For many citizens living in parts of Eastern Ukraine occupied by Pro-Russia rebels, reality has become a tenuous amalgamation of rumors, propaganda, and dreams.
Syria Is Obama’s Rwanda
Twenty-seven-year-old Qusai Zakarya woke up at about 4:30 AM on August 21, 2013. He rolled out his prayer rug inside his family’s two-bedroom apartment in the small town of Moadamiya, Syria, and started his morning prayers.
Alarms coming from nearby Damascus interrupted his daily ritual. After two years of revolution, Qusai had gotten used to the near constant shelling and bombings, but something was different this summer morning. The alarms were the kind “you usually hear in movies about World War II when there is a big air raid,” he told me.
“Within seconds, I started hearing rockets flying into the ground,” Qusai recounted. They hit the rebel-held town about 500 feet away from him.
“Before I realized what was going on, I lost my ability to breathe. I felt like my chest was set on fire. My eyes were burning like hell, and I wasn’t even able to scream to alert my friends,” he said. “So I started beating my chest over and over until I managed to get my first breath.”
As Qusai recovered inside his home, he heard people screaming on the streets. A neighbor pounded on his door and asked for help. Her two kids were suffocating and vomiting “weird white stuff,” Qusai said.
They rushed onto the street to seek help and found a “terrifying” scene. Men, women, children, elderly people were “running and falling on the ground, suffocating, without seeing a single drop of blood or knowing what was really going on,” Qusai told me.
Qusai spotted a 13-year-old boy left all alone, suffocating and vomiting. Qusai ran to him and gave him CPR. “He had big wide blue eyes and was almost staring into another dimension. He was suffocating, and he seemed to me very innocent to die this way or any other way,” Qusai said.
How South Sudan Got Lost
Sudan was once home to a great civilization that was the most advanced in all of Africa—but centuries of colonialism and conflict, and a post-independence period ravaged by coups, dictatorships, and incompetent rule, mired Sudan in a series of never-ending wars. This timeline details how by 2013, the oil-rich, fertile nation was falling apart.
The “Saving South Sudan” Issue of VICE is unlike anything done before in the 21-year history of the magazine. It tells a single story over the course of 130 pages, following the writer Robert Young Pelton, the photographer and filmmaker Tim Freccia, and a former South Sudanese refugee named Machot as they travel to Machot’s homeland, one of the most war-ravaged countries on Earth. For Machot, the trip was an attempt to help South Sudan out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of war, corruption, and power-hungry strongmen that has ruled the country for generations. For Pelton and Freccia, it was the chance to explore and document the conflict that is rapidly turning the three-year-old country into the world’s newest failed state—and to find out what, if anything, could stop South Sudan’s slide into hell.
Understandably, they ran into some problems on their journey. To begin with, they almost couldn’t find a pilot foolhardy enough to fly them into the middle of an ongoing war between the government in Juba and the rebels led by Riek Machar, the country’s former vice president. Then they had to haggle and negotiate their way into an interview with Machar before following his fearsome but undisciplined White Army to a battle in the town of Malakal that turned into wholesale slaughter.
Partly a history of colonialism and misguided Western interference in Africa, partly a profile of Machar as he plots and coordinates his rebellion in the bush, partly a look into one of the most dangerous, dysfunctional countries in the world, “Saving South Sudan” is a terrific, sobering work, and no one but Pelton and Freccia could have produced it. Pelton, the author of the bestselling, one-of-a-kind travel guide The World’s Most Dangerous Places (now in its fifth edition), has profiled “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, been kidnapped by right wing death squads in Colombia, and lived with an elusive retired Special Forces colonel training Karin rebels deep inside the jungles of Burma. Freccia—who like many journalists, was inspired by Pelton’s work—has made it his life’s work to document conflicts and crisis in Africa and elsewhere. His photos provide a stark, sometimes horrific look into the realities of life in South Sudan, and his video footage is currently a documentary now playing on the site.
An exclusive look at photographer Stephen Shore’s work for the This Place project, exploring the complexities of Israel and the West Bank.
The Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui has seen its Muslim population drop from 130,000 to under 1000 over the past few months. Over the past year, thousands across CAR have been killed and nearly a million have been displaced. The United Nations recently stated that the entire Western half of the country has now been cleansed of Muslims.
The Burmese Muslims Who Are Refugees in Their Own Country
Above: Internally displaced persons in the gymnasium that has become their home in the “district playground” IDP camp.
Last month, United Nations human rights worker Tomas Quintana was set upon by a mob as he tried to visit a camp for Muslim refugees in the central Burmese city of Meiktila. “My car was descended upon by a crowd of around 200 people, who proceeded to punch and kick the windows and doors of the car while shouting abuse,” Quintana said in a statement.
Yet Burma’s government seemed relatively untroubled by the incident. Ye Hut, a presidential spokesman, told members of the media that Quintana had simply misinterpreted the situation. Apparently, the mob wasn’t a mob at all, but a welcoming party of peaceful protesters who were trying to give him a letter and a T-shirt. A few days earlier, through no small amount of bureaucratic wrangling, the photographer Andrew Stanbridge and I were able to visit the camp Quintana had been headed towards, as well as a few others nearby. I guess we weren’t as welcome there as the big UN hotshots, however, because we weren’t greeted by hundreds of people battering our car while trying to pass notes through the window.
Furious Buddhists Are Making Life Hell for Sri Lanka’s Muslims
Muslims are under attack in Sri Lanka. Recent reports indicate that gangs of Buddhists have been roaming the streets, administering bloody mob beatings, and attacking places where Muslims work and worship. Raw pork has been thrown into mosques, the Halal logo has been banned, and the prominent Muslim government critic Azad Sally has been arrested. One dramatic incident ended with government commandos being deployed to maintain law and order after a gang of Buddhistsinjured four people at a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, forcing it to close and a curfew to be put in place.
Moulavi Fazil Farooq, from the Islamic political group All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told me that Muslims’ “freedom of religion and freedom of speech” are under threat in Sri Lanka. He also sent me in the direction of one of the Buddhist groups that have been accused of carrying out the attacks: Bodu Bala Sena, which roughly translates as “Buddhist Power Force.” Their stated aim is to “protect” Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka, as it’s apparently under threat from Muslim and Christian groups. (For context, 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is Buddhist—less than 10 percent is Muslim, fewer still are Christian.)