On The Ground

Kyiv under siege #1

I’ve seen it before. The men dragging sandbags in the streets. The eerie sound of the sirens. The half-empty houses with faces at the windows. The thunder of a sudden blast. The shelters full of tears. The check points. The lines of refugees. The silent cold. The smell of fear. I’ve reached Kyiv on Russian-invasion-day-five. Thousands, mostly women and children, packed on the platforms, waiting for the train to come,…

Talibanistan: Kabul

Now it’s the magnetic bombs, homemade devices placed by unknown hands under vehicles. Almost every day in Kabul one explodes, gutting a car, a minivan, a jeep of the Islamic police. Nobody knows who the killers are. Personal vendettas, the inevitable aftermath of a twenty-year civil war? Politically motivated executions? Iskp (the local Islamic State’s branch) generally targets crowded places, mosques, markets, hospitals, to provoke massacres; but it cannot be…

Talibanistan: Helmand

In February 2010 a combined force of 15,000 ISAF and Afghan troops launched Operation Moshtarak, the largest military offensive in the Afghan war. The goal was to remove the Taliban from Marjah, their last stronghold in central Helmand, and mark “the start of the end of the insurgency”. Indeed, the 10 months bloody battle, filmed by a HBO crew embedded with the US Marines (Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment),…

Cocaland

“Are you really going to that shit hole?” Even my hardened fixer in Cúcuta was skeptical. But I was teaming up with Msf on a survey mission and felt safe enough even after the grim security briefing: never walk alone, mandatory 6pm curfew, no pictures unless agreed by the local guerrilla leaders and open windows in the car. “Why?” “To hear the gunshots”. La Gabarra, a remote hamlet in the…

A road to nowhere

“I’m goin’ to Medellin to join my family” says José. “I’ve never seen my two years old son”. “I go to Peru” says Veronica. “Maybe it’s easier to get a job there”. “I was a nurse in Maracaibo” says Pedro. “My monthly salary was half a dollar. Can you believe it? No way to feed my three children with that”. The massive exodus of Venezuelans, the largest migration crisis in…

A Land of fear

  “The Angels of Death came down on us one mid afternoon. I managed to slip out of the village with three of my kids but my husband was shot. They gunned down my brother and sister, shooting at random. They burned the houses, stole the crops and the herds. There’s nothing left there but dead bodies”. Salimata is now hanging around the crumbling small town of Nouna, in western…

Iran on the brink

With a blue sky and the snow-covered mountains in the background, it was a perfect day to celebrate the 41st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. I walked for hours with people chanting slogans, burning american and israeli flags, carrying a fake coffin of Donald Trump, throwing stones at his portrait and mourning the death of the all powerful general Qasem Soleimani, the “living martyr” who was assassinated by a US…

Toxic wasteland

I reach the border between Ecuador and Colombia: a forgotten corner of the Amazon, and yet a very busy place. On the banks of the Putumayo and the San Miguel rivers, and deep in the rainforest’s no man’s land, illegal miners and loggers cross path with gas smugglers and arms traders, renegate guerrillas and ruthless paramilitary thugs, coca farmers and shadowy cocaine dealers. The region is a drug producing and…

Ni vivos, ni muertos

The road to Ayotzinapa winds up the hills of the dreaded Sierra de Guerrero, a major drug producing and trafficking hub where coca and poppy fields have replaced coffee plantations and soldiers man checkpoints between rival gangs of narcos militias. It’s a land of sicarios, peasants’ uprisings, armed insurrections and utter poverty. The Raúl Isidro Burgos rural school in Ayotzinapa is a large compound at the edge of Tixtla, a…