TIME Ukraine

TIME, VICE Journalists Detained by Separatists in Eastern Ukraine

A pro-Russia activist hangs a flag of the so-called "People's Republic of Donetsk" on the regional administration building seized by separatists as armed men in military fatigues guard the premises in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 21, 2014.
A pro-Russia activist hangs a flag of the so-called "People's Republic of Donetsk" on the regional administration building seized by separatists as armed men in military fatigues guard the premises in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 21, 2014. Genya Savilov—AFP/Getty Images

TIME's Berlin Correspondent and three other journalists were freed an hour after being detained at a checkpoint in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk on Monday but a VICE News correspondent is still being held, highlighting the threat to media in the region

Pro-Russian separatist militia members in eastern Ukraine detained TIME’s Berlin Correspondent and four other journalists on Monday evening in an incident that highlighted the increasing number of threats to journalists working in the region. Four of the journalists, including the TIME correspondent, Simon Shuster, were released after about an hour but an American reporter for New York-based VICE News, Simon Ostrovsky, remains in custody.

The journalists were traveling in a car in the separatist-held town of Slavyansk when they were stopped at a checkpoint by armed separatists, said Shuster, who is now in the city of Donetsk. Shuster, a Ukrainian photographer and a British photojournalist for VICE left Slavyansk the morning after their detention. A Russian photographer who was part of the group chose to stay in Slavyansk.

In a statement released on Tuesday, VICE News said it was “in contact with the U.S. State Department and other appropriate government authorities to secure the safety and security of our friend and colleague, Simon Ostrovsky.”

A State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement today: “We are deeply concerned about the reports of a kidnapping of a U.S. citizen journalist in Slovyansk [sic], Ukraine, reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. We condemn any such actions, and all recent hostage takings in eastern Ukraine, which directly violate commitments made in the Geneva joint statement. We call on Russia to use its influence with these groups to secure the immediate and safe release of all hostages in eastern Ukraine. We have also raised our concerns with Ukrainian officials as they work with local authorities to try to de-escalate the security situation in and around Slovyansk.”

Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the separatists in Slavyansk, told the Associated Press that Ostrovsky is “with us. He’s fine.” She said that the journalist was “suspected of bad activities” and is under investigation.

In recent days at least three other foreign journalists – two Italians and one Belarusian – have been detained by armed separatists, whose political goal appears to be either to secure independence in eastern Ukraine or to persuade Russia to annex that part of Ukraine. Insurgents in Slavyansk are also holding a Ukrainian journalist and activist named Irma Krat.

“We’re doing absolutely everything we can to win Simon’s release,” said Shuster. “The people who are holding him assure us that he has not been harmed, but refuse to say when they would release him.”

 

TIME technology

Google Street View Now Includes Time Lapse Feature

Google Maps Street View Time Lapse
Google released time lapse functionality within street view, allowing users to look back in time. Google

Seven years of Google Street View images are now available all at once

Since it launched in 2007, Google Street View has become the closest thing we have to a teleportation device. With a few keystrokes, you can go somewhere without actually going there, walking sidewalks in Paris one moment and poking into Mumbai shop windows the next.

But Google’s virtual map of the world has always been limited to the present — or at least the most recent images transmitted by its camera-equipped vehicles. Each time those vehicles captured a site, the new images would become searchable and the old ones were taken down and relegated to Google’s servers.

Now, Street View is trying to turn its teleportation device into a time machine. Starting today, all the Street View images taken over the last seven years will be viewable as part of a new feature that allows users to see how places have changed since Google began photographing the globe’s nooks and crannies. It happens in a whirl. Buildings that took years to construct magically appear in moments. Neighborhoods humming with life one year are wiped away by natural disasters the next. Billboards featuring flip phones suddenly show smartphones.

“Our original goal with Street View was to build a map that is useful, accurate and comprehensive,” says Vinay Shet, a Google product manager. “So we’ve been capturing all these snapshots, and we thought, let’s use all this data and create something that users will love, that will be exploratory, and hopefully will be useful.”

