TIME ukraine crisis

Gunmen Storm Crimea Hotel Full of Reporters on Eve of Referendum

An armed man leaves the Moscow hotel in Simferopol
An armed man leaves the Moscow hotel in Simferopol, March 15, 2014. Thomas Peter—Reuters

A day before the breakaway leaders of Crimea stage a referendum on their secession from Ukraine, roughly two dozen commandos took over a major hotel on Saturday night in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, where dozens of journalists — including a TIME correspondent — are staying

Crimea’s police force said it was a training operation. The office of its separatist leader said it was a hunt for a cache of weapons. The local defense ministry said it was part of an “information war” with the Ukrainian government. But whatever it was, it resulted in roughly two dozen commandos taking over a major hotel on Saturday night in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.

Coming one day before the breakaway leaders of Crimea stage a referendum on their secession from Ukraine, the siege of the Hotel Moskva showed just how volatile and close to conflict the region remains. When the gunmen arrived, pulling up to the hotel in unmarked vans with tinted windows and no license plates, the hotel was packed with journalists, including this correspondent, who have arrived from around the world to cover Sunday’s historic referendum.

None of the troops wore any identifying insignia, much like the Russian forces who have occupied Crimea in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, which will open the door for Russia to annex the entire peninsula. Some of the gunmen were wearing civilian clothes, with an apparent penchant for black beanies and leather jackets. Others were in full military camouflage, helmets and face masks of the kind worn by Russian special forces. All of them were armed to the hilt, mostly with silencer-equipped Kalashnikov assault rifles and usually with sidearms strapped to their legs or bullet proof vests. At least one of them had a grenade-launcher affixed to the barrel of his rifle.

On the 6th floor, three of the gunmen were standing guard around the elevator bank, patting down anyone who came out of their rooms and ordering them to wait quietly and not take any photographs or make any phone calls. “We’re looking for an armed criminal,” one of the masked commandos told TIME. “This is a special operation,” he added, using the term that Russians typically use for counter-terror raids. One of his comrades then tried to shush him, to which the man responded, “What? Just tell it like it is.”

But that was just one of the contradictory explanations for the raid on offer that night. In the lobby, a spokeswoman for the Crimean Interior Ministry arrived while the gunmen were sweeping the hotel. “This is a training operation. We carry these out from time to time so that our forces can be in tip-top shape, able to respond to any threats that may emerge,” said the spokeswoman, Olga Kondrasheva. The raid had nothing to do with the referendum, she insisted. Asked about the last time such a training operation had been carried out in Crimea, she said it was, “oh, maybe a month ago.” But she could not say how many times such operations had been held out in the course of her 21 years as a spokesman for the ministry. “That’s not public information,” she said.

A totally different version of events came from the elderly General Valery Kuznetsov, the separatist Minister of Defense in Crimea, who arrived at the hotel in a beige windbreaker and apologized to reporters for the disturbance. “Kiev is waging an information war against the Crimean Republic,” he told TIME. “It is throwing out all kinds of disinformation. You understand? They throw it, and our guys have to check it.” Although he declined to say where the information had come from, he insisted that a “clear threat” had been reported inside the hotel, and his troops were dispatched to investigate. He declined to say why those troops were traveling in unmarked vans or why they were not wearing any insignia. “I’ve told you enough already,” he said before storming out of the hotel right after the gunmen had left.

Some clarity on these last points, but not much, came from Sergei Kavtan, an adviser to the newly anointed Prime Minister of Crimea, who seized power in the region after an armed takeover of the parliament and the government headquarters on Feb. 27. “They were looking for a cache of weapons,” says Kavtan, who has been serving as a media adviser to the separatist leader Sergei Aksyonov. The difference in the uniforms of the gunmen was because one team was from the Interior Ministry police force, Kavtan said, while the other team was from the Crimean military. “They didn’t find anything. So they left.”

