, Serbia on April 24, 2015.

The journey is safer but more expensive than the sea trip from Libya

When Abu Hassan fled the Syrian city of Daraa two months ago he was determined to get his family to Europe. He considered putting his family in a boat in Libya to cross the central Mediterranean Sea.

“I decided it’s too dangerous. Not with the children,” says Abu Hassan, who is now sleeping in a park with eight of his family members in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Instead, they made their way to Turkey, took a short boat trip to Greece and then paid smugglers to take them through Macedonia, stuffed in the back of a truck with 190 other migrants and refugees, to the Serbian border.

“At midnight they dropped us near the border and said ‘it’s there, go,’”recalls Abu Hassan. They were in Serbia for just 10 minutes when they were picked up by the Serbian authorities, but they were safe. They were told to register at a nearby office an office, which they did before heading north.

The most popular route into the European Union is by boat from Libya across the central Mediterranean, but this year alone an estimated 1,500 people have drowned in the choppy waters off the North African coast.

“It has always been a very dangerous trip,” says Ewa Moncure, a spokesperson from Frontex, the E.U. border monitoring and patrol. “It seems now, that the people traffickers can operate freely in Libya. As soon as they have boats, they send people to sea…some make it and some don’t make it and [the traffickers] don’t seem to care.”

Now, tens of thousands of migrants and refugees — desperate to escape violence and poverty at home — have opted for this safer Balkan land route through the former Yugoslavia and into the E.U. through Hungary. Last month alone 7,000 migrants and refugees — primarily from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — crossed the frontier between Serbia and Hungary, according to Frontex. Last April, just 900 crossed there.

Abu Hassan doesn’t want to use his legal name fearing it will hinder his chances of reaching his final destination, Germany. Most migrants who take this route are trying to get to northern Europe. Both Greece and Hungary are in the E.U. but have high unemployment and offer little assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a café near the park, dozens of young men sit speaking Arabic and Afghan languages, and some Africans converse in French. They talk to their families at home and try to arrange their journeys north to the Hungarian border.

“Most of the smugglers are Pakistanis and Afghanis,” says 25-year-old Mahmoud, who also doesn’t want to give his full name. He sits with a group of Syrians and Iraqis and they debate the best route into Hungary.

Mahmoud spent one month in a Syrian government prison in his native Aleppo. The day after he was released he paid smugglers to take him to Turkey where he had to decide which route to take to Europe.

“Two of my friends died in the sea trying to reach Italy,” says Mahmoud. Both were young men who traveled to Libya. They called home one day about a year ago and told their parents they were boarding a boat to Italy. “Their parents told them ‘good luck’…We never heard from them again,” he says.

Stories like this dissuade some migrants from taking the sea journey from Libya but this route through the Balkans is also more expensive, costing several thousand dollars in smuggling fees and transport. Once in Belgrade, some rent shared hotel rooms or sleep in parks and spend their days waiting in cafés.

The Serbians seem to turn a blind eye to the migrants as if they want them to move on to Hungary as quickly as possible. “Really, the Serbian police don’t want to catch us,” says Mahmoud. “They don’t want us to stay here.”

He echoes the speculation of many here that the Serbian police often look the other way as people attempt to cross into Hungary, making this frontier a weak link in the perimeter of fortress Europe. Rights organizations have also documented Serbian authorities forcibly returning migrants to Macedonia, refusing to allow them to register asylum claims as well as extortion and physical abuse.

While this route might be safer than a “10-meter rubber boat with a 100 people onboard,” in the Mediterranean Sea, Moncure, from Frontex, cautions that it’s not completely safe. And as more and more people take this route through the Balkans, and smuggling becomes increasingly profitable, vulnerable migrants are at risk of exploitation and abuse. Migrants tell stories of being lied to and abandoned by traffickers and taxi drivers, others repeat tales of kidnapping by smugglers who call their families demanding more money to release them.

“The people smugglers aren’t doing it for free,” says Moncure.

TIME europe

Meet the Man Who Claims He Just Founded a New Country in Europe

The flag of Liberland.
Liberland The flag of Liberland.

Welcome to "Liberland"

A Czech man is claiming to be the president of a new country he founded in Europe.