The time lapse feature will appear in a window within Street View, along with a bar users can manually toggle to change years. (It includes a substitute for Pegman, the little yellow guy users drag to launch Street View. On time lapse, your guide is an avatar that looks an awful lot like Dr. Brown from Back to the Future.)

There will also be double the number of Street View images that were previously accessible. Google Trekkers have driven more than 5 million miles in 50 countries since 2007 and have gone many places more than once, giving most locations at least one time-lapsed layer.

Google’s most engaging images often involve construction and destruction. One World Trade Center in New York City and Rio de Janeiro’s World Cup stadium rise in seconds, while areas affected by the Japanese tsunami become instantly obliterated.

“It’s only been seven years,” Shet says, “but it’s amazing how many interesting changes we’ve found.”

One World Trade Center, New York City
April 2009 – August 2013

Google

The construction of One World Trade Center began in 2006, but for the first few years most of the work was below-ground. Much of the above-ground construction took place right as Google began capturing it from Manhattan’s West Street.

Soumaya Museum, Mexico City
October 2010 – November 2011

Google

This Mexico City art museum was financed by Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man. The modern, showpiece structure was constructued in a little over a year.

The Howard Theatre, Washington, DC
July 2009 – May 2012

Google

The historic Howard Theatre, built in 1910, was in danger of closing a century later but underwent a massive $29 million renovation that began September 2010. It reopened in April 2012.

Marina Bay Sands Resort, Singapore
November 2008 – May 2013

Google

The hotel, considered the most expensive building in the world at $5.7 billion, includes three 55-story towers with more than 2,500 rooms. It opened in June 2010.

Graffiti on Bowery Street, New York City
June 2009 – August 2013

Google

The side of a building on Bowery Street in New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood that’s seen a steady rotation of street artists.

Naucalpan, Mexico
November 2008 – October 2013

Google

An overpass gets built over an existing street in Naucalpan, Mexico, just outside of Mexico City.

Brazil World Cup stadium, Fortaleza, Brazil
February 2012 – September 2013

Google

A soccer stadium slowly rises in Fortaleza, Brazil, one of the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

 

TIME Asia

Obama Lands in Tokyo On First Stop in Asia Tour

President Obama walks off Air Force One as he arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, on April 23, 2014.
President Obama walks off Air Force One as he arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, on April 23, 2014. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

He begins a week-long tour of Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines to reassure allies and position the U.S. as a regional leader

President Barack Obama arrived in Tokyo Wednesday evening on the first stop in a four-country tour intended to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to its Pacific allies.

Obama will be visiting South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in addition to Japan, CNN reports, as the United States tries to position itself as a counterbalance to China’s growing economic strength in the region.

The President will seek to further progress on a trade deal with Japan, and will dine with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Wednesday at the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro, where food service lasts 20 minutes and costs around $292 per head. He will visit an innovation center in Kuala Lumpur and negotiate a new agreement that could boost the United States’ military presence in the region in the Philippines.

Obama’s long-touted “pivot to Asia” ran into obstacles last year when the president canceled a trip to visit Pacific allies amidst the debt ceiling debacle. Since then, distractions including the Iran nuclear talks, the civil war in Syria and unrest in Ukraine have hampered Obama’s aim to exert U.S. influence in the region.

With the current transportation disasters in Asia—the sinking of the South Korean ferry, and the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight—Obama is entering a region engrossed with its own domestic problems. “The South Korea visit could really be overshadowed by the ferry,” an unnamed senior administration official told the New York Times.