It is not clear, however, how the Crimean military could have found time to prepare and equip any kind of rapid reaction force. Up until last week, Crimea did not have an army, and the only military forces moving freely about the region were the Russian special forces troops who have occupied the peninsula. The Ukrainian military, which has several bases in Crimea, has been barricaded inside their garrisons by the occupying force of Russians. So it was only last Saturday that Aksyonov, the region’s Moscow-backed leader, initiated his first batch of military troops, many of whom were elderly and clearly unaccustomed to their weapons as they pledged their oath of allegiance to Crimea last week.

Those men did not fit the description of the gunmen who seized the hotel. They appeared to be trained professionals, although they could not avoid a few acts of aggression toward civilians. Several of the reporters who tried to photograph them had their memory cards destroyed by the masked troops, while one of the gunmen tried to take a swing at a cameraman as he left the hotel. “I’ve already smashed one camera,” shouted the masked man with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. “You want me to smash the rest?” The reporters backed away, clearly recognizing that these men, whoever they were, had the authority to do pretty much as they pleased one night before the referendum that will decide Crimea’s future. By the look of things, that future will include at least one foreseeable characteristic: the presence of armed men whose exact purpose, origins and nationality may be hard to pin down.

TIME ukraine crisis

A Turbulent Priest Awaits The Conquest of Crimea

Archbishop Kliment
Archbishop Kliment, in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 2, 2014. Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

Archbishop Kliment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church became a national hero to protestors at Maidan Square. Now, his church faces the prospect of being wiped off the map, as his homeland of Crimea prepares to vote for annexation by Russia

Archbishop Kliment began evacuating the holy icons from his church about two weeks ago, as soon as he realized that the region of Crimea, where he serves as the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox faith, would soon fall to the Russians. He wasn’t so much afraid of looting or arson from the Russian soldiers occupying his region of Ukraine, although that concerned him too. He was preparing for nothing less than the nullification of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. Under Russian rule, “we will simply be liquidated,” he says. “Our church is an enemy to the order that Russia would impose here, and our churches would be either looted or in the best case forced to close.”

Those are not empty fears. Next week, Russia will get its chance to annex the entire Crimean peninsula, whose referendum on Sunday is stacked in favor of full secession from Ukraine. The result isn’t likely to do terrible and lasting damage to Ukraine’s economy or demographics. Crimea is a depressed region, connected to the mainland by only two roads, and the majority of its two million people are ethnic Russians who will likely welcome the chance to rejoin their historical homeland. But for Ukraine’s people, their security and their sense of national pride, the loss of Crimea will be devastating. A generation since Ukraine won its independence from Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union, it will again have to confront its own subversion, as well as the theft of its territorial jewel, the home of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians and the birthplace of their religion.

The country remains, in many ways, a hostage of its own geography and history. Ukraine shares a wide-open border with Russia all along its east and south, and in the past week, around 80,000 Russian troops have surrounded it, according to Ukraine’s security council. If the government in Kiev uses force to defend Crimea from annexation, Russia is almost certain to launch a broader invasion. On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry even warned in a statement that it “reserves the right” to take parts of eastern Ukraine “under its protection.” The stick-up job implied in this threat is simple: give up Crimea and Russia may hold off on taking anything else.

“That is what we fear most,” says Archbishop Kliment, sitting in his stripped-down church in the Crimean capital of Simferopol. “If they trade us for peace in the rest of Ukraine, that would be impossible to forgive. You cannot abandon your land and your people. You just can’t.” But Kiev doesn’t have much choice.

Since Ukraine’s revolution brought a new government to power three weeks ago, its diplomatic relations with Russia have broken down. Moscow has condemned the new leaders in Kiev as extremists and radicals, while American and European efforts to broker a peace deal have gotten nowhere. No one seems willing or able to stop Russia from exacting a heavy price for Ukraine’s sudden turn toward the West, and few will have to pay a larger share of that price than Archbishop Kliment.

His church, at least in the eyes of Crimea’s pro-Russian rulers, is a palpable threat, a unifying voice against Russia’s dominance of this part of the Slavic world. To make matters worse, Kliment played an active role in Ukraine’s pro-Western uprising this winter. In January, he was among the priests who formed a human shield between the protesters in Kiev and the riot police, watching rubber bullets and stun grenades buzzing around their heads as the troops surged forward. In February, Kliment saw those same police forces gun down dozens of protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square, the epicenter of the revolution, and then presided over many of their funerals.