Vit Jedlicka, a member of the conservative Party of Free Citizens in the Czech Republic, is the self-appointed president of Liberland, which he says sits on unclaimed terra nullius territory wedged between Serbia and Croatia. The 3 sq. mi. “country,” where taxes are optional and a military is nonexistent, does not “interfere with the territory” of the two states, according to Liberland’s website.

“The objective of the founders of the new state is to build a country where honest people can prosper without being oppressed by governments making their lives unpleasant through the burden of unnecessary restrictions and taxes,” reads a statement announcing the creation of the new country this week. The country’s motto is: “To live and let live.”

Jedlicka, speaking by phone from Prague, told TIME that the effort began as a political stunt to garner media attention. “It started a little bit like a protest,” Jedlicka, 31, said. “But now it’s really turning out to be a real project with real support.”

The project has already received roughly 20,000 applications for citizenship, according to Jedlicka, who estimated that the country will receive as many as 100,000 applications by the end of next week (Liberland’s website has details of how to apply for citizenship, including sending an email of introduction—a C.V. is optional). Jedlicka added that some people already have plans to relocate.

“We have the busiest immigration office in the world,” he joked of his seven-person volunteer staff that he expects will grow.

The citizenship process is selective, and Jedlicka says only between 3,000 and 5,000 people will be granted citizenship in the coming weeks. Down the line, he said he expects the number of citizens to be comparable to Liechtenstein, a 62 sq. mi. country that borders Switzerland and Austria with 35,000 people (not all citizens will live in Liberland).

Jedlicka was active in his party in the Czech Republic, but he said he efforts to oppose government largesse proved fruitless. “So we decided we have to go the other way around,” he said. “We have to set up another country and really start the other way around.”

“I’m still going to be active in Czech politics,” he said, though he noted that Czech laws may forbid a president of another country from running for office. “I would probably resign and let somebody else run Liberland for me if there was a chance to do political change in the Czech Republic.”

Liberland is a “peaceful” country and will have no standing army. If neighbors Croatia or Serbia were to oppose, he said he would put up only “passive defense.”

“We will move, but we will keep our claim to the country,” he said. So far he’s still awaiting a diplomatic response from the country’s neighbors.

The Serbian and Croatian Embassies in the United States did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read next: Here Are the 5 Things TIME 100 Says About the World

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TIME Soccer

Drone Invasion Halts Serbia-Albania Soccer Game

Mini drone carrying flag depicting so-called Greater Albania is flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade
Marko Djurica—Reuters A mini drone carrying a flag depicting so-called Greater Albania, an area covering all parts of the Balkans where ethnic Albanians live, is flown over the pitch during their Euro 2016 Group I qualifying soccer match against Albania at the FK Partizan stadium in Belgrade on Oct. 14, 2014.

The two countries historically have had political tensions

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 15

Officials abandoned a soccer match between Serbia and Albania Tuesday after a drone carrying an Albanian banner was flown into the stadium, sparking brawls among players and fans.

The flag flown over the Euro 2016 qualifier game depicted Greater Albania, a conceptual state formed from all territories where ethnic Albanians live, according to Reuters. Yet many Serbs believe the region should still be united as Yugoslavia.

The banner, which was flown into the stadium near the end of the match’s first half, was soon pulled down by Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic as punches were exchanged between players. Some fans started throwing garbage at the Albanian players.

Serbian officials on Wednesday accused Olsi Rama, the brother of Albania’s Prime Minister, of flying the drone above the field and causing the disruption, and authorities in Belgrade have arrested him, RTS reports. However, AFP reports that a source close to Rama said he had not been arrested in Belgrade.

The atmosphere was politically charged even before the match began, Fox Sports reports. The two countries have had a tense relationship since the conflict around Kosovo, the predominantly ethnically Albanian province of Serbia that was declared independent in 2008.

Serbia did not acknowledge the independence, and mediations under the European Union in 2013 led to Serbia abolishing nearly all of its political institutions in Kosovo. The game, held in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, was also Albania’s first match in the country since 1967, according to the Union of European Football Associations.

The game was abandoned after 45 minutes of unrest. The score was 0-0.

[Fox Sports]

TIME Serbia

Thousands Flee Deadly Floods in Serbia and Bosnia

TOPSHOTS-SERBIA-BOSNIA-WEATHER-FLOOD
Sasa Djordjevic—AFP/Getty Images A Serbian rescue worker carries an elderly woman out of her flooded house in the Serbian village of Obrez on May 17, 2014

Floods have killed at least 44 people and caused some 10,000 to evacuate from the affected areas, while some towns have been completely cut off following the region's heaviest rainfall since the late 19th century

Thousands of people have fled their homes in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as massive floods fueled by record rainfall have already killed at least 44 people, officials say, and as residents have been warned about land mines exposed by mudslides.