[CNN]

TIME Profiles

How Europe’s First Female Poker Champ Made History and Learned to Compete With the Guys

European Poker Tour Launch
Victoria Coren Mitchell attends the launch of The PokerStars LIVE Lounge at The Hippodrome Casino London on March 4, 2013 in London, England Ben Pruchnie--2013 Getty Images

Victoria Coren Mitchell has made history at the European Poker Tour for the second time. She talks to TIME about the game, poker as a career and being the last woman at the table

British journalist and professional poker player Victoria Coren Mitchell made poker history for the second time in her career on Sunday, when she won the European Poker Tour and became the first person ever to win the tournament twice. The first time she broke records was with her win in 2006 when she became the first woman to take the title.

Though she might not be a household name in the U.S. — yet! — Coren Mitchell is a prolific writer, penning columns in the Observer and books such as 2011’s For Richer, For Poorer: Confessions of a Player. She’s also a part of British media royalty: her father, Alan Coren, was a legendary journalist, she’s married to comedian and U.K. television star David Mitchell and her brother, Giles Coren, is a writer for the London Times. With her latest poker victory, she’s also one of the all-time top 10 female earners in the game.

Coren Mitchell spoke to TIME about her win, learning the game and why you shouldn’t play poker with your spouse.

TIME: Victoria, hello. Congrats on your second win of the European Poker Tour!

Victoria Coren Mitchell: Oh, thank you very much.

When you won back in 2006, you became the first woman to take the title. Now you’re the first person – man or woman – to win it twice. How does it feel?

It feels incredible. I can’t really believe it. Obviously, when [I won] the first time and I was the first woman to do so, that was great too. It was a different sort of barrier to break. [This time] there were 97 EPT champions – only three of them women—all fighting to be the first one to win twice. I don’t think anyone thought it would be me who would get there – including me.

At one point during the tournament, you were in eighth place. When did you know you were going to win it?

When I knocked out the player who came third, Jordan, the American guy, I had a wave of thinking, my God, I’m going to win. We’d been playing for six days – it’s a long tournament – and at no point did I think I was going to win it. I had the lowest chips when there were 16 of us and I had the lowest chips when there were eight of us. To find myself with just one opponent when I had most of the chips, the writer in me thought, what kind of story would this be if I didn’t win it now?

I’m generally a pessimist and I try to be self-deprecating because that’s the British way, but when there were two of us, [I knew] that I was playing really well. Also, what they call Heads Up poker — where there are just two people at the table — I’m quite good at. When the play started I felt in control and I did think, I can outplay this guy. So when I won I was actually quite calm. I thought, yes, that’s what was supposed to happen. It was only the next morning when I woke up that I thought, what on Earth happened there?

In addition to being a champion poker player, you’re a busy journalist with columns in the Observer and British GQ and regular appearances on the BBC. What do you consider your primary job?

I really don’t know anymore. I don’t if I’m a writer who plays poker or a poker player who writes. I don’t know whether TV fits in at all.

I do feel incredibly lucky to be making a living at things I love doing. I never wanted poker to be a job. That’s partly because I love it and it’s fun and I didn’t want it to stop being fun and partly because, I suppose, something in me doesn’t feel right about calling poker a job. It’s not grown-up enough. But it’s a hobby that takes up an enormous amount of my time.

So when you fill out, say, customs forms when traveling you can just put “luckiest person alive” under occupation.

[Laughs] The problem with that is I’m really frightened of flying, so if I put “luckiest person alive” on a form before getting on a plane something terrible would happen.

You are a pessimist.

[Laughs] I really am!

Speaking of professions, you come from a very prominent family in British media – how did playing poker even come about?

Back in the old days, my brother [Giles Coren, writer for the London Times], who is three years older than me, would play poker with his friends in the kitchen and I just wanted to meet boys. I was at an all-girls school and I thought if I learned how to play this game, I’d get to spend time with boys and figure out what they’re like. Then I found that I was absolutely gripped by the game.

It happens or it doesn’t with poker. My husband [David Mitchell, the British comedian and star of Peep Show and The Mitchell and Webb Look] tried playing poker and he just found it really stressful. He didn’t enjoy it. People do or they don’t and I really did. I sat down to play cards with my brother when I was about probably 14 and I never really got up from the table.