But his greatest crime against Russia’s interests in Ukraine came on the day of that massacre, Feb. 20, when he stood on the stage in the center of the Maidan and read out the declaration of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Its clergy, led by Patriarch Filaret, had decided to renounce the ruling government in Ukraine, and the following day, that government fell to the revolution. For him, as messenger, that was the highpoint of a gruesome winter of rebellion. His memory of the funerals and the piles of bodies have been blurred by what he calls the moral panic of those days. But he remembers the declaration crisply. More than a 10,000 demonstrators roared in approval and then joined him in silent prayer on the Maidan. “It was an indescribable joy,” he recalls of that moment. “For all of us it was like a breath of air after a time of such suffocating darkness.”

For sympathizers of the revolution, that pronouncement turned Kliment and his fellow clergymen into national heroes, but it also brought them into open conflict with Moscow. Their religious schism, the split between the Kiev and the Moscow branches of Orthodoxy, was nothing new. It began almost 20 years ago, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the head of the faith in Ukraine, Patriarch Filaret, demanded more autonomy from his superiors in Moscow to develop an independent branch of the church in Ukraine. The clerical council in Russia, known as the Holy Synod, not only refused that request but deemed it heretical, and the Moscow Patriarchate has been building a rival network of churches across Ukraine ever since.

Because of its history, a crucial battleground in this feud has always been Crimea. The peninsula’s ties to the early Christian church go all the way back to the First Century, when Pope Clement I, a contemporary of the Apostles, is thought to have been exiled by the Romans to the stone quarries of Crimea as punishment for his devotion to Christ. His skull, which is stored in the Monastery of the Caves in the center of Kiev, has always been one of the holiest relics of the Orthodox Church. Beyond that, Crimea is where the first Russian ruler was baptized. In the year 988, Vladimir the Great, the patron saint of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accepted Christianity in what is now the city of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea navel fleet.

On its own, none of that history explains why Putin sees this land as part of his rightful dominion. He seems much more concerned with the strategic and political benefits of his incursion into Crimea. But the fact that this peninsula is the cradle of Russian Christianity goes a long way toward explaining why Putin guards his claim to it so jealously.

Throughout his 14 years in power, Putin has placed the Russian Orthodox Church at the core of his vision of a national revival, and the Church has in turn invested heavily into the construction of churches in Crimea. Dozens of them now dot the peninsula, with the golden domes of the newest one being built just beside the headquarters of the breakaway government in Simferopol. Its rivals from the Ukrainian Orthodox clergy have only been allowed to build 15 churches in Crimea, none of them in conformation with the architectural traditions of their faith.

The chambers of Archbishop Kliment (who took his clerical name from Pope Clement I) are inside a former military academy in Simferopol, just down the block from the central bazaar. And he does not even own that property; it is leased to him by the Crimean government, which is now under the control of pro-Russian separatists. So next week, if Russia moves ahead with annexation, his denomination of the faith may find itself pushed out of Crimea entirely. For that he blames the government in Kiev as much as he blames Russia. “I won’t go back to Kiev if it betrays us,” he says. “Returning to a country that abandons a part of its people doesn’t make sense to me. I would rather become a refugee somewhere else, or a slave here to the Russians.”

Such fears have troubled all of Crimea’s ethnic minorities, and in the past two weeks, the Kremlin has tried hard to calm the local Tatars, a Muslim ethnic group that makes up about 12% of its population. President Putin even spoke on the phone with one of the leaders of the Tatar community on Wednesday, promising that they would be protected under Russian rule. But Moscow has made no such gestures toward the ethnic Ukrainian minority in Crimea, and certainly not to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, whose adherents make up about 10% of the population.