Approximately 10,000 people have been evacuated from the affected areas, while some towns have been completely cut off by the deluge that hit the region’s Sava River, Agence France-Presse reports.

“We sent rescue teams into a part of the city we had not been able to access so far. They are entering those areas fearing what they might discover,” said Samo Minic, the mayor of the Bosnian town of Samac.

One rescue worker who spent two days trying to reach the Serbian village of Krupanj described the floods as looking “like a tsunami and earthquake occurred at once.”

“We found some 50 people gathered in the highest house,” Nedeljko Brankovic said. “They had neither electricity nor drinking water. Telephones did not work. We evacuated them 10 by 10 in a huge boat.”

Twenty-seven deaths have been reported in Bosnia, 16 reported in Serbia and one reported in Croatia. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he expected the death toll to rise.

In addition to the floods, the rainfall led to destructive landslides and warnings that residents should beware of exposed landmines first buried during fighting and warfare in the 1990s.

[AFP]

TIME Ukraine

Putin’s Irony Curtain

Tensions Erupt In Ukranian City
Photo by Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe via Getty Images DONETSK, UKRAINE - MARCH 16: Pro-Russian protesters chant outside of the Donetsk Prosecutors Building before storming into the building during a protest in Donetsk, Ukraine on March 15, 2014.

Russia uses NATO's 1999 war in Kosovo to validate it's intervention in Ukraine, challenging the West in Crimea and beyond.

Ukraine is haunted by history. The most powerful ghosts tormenting its relationship with Russia are certainly those of the estimated 7 million who died in the genocidal famine unleashed against Ukrainian peasants by Stalin from 1932-33. And looming behind the counterclaims of fascism leveled by western-oriented Ukrainians and the separatists who have seized control of Crimea are, among others, the estimated 100,000 victims–most of them Jewish, many of them women, children and the elderly–who were killed at Babi Yar outside Kiev by the Nazis and their local collaborators in 1941.

But it seems even humanitarianism can haunt Ukraine. In 1999, then-President Bill Clinton launched a 78-day air war against Serb forces controlling the largely ethnic Albanian province of Serbia called Kosovo, in the former Yugoslavia. Clinton justified the intervention because he and his NATO allies suspected the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was beginning a new round of genocidal ethnic cleansing like the one he had unleashed elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia eight years earlier. Russia, Serbia’s traditional ally, opposed the intervention, blocking any potential UN authorization of it. In hindsight, even the war’s supporters now admit it violated the UN charter and was illegal under international law.

Following Kosovo’s early-2008 declaration of independence, the United States formally recognized the province as a sovereign state. In an attempt to limit the example the war and Kosovo’s subsequent secession might set elsewhere, the State Department declared, “The United States considers Kosovo to be a special case that should not be seen as a precedent for other situations.”

Predictably enough, however, Russia is using the Kosovo war as a pretext for its annexation of Crimea. As Harvard’s inimitable Jack Goldsmith relates:

Russia is now invoking Kosovo—both the 1999 intervention, and Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence—in support of Crimea’s independence movement. Last week Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proclaimed (at just before the 10-minute mark): ‘If Kosovo is a special case then Crimea is a special case; it’s just equally special.’

In fact, there is little moral equivalence between the two cases. Milosevic had unleashed the worst violence targeting an ethnic or religious group on the European continent since the Holocaust. In 1999 his forces were killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. And the NATO intervention was driven primarily by humanitarian concerns. All of which has led the West to declare that the war was “illegal but legitimate”.

By contrast, there is no recent history of anti-Russian genocidal violence in Ukraine. There is no credible evidence that ethnic Russians have been targeted by the government of Ukraine in the recent months of unrest there. And one only need review the public comments out of Moscow to see that Russia’s intervention is primarily strategic and nationalistic, not humanitarian.

Unfortunately, moral legitimacy doesn’t carry as much weight as it might in international affairs. And there are plenty of ancillary facts that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government can use to muddy the waters.