So if your husband finds poker so stressful, I guess that means he never plays with you?

I don’t think that would be good for a marriage to play poker against each other. I mean, some people would say marriage is one long poker game against each other but I would say in the Mitchell sense, it wouldn’t be a good idea.

One final question: what’s your number one poker tip for beginners?

My number one tip is never play for an amount of money you can’t comfortably afford. That’s not just a moral thing — obviously people shouldn’t do anything they can’t afford and that doesn’t matter if it’s buying a car or a pair of shoes or getting into a poker game. But also, from a practical point of view, in poker you can’t win if you’re frightened. So you’ve got to play for an amount of money you can lose without it damaging you, because otherwise you’ll play scared and it’ll come to no good.

TIME Syria

Syrian Government Accused of New Deadly Gas Attacks on Opposition

A woman breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama
A woman affected by what activists say was a gas attack breathes through an oxygen mask inside a field hospital in Kfar Zeita village in syria on April 12, 2014. Reuters

Opposition groups accuse the Bashar Assad regime of directing several deadly gas attacks at civilians this month. This comes despite a deal struck late last year to remove all chemical weapons from Syria

Several alleged gas attacks on Syrian opposition groups this month have raised fears that forces loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad are continuing to use chemical weapons.

On Tuesday, opposition groups uploaded videos of people choking and convulsing after a substance rebels say is chlorine gas was fired on civilians. One boy died in a hospital near the Turkish border despite receiving treatment, The Daily Telegraph reports.

“We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical — probably chlorine — in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

“We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously.”

Government officials from France and the U.K., have also said that there are strong “indications” that the Syrian government is using gas against civilians. Rebels say that helicopters have dropped bombs with chlorine canisters in several attacks since April 11.

Psaki stressed that no loophole in the in the international deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons would allow chlorine to be deployed on the battlefield, despite the substance not being specifically listed on the agreement. The deal was struck after a sarin gas attack on civilians in August 2013.

“[The deal] prohibits the use of any toxic chemical, including chlorine, with the intent to kill or incapacitate people, regardless of whether it’s specifically listed or not in the schedule of chemicals,” she said. “The use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation of the convention.”

On Tuesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the Assad regime had handed over more than 86% of its chemical weapons stockpiles, including 88.7% of all Priority 1 chemicals.

TIME Ukraine

Tensions High in Ukraine After Kiev Calls Off Easter Truce

Masked pro-Russia protesters stand guard outside a regional government building in Donetsk
Masked pro-Russia protesters stand guard outside a regional government building in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine April 22, 2014. Marko Djurica—Reuters

The escalating crisis in Ukraine continues as Kiev promises new efforts to oust pro-Russian separatists from government buildings around the eastern region and Moscow dismisses Vice President Joe Biden’s threat of additional sanctions

Ukraine’s spiraling crisis continued unabated on Wednesday as Kiev called an official end to the Easter Truce in eastern Ukraine and promised to launch new operations to dislodge pro-Russian forces occupying government buildings.

“Appropriate measures will be taken and you will see results,” First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema told reporters on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

“We have obtained the support of the United States, that they will not leave us alone with an aggressor. We hope that in the event of Russian aggression, this help will be more substantive.”

The announcement comes a day after Vice President Joe Biden reiterated promises to levy additional sanctions against the Russian leadership if they did not do more to push pro-Moscow forces to abandon their fortified positions in eastern Ukraine in accordance with last week’s Geneva accord.

The Kremlin breezily dismissed the threats.

“Thanks to Western sanctions, Russia has been given incentive to reduce dependence from the outside and instead regional economies are being more self-sufficient,” said Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday, according to state broadcaster Russia Today.