That amounts to as many as 200,000 believers, who are considered members of a heretical sect in the eyes of the Russian Orthodox Church. Last week, TIME asked a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate in Crimea to respond to the fears of their Ukrainian rivals. The response was to deny that they even exist. “There is no schism,” says Vitaly Liskevich, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church in Crimea. “The people you’re talking about are self-proclaimed priests. In reality there is only one Orthodox Church, and that is the only one that will exist.”

Archbishop Kliment has grown resigned to that fact. The iconostasis in his church, the wall of icons that separates the altar from the congregation, has already been dismantled and its paintings hidden in the homes of his friends. The evacuation, as he calls it, has given him a level of protection from a Russian seizure of the church, but it has not helped him calm his congregants. At his most recent Sunday Mass, the worshipers listened calmly to his sermon, but when they came up to him afterward for solace, “hysteria broke out,” he says. “First one began to weep, and then the second and the third, like a chain reaction, and I had little to offer in the way of counsel. Ukraine has abandoned us, and we are left with no protection except, as ever, from the will of God.”

TIME India

India’s Supreme Court Stays Hanging Of 2 Gang Rape Convicts

Protesters carry candles as they shout slogans during a protest to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi
Protesters carry candles as they shout slogans during a protest to mark the first anniversary of the Delhi gang rape, in New Delhi Dec. 16, 2013. Adnan Abidi—Reuters

India's Supreme Court temporarily put a hold on the hanging of two men convicted of a notorious New Delhi gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student on a bus in 2012, an incident that sparked outrage at sexual assault against Indian women

India’s Supreme Court temporarily stayed the hanging on Saturday of two men who were involved in the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman on a New Delhi bus in 2012.

A defense attorney for the two men had requested the stay order, saying the appeals court that confirmed the death sentence this past week had ignored their defense. Another hearing has been scheduled for March 31, the Associated Press reports. An attorney for two other men sentenced to death for the crime said he would also approach the court soon.

The four men were sentenced to death after taking gang raping a 23-year-old medical student on a bus, penetrating her with a rod and causing severe internal injuries that led to her death two weeks later. One other who was involved hanged himself in prison, and another, who was a juvenile at the time, has been ordered to a reform home.

The incident aroused a wave of public anger at sexual violence against Indian women, and the trial was fast-tracked in September.


TIME Ukraine

Russia Vetoes U.N. Draft on Crimea, As Citizens Rally Against War

Anti-war procession in Moscow
People take part in an anti-war rally in protest against the Russian military actions in Ukraine, during a demonstration in Moscow, Russia, 15 March 2014. Maxim Shipenkov—EPA

Russia blocked a U.N. resolution invalidating the Crimea referendum, even as thousands of Russian citizens marched in Moscow to protest the invasion

Updated 11:45 ET

Russia vetoed a draft U.N. resolution on Saturday that would have declared Crimea’s referendum illegal, and its close ally China abstained, heightening the Kremlin’s isolation.

Russia has a veto right as one of the five permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and had signaled it would block the draft resolution, the Associated Press reports.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., condemned Russia’s move and its “unlawful” incursion into Ukraine. “The Russian Federation has the power to veto a Security Council resolution, but it does not have the power to veto the truth,” she said. “Russia cannot change the fact that moving forward in blatant defiance of the international rules of the road will have consequences.”

The veto came as a rally in central Moscow against Russia’s intervention in Ukraine attracted tens of thousands of protestors, indicating a measure of popular dissent with the tactics of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Protestors waved Ukrainian and Russian flags and shouted slogans often heard in Kiev during anti-government demonstrations, urging Putin to withdraw his troops from Crimea and stop menacing eastern Ukrainian provinces with large troop formations, Agence France Presse reports. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces reported that 120 Russian troops seized a natural gas distribution center near Crimea, its first military move outside of the peninsula.

Marchers carried signs reading “Putin, get out of Ukraine” and called an invasion of the country a “fratricidal war,” referring to the close cultural bonds between the two Slavic countries.

The large turnout reflected the results of a Kremlin-sponsored poll last month that showed 73 percent of Russians oppose interfering in Kiev. Russian police, who often downplay attendance at protests, said only 3,000 showed up to demonstrate.