For example, in an interesting 2008 debate with Jeremy Scahill, then of The Nation, the current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power admitted with trademark frankness that in Kosovo the West was also partially driven by the strategic goal of bolstering NATO’s credibility, which was in question after its sluggish response to the wars in the Balkans and its ill-defined rationale for expansion. And while the West may point to the questionable backgrounds and legitimacy of the pro-Russian Crimeans who have taken power using dubious parliamentary procedures, many of the ethnic Albanians the U.S. backed in Kosovo were thugs—some were eventually charged and convicted of war crimes.

Now pro-Russian forces are unleashing mob-violence against Ukranians–one chilling report tells of a mob burning Ukranian language accounts of Stalin’s genocidal famine. With Russia using the Kosovo war as a pretext for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, it is ironic that some who argued for the Kosovo intervention saw it as an opportunity to establish the international doctrine of humanitarian intervention (Power and current National Security Advisor Susan Rice were among the proponents of the idea, which also had the support of some neo-conservatives).

It is also ironic that the West’s strategic interest of bolstering NATO’s credibility through intervention in Kosovo may also be undermined by the events in Ukraine. In Washington it is hard to imagine the unrest in Ukraine could lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. But it may be much easier to imagine in one of the six NATO capitals that directly border Ukraine or Russia.

For those countries, the ghosts now haunting Ukraine raise another specter from the past: whether the West would abandon a treaty committing it to the defense of countries in central and eastern Europe in the face of a resurgent regional power. Fortunately, there seems to be little chance of NATO being put to that test now. But Putin’s moves in Crimea, and his use of Kosovo to justify them, certainly weaken NATO’s credibility. The long-suffering people of central and eastern Europe may well worry how many old ghosts Putin plans to raise, and whether he intends to add to them.

TIME closeup

Pictures of the Week: May 18 — May 25

From India's Sufi Muslim Urs Festival and the first intercontinental flight of the Solar Impulse to a suicide bombing of military soldiers in Sana'a and the beginning of Egypt's presidential election, TIME's photo department presents the best images of the week.

From India’s Sufi Muslim Urs Festival and the first intercontinental flight of the Solar Impulse to a suicide bombing of military soldiers in Sana’a and the beginning of Egypt’s presidential election, TIME’s photo department presents the best images of the week.

TIME Out There

20 Years Later: The Bosnian Conflict in Photographs

If the last lines of the 20th century were written in Moscow in December 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the prelude to the 21st century was written months later—and 20 years ago this month—in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo.

The photographs in the gallery above are from the book Bosnia 1992 – 1995, available July 2012. The book will be self-published by the photographers who covered the Bosnian conflict—which began 20 years ago today—and printed in Bosnia. The captions below these photographs are the personal reflections of the photographers on their experiences in the region.

If the last lines of the 20th century were written in Moscow in December 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the prelude to the 21st century was written months later—and 20 years ago this month—in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, as the disorderly break-up of Yugoslavia turned into genocide. In that bloody April, America’s moment of triumph over totalitarianism was transformed into a tribalist nightmare as Bosnian Serbs, determined to seize large parts of Bosnia as part of a plan to create a Greater Serbia, targeted Muslims for extermination. What some at the time hoped was just a communist death-rattle at the periphery of the Soviet empire, now looks like the birth cries of our current geopolitical reality.

In Bosnia the U.S. learned it would preside over a world where borders and ideology mattered less and transnational allegiances of ethnicity and sectarianism mattered more. Interviewed by TIME in August 1995, weeks after his troops had slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys near the town of Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, now on trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, declared he was acting out of fear of a new Islamic push through the Balkans to Europe. “By this demographic explosion Muslims are overflowing not only the cradle of Christianity in the Balkans but have left their tracks even in the Pyrenees,” Mladic said.

As the slaughter unfolded in Bosnia, and Europe and the U.S. belatedly mustered the will to stop it, Western attitudes towards the post-Cold War world took shape, as well. Neoconservatives and hawkish Democrats found common cause in humanitarian intervention. The media and the public learned from the NATO action in August and September 1995 and the Dayton peace agreement in November that American military might could impose stability—for a time. But 20 years later, with international military and police forces still keeping the peace in Bosnia, we have found there—and at much greater cost elsewhere—that an initially successful intervention by America’s unmatched armed forces cannot impose sectarian comity.

Massimo Calabresi covered the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo as TIME’s Central Europe bureau chief from 1995 to 1999.

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