January 28, 2015 6:09 PM EST

Two days after Kurdish fighters declared victory over Islamist militants in the battle for Kobani, following months of U.S.-led air strikes, a group of journalists was allowed into the besieged Syrian border city for a closer look at what’s left.

Bulent Kilic, a Turkish photojournalist with Agence France Presse who has watched the battle against militants of the group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) play out from along the Turkish border, was among the few to enter the ravaged town.

“It’s not a city anymore,” says Kilic, who TIME named Wire Photographer of the Year in 2014. “I saw all the bombs that were dropped on Kobani during this battle. And there’s only debris left, especially in the eastern part of the town from where ISIS tried to get in.”

Kilic was in the first group of journalists allowed inside Kobani for a couple of hours Wednesday. “We had been asking authorities to go inside,” he says. “The only other way is the illegal way, which can be very dangerous—you can get shot. This morning, however, [the Kurdish fighters] told us they would arrange some time inside the city.”

Once there, he was free to roam around town, meeting some of the few inhabitants who chose to stay despite months of intense fighting. And while people were happy to see the constant bombardment come to a stop, they weren’t celebrating, says Kilic. “[This war] was very violent, and many people died—their friends, their families.”

Kilic is back in Turkey now—“AFP asked me not to stay the night because it has strict rules about reporting in Syria”—but the 35-year-old photographer will be back.

“I feel like I’ve finished the war-part of this story, and now, as refugees look to go back, I want to follow the rebuilding,” he says. “It’ll be hard. There’s no heating, no electricity, no water, no shops. I don’t know how they will manage, but that’s the story I want to do now.”

Read next: ISIS Still Strong Despite Major Defeat in Kobani

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