Crimea is preparing to hold a referendum Sunday that would lead to its annexation by the Kremlin. Western leaders have called the referendum illegitimate, saying the presence of Russian troops in Crimea has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and caused an atmosphere of intimidation in the peninsula.


TIME Afghanistan

Karzai: We Don’t Need U.S. Troops In Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, inspects a guard of honour as he arrives to deliver his final address in parliament in Kabul on March 15, 2014. Wakil Kohsar—AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan's outgoing president said the Afghan military is ready to handle security missions without the help of the United States and reiterated his opposition to a deal that would allow a residual American force to remain in the country

Afghan President Hamid Karzai signaled his defiance of the United States in his final address before the country’s parliament Saturday, claiming U.S. troops are not needed in Afghanistan as his military is ready to take over entirely.

Karzai also reiterated that he would not sign a security agreement with the United States that would allow American soldiers to stay in Afghanistan to help train and mentor Afghan troops and hunt down al-Qaeda, the Associated Press reports. The outgoing president has come under heavy pressure from the United States and other nations, as well as a council of notable Afghanis, to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.

“I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere,” said Karzai on Saturday.

Karzai has been president of his embattled country since December 2001, and last won a presidential election in 2009. He has increasingly been at odds with the United States, opposing U.S. military operations against the Taliban even as it ramped up attacks and civilian killings in recent months.

His refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States may be futile, however, as all 10 candidates seeking the presidency in April 5 elections have said they will sign the agreement.



Malaysian Jet Missing Through ‘Deliberate Action’

Najib Razak, Hishamuddin Hussein, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center; Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein, left; and aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman attend a press conference on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane on March 15, 2014, in Sepang, Malaysia Wong Maye-E—AP

Investigators conclude that at least one person with considerable flying experience steered the plane, missing for more then a week, off its route to Beijing

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Saturday that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared a week ago with 239 people aboard, appeared to have been intentionally steered off course by at least one person with considerable flying experience.

The plane’s disappearance was the result of a “deliberate action by someone on the plane,” Najib said during a press conference. Authorities are very confident that the jet’s transponder was disabled during the flight, he added, and that the last satellite communication from the aircraft came about seven hours after takeoff. That means that the plane could have flown on for thousands of miles.

Satellite data confirms that the plane turned to fly in a westerly direction soon after reaching the South China Sea. Two “corridors” have been identified where the plane may have flown: a northern sector around the borders of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and northern Thailand; and a southern sector stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean. Search efforts will now be concentrated in these vast expanses.

The news resurrects the possibility that the aircraft might have landed safely. Captain Ross Aimer, an aviation consultant who was formerly an instructor for the 777, tells TIME that a pilot with “considerable skill and experience” could land the aircraft in as little as 3,000 ft. (900 m) of space. “It’s conceivable that if this was a calculated setup they may have an old military field somewhere in the middle of some jungle,” he says. “You could even land it on a beach or small strip of land.”

But other theories that gained steam in the past few days, including pilot suicide, an in-flight bomb or midair disintegration, have not been ruled out. “Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked,” Najib said, “I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.” No motive for any hijacking has been established and no demands are known, but the investigation has been “refocused” into the passengers and crew members.

(MORE: ‘I’m Safe': Last Status Update of Teenager on Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight)

Other possible theories might include a loss of cabin pressure rendering passengers and crew unconscious, and a malfunctioning autopilot causing the plane to veer off course. However, the seemingly deliberate route and numerous direction changes would make that unlikely.

The aircraft had 227 passengers and 12 crew on board when it departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing at 12:21 a.m. local time on March 8. The Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, and shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air-traffic controls, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off. Investigators conclude that any gap would be unlikely in the event of an explosion.

Despite a massive search, no wreckage has yet been found in the immediate vicinity of where communication was lost between Malaysia and Vietnam. Najib said in the press conference that Malaysia had ended its search in the South China Sea. A search team boasting 43 ships and 58 aircraft from 14 nations has been enlisted.

