Nadiya’s tear-streaked face and anguished eyes speak volumes, giving us a glimpse into the pain she carries in her heart. Her struggle to recognize her son and provide him with a dignified burial touched our souls. We stood there, a united team, profoundly affected by her strength in the face of such unspeakable loss.
BUCHA, Ukraine — I met Nadiya Trubchaninova, a resilient 70-year-old Ukrainian woman, in a haunting cemetery in the city of Bucha, 86 kilometers from Kyiv. The moment I looked into her eyes; I knew her story would be etched in my memory forever. She stood there, amidst a sea of lifeless bodies, fervently searching for her son’s remains.
The photograph I took at that heart-wrenching scene represented days of work with a dedicated team of seven. Nadiya’s tear-streaked face and anguished eyes speak volumes, giving us a glimpse into the pain she carries in her heart. Her struggle to recognize her son and provide him with a dignified burial touched our souls. We stood there, a united team, profoundly affected by her strength in the face of such unspeakable loss.
The significance of this powerful image was recognized worldwide when I won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for my comprehensive coverage of the war in Ukraine in 2022. It was this particular photograph, capturing Nadiya on her knees, tears cascading down her cheeks, that resonated with audiences and made an indelible mark on the world.
Over several days, my team and I walked alongside Nadiya, offering support as we strived to capture her story with the utmost sensitivity. The connection we forged and the empathy we shared allowed us to immortalize her heart-wrenching moment forever.
The image serves as a testament to the enduring human spirit amidst tragedy. As a journalist covering inherently perilous locations, I rely on my team of skilled professionals to navigate dangerous terrain. We lean on each other, exchanging crucial information and unwavering support.
Through these collaborations, we shed light on untold stories. When we first encountered Nadiya, she was searching for her son’s body amongst the corpses. She told us her son left home in search of food but was tragically found dead on the side of the road. His body laid amidst numerous others. The deceased were then transported to an improvised morgue.
The overwhelming number of bodies made for a lengthy process by the forensics team. They had to count and identify each one. Eventually, they gradually handed the remains over to families for burial. Guided by my translator Sergei, we approached Nadiya with sensitivity and respect. We remained mindful of her pain and her hesitation to be being photographed.
As days passed, the resilient 70-year-old woman gradually allowed me to capture her poignant journey through my lens. Each passing day, she hitchhiked to the cemetery alone. After several days of interacting with us, Nadiya confided she found her son’s body. She displayed both grief and relief. We stood still, our hearts sinking in our chests, as she invited us to attend his funeral.
This marks my second international recognition from Columbia University. The first recognition lauded my work in Syria. My photo series of the Russian invasion of Ukraine titled “The Silent Pain of Ukraine,” also earned the 2022 Gabo Prize for journalism in the Photography category.
I find profound emotional connections with the human dramas I document through my camera lens. I understand the importance of assimilating these experiences in order to continue telling the stories, yet I do so without losing my sensitivity.
For the Pulitzer Prize ten years ago, in 2013, among the award-winning photos I captured, some depicted the transformation in the daily lives of children in Syria. One photo portrays a child playing with a grenade launcher, seemingly oblivious to the atmosphere of combat, with a family member by their side. It served as a stark representation of the impact of war on the innocence of youth.
Another poignant moment I captured was that of a Syrian child crying at their father’s funeral. The ceremony in Idlib took place where a park used to stand, before the conflict erupted. Due to the surrounding military presence, the main cemetery became inaccessible. The community transformed the once lively park into a cemetery. That park, once a place where children played, turned into a sea of buried bodies.
Every photograph I take stays with me. Receiving the award fills me with immense joy because it validates years of effort and dedication poured into my career. I hope this recognition gives me even more confidence and freedom to continue my work, focusing on important issues that need to be shared with the world.
I always felt drawn to covering political problems, wars, and natural disasters. I actively covered the post-war period in Guatemala, the coup in Honduras in 2009, the riots in Bolivia, the political conflict in Venezuela during the times of Chávez and Maduro, the death of Fidel Castro, the wars in Libya and Syria, the earthquake and political problems in Haiti, the drug war in Mexico, and the conflicts in Peru over mining in the Amazon.
Amidst the intensity of my work, I also covered beautiful events, such as the return of the Argentine National Team after their triumph in the World Cup in Qatar and the lively carnival in Rio de Janeiro. I find it important to include lighter stories amidst the heavier ones, striking a balance in my coverage.
Sharing life experiences brings me immense joy. It allows me to connect with people from different backgrounds and cultures, something that would be nearly impossible in any other profession. Building friendships all over the world, being able to offer help, and receiving support in far-flung places remain invaluable aspects of my career.
Undoubtedly, I often find myself in situations that terrify me. One of the most significant moments I experienced was during my time in Syria. While covering the conflict alongside my cameraman Ahmed, we found ourselves caught in the crossfire. That moment put my courage and resilience to the test. I still remember the blood freezing in my veins as I attempted to assess the situation. Thankfully, we made it out, but every second remains etched in my mind.
In May 2023, as I prepared my daughter for school, the phone rang abruptly. The person on the line was my editor in Barcelona. I initially expected bad news. Instead, he told me our group had won the Pulitzer Prize for our work in Ukraine. My heart soared. An overwhelming rush of happiness took over my body. Unable to contain it, I let out a joyful scream that echoed through the walls of my home.
At that very moment, the atmosphere in our household transformed into an instant celebration. My wife rushed to my side, her eyes glistening with pride. We embraced tightly in a heartfelt exchange of love and support. The recognition of my work holds profound significance to me. I sacrificed a lot of time with my loved ones to be able to travel for work. This win feels like an enduring testament to their support and to our shared journey.
Despite the challenges that come with being away from home for extended periods of time, their belief in my passion fuels my determination. This prize is more than just an accolade; it is a reaffirmation that our collective efforts make a difference. People’s stories will forever matter, and I will continue to share them.
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