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20 Aug, 2008 06:19

War photographer laid to rest

During the five days of severe fighting the Georgia-South Ossetia military confrontation claimed the lives not only of troops and civilians, but media workers as well. At least four journalists were killed and more than ten injured during the conflict.

No parent should have to bury their own child. But it was the only thing Yulia Klimchuk prayed for. Her son Aleksandr was killed in the first days of the Georgian assault. And if it wasn't for his colleagues in Russia, his Georgian family might never have recovered his body.

Aleksandr was a photographer for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. Based in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, he often covered tensions between Georgia and its breakaway republic.

His colleague Elena Munusova recalled that they would often ask him to take some shots of Tbilisi, but he would say: “No, I prefer working in news, making political reports”. He liked to work in extreme spots.

When Georgia launched its ground incursion into South Ossetia, Aleksandr and his colleague Gigi Chikhladze were travelling with the Georgian troops. Nobody knows for sure what happened to them.

Sergey Uzakov, also a photographer for ITAR-TASS, said: “Doctors can't tell me how they died. I was only told their bodies were picked up on the road by Russian troops and delivered here, to Tskhinvali morgue. But it’s very mysterious.”

Sergey identified the body and promised Yulia that she would have a chance to bury her son. With the help of other journalists stationed in Tskhinvali he found two metal coffins and drove them across the border into Georgia.

“Other journalists have joined us here. Our friends from AP, Reuters, France Press, and Time are here now and we all see it as our duty to complete this,” Uzakov said.

Oleg Panfilov from the Center for Extreme Journalism says that the “working conditions for journalists were terrible. Of all the war conflicts in the post-Soviet space and the Balkans, this was the worst time for journalists.”

But other photographers who have been working in the conflict zone say all wars are the same. And in the midst of death and destruction there's always a place for self-sacrifice and professional brotherhood.