Earlier, an American official said investigators were examining the possibility of “human intervention” in the jet’s disappearance, adding it could have resulted from “an act of piracy.”

Distraught relatives of passengers have seen their frustration with a lack of progress turn to anger with the Malaysian authorities. Numerous contradictions and inconsistencies have emerged over the course of the past week, prompting widespread criticism. Najib, though, insisted that his government had put “national security second to the search for the missing plane.”

However, analysts are also now asking why the unidentified plane was not intercepted or tracked, given that it was spotted on military radar. Najib did not accept any questions during the press briefing.

“I realize this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board,” said Najib. “No words can describe the pain they must be going through.” Yet with two enormous corridors stretching thousands of miles left to explore, providing any closure remains a daunting task.


Report: Flight 370 Shifted Altitude and Path After Dropping Contact

A Royal Malaysian Air Force Navigator captain, Izam Fareq Hassan, center, looks at a map onboard a Malaysian Air Force CN235 aircraft during a search and rescue (SAR) operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the Strait of Malacca on March 14, 2014. Mohd Rasfan—AFP/Getty Images

A report follows earlier indications that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 deliberately altered its direction after disappearing from civilian radar

A new report Friday says Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 significantly changed altitudes and altered its course as if under pilot control after it disappeared from civilian radar less than an hour into the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The New York Times report, citing unnamed American officials and people familiar with the investigation, adds a new dimension to earlier indications that Flight 370 may have deliberately flown hundreds of miles off course.

Nearly a week after the plane disappeared, twelve countries have joined the massive and widening sweep of the region involving scores of aircraft and ships.

According to the Times, Malaysian military radar showed what is believed to be the missing Boeing 777 climb to 45,000 feet—above the approved altitude limit for the aircraft—after taking a sharp turn west, and then descend to 23,000 feet, well below normal cruising altitude, before gaining altitude and shifting its flight path north over the Strait of Malacca toward the Indian Ocean.

Malaysian authorities have shared the radar data with the U.S. and China but not to the public, and the reliability and implications of the revelations are still unclear. Ravi Madavaram, an aerospace engineer at the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan based in Kuala Lumpur, told the Times that the radar altitude readings can be unreliable when the plane is far away.

[New York Times]

TIME Syria

The Cost of War: Syria, Three Years On

Men hold up a baby saved from under rubble, who survived an airstrike in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus
Men hold up a baby saved from under rubble, who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, Jan. 7, 2014. Bassam Khabieh—Reuters

On the third anniversary of the uprising against the Assad regime, the fighting in Syria has taken an enormous toll on the country -- leaving more than 140,000 slaughtered, millions driven to neighboring states, and Syria's economic and cultural structures in ruins

On March 15, 2011, Syrian protestors in the southern city of Deraa, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, stood against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The initial uprising was peaceful, but as the government cracked down with vicious force, some protestors retaliated. By July, the uprising became an armed insurgency, and eventually evolved into a sectarian-tinged civil war.

Three years on, neighboring nations have been pulled in, contributing fighters, weapons, financing and technical assistance to the rival sides. Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah back the government, while Western powers, along with Gulf states and Turkey, support various factions among the rebels. All wars are devastating—and the Syrian civil war war has taken a horrific toll on the civilian population. At 2.5 million, spread between Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, there are now as many Syrian refugees as those exiled from Afghanistan’s wars in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. It’s a grim benchmark and potent reminder that it takes decades for the wounds of war to heal.

What three years of war in Syria have wrought:


According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 146,000 Syrians have been killed since fighting began. At least 10,000 of the dead were children, says a new report by UNICEF, the United Nations Fund for Children, the highest recorded number of children killed in any recent conflict in the region. An estimated 9 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including 3 million children, and according to UNICEF, 2 million children will need some sort of psychological support. With one in five schools destroyed, damaged, turned into shelters or taken over by armed forces, half of Syria’s school-age population is missing an education.