On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Ukrainian military aircraft had been hit by gunfire near the occupied town of Slavyansk, where residents on Tuesday held funeral services for three suspected pro-Russian militants who had been killed during a weekend skirmish.

TIME South Korea

Tributes Pour In for South Korean Ferry Heroes

A man weeps after tribute at a group memorial altar for victims of sunken passengers ship at the Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall on April 23, 2014 in Ansan, South Korea. Chung Sung-Jun—Getty Images

Tales of young crew members helping passengers escape the doomed Sewol ferry are emerging in the aftermath of its sinking off South Korea last week as the death toll climbs and funerals are held for victims whose bodies have already been recovered

Updated at 6:59 p.m. EST

Praise has poured in for three crew members who sacrificed their lives trying to help passengers to safety while the Sewol ferry sunk last Wednesday off the coast of South Korea.

Park Ji-young, a 22-year-old part-time ferry employee, reportedly helped passengers escape and tended to the injured. Survivors said that she refused to leave the ship while there were still passengers to be rescued.

“She was so responsible and so kind,” Park’s grandmother Choi Sun Dok told CNN at a funeral home in the city of Incheon, near the capital Seoul. Floral tributes have been sent from all over the country. One read “We will not forget your noble spirit.”

At another funeral home in Incheon, a Sewol survivor recounted the bravery of crew member Kim Ki-woong, 28, and his fiancée, Jeong Hyun-seon, 27, who also worked on the ferry. As the ship was sinking, they were yelling to passengers to get out. “Then, the couple went back to the cabins to save other passengers, and they never came back,” he said, according to Korea Times.

Over 31,000 people have signed an online petition calling for compensation for their families and for the three to be buried at the national cemetery.

Meanwhile, divers have taken advantage of slowing currents in their mission to recover bodies from inside the wreck. The death toll has now reached 159, with 143 still missing passengers feared dead. Some 50 civilian divers have joined professional rescuers, while dozens of boats and aircraft are searching for any bodies that may have surfaced. The search is getting increasingly difficult, as divers now have to break through cabin doors to reach additional victims and a search of the 3rd and 4th decks revealed no air pockets where survivors might have been awaiting rescue.

Investigators are still trying to understand the cause of the tragedy, but the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries suspects that the vessel suffered a brief power outage only minutes before making a 45-degree turn, which it says could have caused the Sewol to list.

Several former crew members have told South Korean media that the 20-year-old ferry, which had an extra deck added after it was acquired in 2012, had stability issues.The crew also spoke of steering problems only two weeks before the incident. The owners of the Sewol have been barred from leaving the country and their residence and offices have been raided.

Eleven rescued crew members, including the captain, have been arrested. An engineer has told investigators that they escaped using passages only accessible by staff, while other crew members have said that passengers were not told to abandon ship before the crew members escaped.

TIME India

Indian Expats Enter the Electoral Fray

Desperate for change, thousands of Indians have given up cushy lives in the U.S. and elsewhere and returned home to act as volunteers or even stand as candidates in India's elections

For months, braving India’s hot summer, Maya Vishwakarma crisscrossed the dusty roads of Hoshangabad, her hometown in Madhya Pradesh, central India. As a candidate of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), she patiently went from door to door asking for people’s votes. But apart from her platform, there was something separating Vishwakarma from other candidates — and that’s her expatriate status. The U.S.-based Non-Resident Indian (NRIs, as they’re known) left her job in Silicon Valley — where she worked in developing leukemia vaccines and on bone-marrow gene therapy — and came home, motivated by the desire to make a difference.

“When I come home, I do not see any change,” Vishwakarma says. “No hospitals, no electricity, same roads, same schools. People are illiterate and there is widespread corruption.”

For Vishwakarma, the emergence of the fledgling AAP — an antigraft party running on a populist ticket — was the spur to leave behind the comforts of American life. She is far from alone. This year’s polls have galvanized NRIs like never before. Not content with discussing Indian politics around distant dining tables, thousands of NRIs are now on the ground in their homeland. Some have left their jobs, some are on sabbaticals or on leave without pay. But all are defying the heat and dust to campaign for what they believe.

