July 24, 2014 6:02 AM EDT

Knowledge is the true organ of sight, declares the ancient Indian Panchatantra, not the eyes. But sometimes the path to believing depends on seeing, which in turn depends on those who bear witness. Weeks like this, as conflict flares in both Eastern Europe and the Middle East, almost require a warning label: the most important images are the hardest to look at. They are certainly among the hardest to capture, which is why we owe a debt to the photographers who go, at great personal risk, to the front lines of the headlines.

The extraordinary photos included with this week’s cover story on Ukraine and featured on TIME.com were taken by French photographer Jerome Sessini. He had been working in a nearby mining village in Donetsk when he heard about the Malaysia Airlines crash, and he was among the first journalists on the scene. He had no problem walking right into the middle of the crash site. When pro-Russian separatists appeared, they initially challenged Sessini and took the memory card from his camera. But they eventually allowed him to take the pictures shown here, including those of bodies and debris strewn through the fields or crashed into nearby farmhouses. “I was in shock,” the veteran war photographer says. “I don’t think I ever felt so sick.”

More than a thousand miles south, Italian photographer Alessio Romenzi was chronicling the experience of people caught in the cross fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “It’s a common theme to all wars,” Romenzi says. “You have two sides, and civilians–people who are guilty of nothing–are caught in the middle. Sometimes people die because they were at the wrong place at the wrong moment. They were near a target. But nobody knows exactly where these targets are.” He is not optimistic that even the most wrenching images will change the course of events in the region. “We’ve seen them before, and we are again in the same situation,” he says. But he takes comfort in the thought that his work will be remembered later on. “We photographers are doing this for the future.”

Nancy Gibbs, MANAGING EDITOR

BEHIND THE SCENE

‘I don’t think I’ll be able to board a plane without thinking about these images.’

–JEROME SESSINI, PHOTOGRAPHER, ON HIS SHOTS OF THE AFTERMATH OF THE MALAYSIA AIRLINES CRASH

NOW ON TIME.COM

Explore the First Family of fundraising in an interactive graphic of the $1.4 billion that Hillary and Bill Clinton have raised and benefited from since 1992. Made in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, the graphic allows you to look at top donors and types of fundraising. Find it at time.com/clinton.

TIME VIDEO

On July 17, Ramsey Orta, above, at his home in Staten Island, N.Y., used his phone to videotape police wrestling his friend Eric Garner to the ground. On the video, the 43-year-old Garner is shown telling the officers–one of whom used what appeared to be a choke hold–that he couldn’t breathe. Garner, a Staten Island fixture, died shortly after. Orta’s video has become a national talking point. He told TIME that police have harassed him since his footage became public, but he is not cowed. “It just gives me more power to not be afraid to pull out my camera anytime … and if I get arrested, hey, I got something on camera.” Watch the rest of the story at time.com/ericgarner.

This appears in the August 04, 2014 issue of TIME.

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