Syria once boasted one of the best government-funded health care systems in the Middle East. But according to a new report by the Save the Children charity, some 60% of Syria’s hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and half of the country’s doctors have fled. Life saving medicine is in short supply, and in some cases patients have asked to be knocked out by metal bars rather than go through surgery without anesthesia. Once-manageable chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer have turned into death sentences. Since the start of the conflict, the report says, 200,000 Syrians have died from chronic illnesses because of a lack of access to treatment and drugs.

Polio, which had been eradicated in Syria since 1999, has reemerged, permanently paralyzing at least 17 children. A suspected case in a Syrian refugee settlement in neighboring Lebanon has raised fears of a wider spread.


Syria used to have one of the best lowest unemployment rates in the region, less than 10% before the war. Now fewer than half of Syrians have a job, according to an assessment by German Broadcaster Deutsche Welle. International sanctions have driven down exports, particularly in the oil sector: Syria used to produce 400,000 barrels per day, and now it’s down to half that. Sixty percent of Syrians live in poverty, twice the pre-war number. The country’s GDP, which was growing at 3.24% in January of 2011, was negative 2.3% a year later, according to World Bank estimates. Tourism, which once contributed 12% to GDP, is non-existent.


The war has seen devastating attacks on the country’s archaeological heritage. All six of Syria’s UNESCO world heritage sites have been damaged by rocket, tank and small arms fire, according to the Global Heritage Fund, which details the destruction of the country’s historical sites. Regional museums have been looted, as have thousands of half-excavated archaeological sites. Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has borne the brunt of the destruction. The wooden gates of its medieval citadel have been smashed, and a fire sparked by fighting destroyed around 500 shops in the ancient, 7.5-mile long covered market. Byzantine mosaics have been lifted wholesale from the Roman and Greek ruins of Palmyra, and soldiers and rebels now occupy several other significant heritage sites.

TIME diplomacy

Indian Diplomat Is Indicted, Again

Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade (C) leaves her guest house to meet with Indian Minister for External Affairs, Salman Khurshid in New Delhi on January 11, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

Diplomat Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest back on December 12 in New York City sparked outrage from India, was re-indicted by a New York jury for underpaying her housekeeper and falsifying a visa application

The Indian diplomat whose arrest in New York City ignited a diplomatic row was re-indicted Friday, two days after a judge dismissed the case citing diplomatic immunity.

A New York grand jury indicted Devyani Khobragade Friday on charges of underpaying her housekeeper and falsifying a visa application for her, AFP reports.

Police arrested Devyani Khobragade Dec. 12 outside her daughter’s school and strip-searched her, drawing outrage from the Indian public and government.

India changed Khobragade’s official position to expand her diplomatic immunity after her arrest – before the indictment — and the judge Wednesday ruled that, as a result, the indictment had to be thrown out. But the judge also left open the possibility for a new indictment, in part because Khobragade lost immunity when she returned to India, where she is currently working.

The office of Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, said after that ruling that it intended to re-charge her, AFP reports.

“As the court indicted in this decision, and as Devyani Khobragade has conceded, there is currently no bar to a new indictment against her for her alleged criminal conduct, and we intend to proceed accordingly,” a spokesperson said.


TIME Environment

Paris Makes Public Transportation Free Amid Severe Smog

A general view shows the Eiffel tower and the Paris skyline through a small-particle haze March 13, 2014.
A general view shows the Eiffel tower and the Paris skyline through a small-particle haze March 13, 2014. Philippe Wojazer—Reuters

A number of French cities including Paris are making their public transportation systems free this weekend to combat extraordinarily high levels of smog caused by unusually balmy days, cold nights and little wind

A number of French cities including Paris have decided to make public transportation free this weekend in an effort to combat extraordinarily high levels of smog.

The emergency measure was announced by the French Minister for Ecology Philippe Martin on Thursday, AFP reports. The severe pollution is caused by unusually warm weather, a lack of wind, and a combination of cold nights and balmy days. Airparif, a non-profit organization accredited by the Ministry of Environment to monitor the air quality in Paris, reported that Thursday’s level of pollution hit the top of its index and that the agency will remain on alert over the next few days.

In October, the World Health Organization classified outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic.


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