“[We] are bound together with a desire to change the future of India and usher in clean politics and accountable governance,” says Shalini Gupta, a Chicago-based organization-development consultant, who left her job in the U.S. to become an AAP adviser. “[We] long to see India join the list of developed nations and for the development to benefit all segments of society and not just a select few.”

While India is yet to experiment with postal ballots or online voting, at 10 million people, the NRI community is a sizable vote bank. They’re also able to use their overseas experience to help modernize political parties and improve the way campaigning is conducted.

“As NRIs, it is very easy to sit and criticize constantly, talking about how bad the system is in India, how nothing changes,” says Smita Barooah, a Singapore-based therapist who is on a three-month sabbatical in Delhi campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “But one day I sat back and asked myself how I can change the system.”

Almost all the NRIs participating in this year’s polls would say the same. The U.S. chapter of the BJP reportedly has about 2 million volunteers and says more than 10,000 are now in India campaigning for the party. AAP says it has over 5,000 active volunteers in over 40 countries. In the U.S., there are supporter teams in at least 30 major cities and in over 40 major universities.

“This is a big election. India’s future is at stake,” says Pran Kurup, AAP’s U.S. spokesperson. “Our goal is to defeat candidates with criminal records, who are products of dynasty politics, who are proponents of communal politics, and those who are corrupt.”

While the emergence of AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal has inspired many NRIs, for others the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, is a huge draw. Business types, particularly, admire his track record in developing and governing the western state of Gujarat.

Deepak Kanth, a 35-year-old investment banker from London in charge of NRI engagement for the BJP, is inspired by Modi’s call for “minimum government, maximum governance.” He says Modi is an important catalyst for NRIs who are working hard to replicate on his behalf tactics from U.S. President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

“It is very unusual that so many thousands are coming to campaign,” says Chandrakant Patel, president of the Overseas Friends of BJP and a U.S.-based businessman. “It points to concern among NRIs about India’s future and their faith in Modi as a strong leader who will be able to turn back India’s flailing fortunes and restart the growth story.”

However their political beliefs may differ, what unites NRIs is a sense of responsibility for the future of their country. “My boys are growing up, and I am keenly aware of the need for them to be proud of their country,” Barooah says. “I am an Indian no matter where I am, and I want my children to have that same sense of ownership about India.”

TIME India

Modi Gets a Bollywood Boost

Bollywood actor Khan flies a kite as Hindu nationalist Modi watches during a kite flying festival in Ahmedabad
Bollywood actor Salman Khan (R) flies a kite as Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi (C), prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gujarat's chief minister, watches during a kite flying festival in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad January 14, 2014. Amit Dave—Reuters

And not just Bollywood but a Muslim one too. Two of India's best-known Muslim celebrities have come out in support of a prime-ministerial candidate that many of their co-religionists view with hostility and suspicion

In Indian politics, star power matters as much as manifestos — if not more. Political parties have long relied on celebrities, especially Hindi film stars, to swell their vote banks, and despite talk of the electorate’s greater political maturity, 2014 doesn’t seem to be an exception.

Last week, Bharatiya Janata Party prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi got a helping hand from Bollywood. Legendary scriptwriter Salim Khan and his son, the actor Salman Khan, both Muslims, launched a version of Modi’s official website in Urdu.

The decision is noteworthy because Urdu is the mother tongue of many of India’s Muslims, whose attitude to Modi ranges from outright hostility to, at best, ambivalence. The reason is the religious violence that broke out in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, while Modi was chief minister (a post he still holds today). Though Modi has been cleared by courts of any complicity in the bloodshed that left over 1,000 people dead — mostly Muslims — criticisms that he did not do enough to stop the riots continue to haunt him.

The senior Khan has asked his fellow Muslims to move on. “When my mother died, I felt I wouldn’t be able to live, but I am alive today,” he said to reporters in Mumbai, India’s film capital, last week. “No one can justify the riots. I am sure Mr. Modi has learnt the lesson and that no one will die [under] his regime.”

However, the backlash from the Muslim community has been quick, with many of the younger Khan’s Muslim fans feeling betrayed by an actor whose career took off during the 1990s, when Muslim viewers, feeling marginalized by the Hindu majority, identified with him and made him an icon of their community.

According to pop-culture critic and media academic Shohini Ghosh, Salman Khan’s reputation already took a beating in January, when he performed at a government-organized festival in Saifai, the ancestral village of Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav. Yadav has been accused of abetting the violence that broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the Muzaffarnagar district last September. Thousands of Muslims who fled their villages are still in relief camps and some Muslim clerics have called for boycotts of Salman Khan’s films.

At the same time, the political sway that celebrities like the Khans hold over voters remains. “I will vote for anyone Salman bhai [brother] supports,” says Waseem Ahmed, 22, a voter from northwest Mumbai. “I am not educated enough to understand manifestos.” And that is exactly what India’s politicians are counting on when they hitch their platforms to a Bollywood star.

TIME Military

As the Wars End, Changes Come in Training Troops to Notify Families of Military Deaths

Army photo

Battlefield deaths decline, but military still has to bring grim news

The wars are nearly over. So it is time for the U.S. military to reboot for one of its most somber tasks: Telling next-of-kin their loved one has died in the service of his or her country.

Over the past 13 years, casualty-notification officers have had to take that long walk up to a family’s front door, and make that dreaded knock that changes everything, 6,803 times.

But with battlefield deaths down to a trickle, the Marines are seeking a new video to help train its Casualty Assistance Calls Officers (each service has its own title for the job) for a future where more will die in peacetime accidents than combat. “The current scenario is 100% war-related,” the corps says in a notice posted Tuesday. “A more current version is required to meet today’s situations.”

The Marines say they want their new training video to include cases involving:

  • Marine’s death due to a training incident
  • Dual active-duty spouse with complicated marital issues
  • Divorced Parents
  • Dealing with children
  • Updated grief/trauma awareness
  • Self-care for CACOs

That last one is critical. This is a tough mission, where raw human emotions run the gamut.

“I’ve picked family members off the floor,” Army chaplain Captain Gregory Broderick said in an Army News Service story last month. “I’ve sat and held them as they’ve rocked and cried… I did one recently where they kicked us out of the house. They were so mad, not at us but at their son,” he confided. “I’ve been spit on as well.”

“You’ve caught them at their worst day,” added Army Major Mark East, the top chaplain at the service’s Human Resources Command.

With the war in Iraq over for more than two years, and with the shrinking number of U.S. combat troops still in Afghanistan slated to leave by year’s end (a total of 33,000 remain), the number of those killed in battle, thankfully, is way down (17 so far this year). March marked the first month without war casualties in 11 years (unfortunately, April won’t be the second).

When casualties spiked in Iraq in 2006, some families criticized the way the military informed them of their relatives’ deaths. That led Congress to demand additional training for those making the notifications, and detailed Pentagon regulations on how it is to be done.

Army Major Brent Fogleman did casualty notifications around that time, after a stint in Afghanistan. The notification job was “by far, yes” his toughest assignment. “There were some guys that couldn’t do it… if they couldn’t do it we didn’t want them to do it,” he said. “That’s not something you cannot do well.”

Families used to learn of their loved one’s fate in terse “regret to inform you” telegrams. That changed in Vietnam, when the Army began dispatching casualty-notification officers and chaplains to deliver the sad news personally.

The service now gives its casualty-notification teams four hours to get to that front door after the Army’s personnel shop has received word of a death. These days, they’re in a race to that door with Facebook and Twitter. They usually, but not always, win.

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