BenasBenGe Benas Gerdziunas

Multimedia journalist previously reporting from the EU, Balkans, Belarus, Middle East and Ukraine. Contributing to Lithuania’s national broadcaster (LRT) and Deutsche Welle. Published by AFP, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg Magazine, Politico, Spiegel, The Independent, Vice News, and others.

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Ukraine: three years of failed peace
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Dec 2018

February 11, 2018 marked the three year anniversary since the last ceasefire. Despite it, dozens are killed and injured every month,. Frontlines keep shifting, and the war in Europe goes on. [Potential multimedia format: http://www.benge.co/home97]

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Kurds in Syria torn between ISIS and ...
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
30 Nov 2018

As the end of ISIS draws near, battles inflict a heavy toll on Kurds and Arabs in Northern Syria.

And now, following U.S. President Donald Trump announcement, Kurds are having to face a new threat from Turkey.

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Chasing Druze reincarnations on Mount...
Beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
05 Mar 2018

Nibal remembers, like many others do; he remembers his violent death in Lebanon’s 15 year long civil war. Just three years old, Nibal guided his family to the ‘previous’ home on Mount Lebanon. Inside, he knew the names and stories of each person in his ‘old family.’ “He remembers,” Nibal’s friends introduced him. The two ominous words echoe from mouth to mouth among the Druze, without the heavy weight of what to some others may seem as an antiquated spiritual hearsay. Belief in reincarnation, or ‘Taqamus’ in Arabic - loosely translated as ‘wearing another shirt’ - forms a big part of the Druze minority in Lebanon, who have historically escaped persecution in the fortress-like terrain on Mount Lebanon, and managed to coexist under succession of rulers since the faith’s split from Islam in the 11th century. Some historians even attribute Fakhr-Al-Din, the Druze leader in the 17th century, as the founder of modern Lebanon. The religion itself remains submerged in secrecy, with its teaching available only to those who embark on a life-long path of becoming a sheikh. In the wake of Lebanon’s 15 year old civil war, a generation of children grew up remembering their violent deaths. Far from sporadic instances, people like Nibal grew up studying their ‘previous’ lives, questioning how much of that knowledge influenced their present-life decisions. During my six month stay in Lebanon, I met various individuals among the Druze religious and cultural community, and explored the historic Mount Lebanon areas. After an initial meeting, I’m maintaining contact with the Druze Council Minister of Culture, whose 24 year old son is currently hospitalised with cancer. The philosophy of reincarnation has historically made the Druze into fearsome fighters, and in today’s world, has helped families confront death. For this photoessay / long-form story, I am focusing on one aspect of the Druze faith - the unwavering belief in reincarnation. To supplement the interviews and observations, I have studied Druze history, as well as the religious beliefs available to the public.

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Tracing Beirut's Faultlines
beirut
By Benas Gerdziunas
02 Mar 2018

Almost three decades have passed since the end of Lebanon’s civil war. Beirut, however, remains locked in a post-conflict state, submerged in an urban psychosis. Fuelled by expandable refugee labour from neighbouring Syria, and funded by mass private wealth and fleeing public sector, Beirut is again harbouring the same social conditions preluding previous conflicts. Newfound wealth has divided the emerging elites from impoverished peripheries, and entrenched the power of the once warlords, now made into suited parliamentarians.

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Baltic minority region scapegoated fo...
Salcininkai
By Benas Gerdziunas
05 Oct 2017

Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region.

In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion.

In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day.

Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party.

I visited the area to speak to the local people, who are mostly ignored in the public discourse, and explore some of the underlying issues in the region.

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Baltic minority region scapegoated fo...
Salcininkai
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Sep 2017

Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. Town square in Salcininkai, a city of roughly 6,300 people. The streets and local infrastructure is visible well kept. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Town square in Salcininkai, a city of roughly 6,300 people. The streets and local infrastructure is visible well kept. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Inside a small Christian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Salcininkai, which draws around 40 people every Sunday, according to Alexander. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Inside a small Christian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Salcininkai, which draws around 40 people every Sunday, according to Alexander. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Signpost, indicating Salcininkai’ proximity to Belarus - Lyda and Minsk are found nearby. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Signpost, indicating Salcininkai’ proximity to Belarus - Lyda and Minsk are found nearby. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Alexander, the church caretaker. He preferred not to give his last name, “we spoke of politics,” he laughed. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Alexander, the church caretaker. He preferred not to give his last name, “we spoke of politics,” he laughed. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Jolanta, Zydre, and Beata, all 24 years old. All three come from different language backgrounds, but they mostly speak Lithuanian among themselves. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Jolanta, Zydre, and Beata, all 24 years old. All three come from different language backgrounds, but they mostly speak Lithuanian among themselves. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Beata finished her university in Poznan, Poland, yet returned home to work in tourism. Jolanta tries to push her young daughter towards Lithuanian education. “But even in the Lithuanian nursery they use Polish,” said Jolanta, moments later speaking to her daughter in Russian. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Beata finished her university in Poznan, Poland, yet returned home to work in tourism. Jolanta tries to push her young daughter towards Lithuanian education. “But even in the Lithuanian nursery they use Polish,” said Jolanta, moments later speaking to her daughter in Russian. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Vidmantas Zilius, director of the Lithuanian school in Salcininkai. He is also a member of the center-right, The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat party. After living in the area since 1989, he said; “This region is very detached. It takes years of living here to really understand this place.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Vidmantas Zilius, director of the Lithuanian school in Salcininkai. He is also a member of the center-right, The Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrat party. After living in the area since 1989, he said; “This region is very detached. It takes years of living here to really understand this place.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Fields and individual gardens around Salcininkai are cultivated for vegetables and fruits. Many elderly can be found along the city lake and river shores, fishing. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Fields and individual gardens around Salcininkai are cultivated for vegetables and fruits. Many elderly can be found along the city lake and river shores, fishing. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Tomas Saliatyckis wears a Lithuanian Military t-shirt under his barista apron. His cafe serves as a cultural center for meetings and discussions, and also runs a social scheme - you can overpay your coffee, the money going for someone who can’t afford it. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Tomas Saliatyckis wears a Lithuanian Military t-shirt under his barista apron. His cafe serves as a cultural center for meetings and discussions, and also runs a social scheme - you can overpay your coffee, the money going for someone who can’t afford it. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian Scouts Union has its base is the Lithuanian “Tukstantmecio” school. Raimondas Silobritas, 18, is also member of the paramilitary force, the Riflemen Union. “There, we have students from other nationalities, too,” he said. However, a parallel Polish scout group exists in Salcininkai. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian Scouts Union has its base is the Lithuanian “Tukstantmecio” school. Raimondas Silobritas, 18, is also member of the paramilitary force, the Riflemen Union. “There, we have students from other nationalities, too,” he said. However, a parallel Polish scout group exists in Salcininkai. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. One of the leaders, school’s sports teacher, Kestutis Peleckis said the organisation “also encourages patriotism.” He added: “When we need to organise national holiday celebrations, we find little support with the local government,” he claimed. Lithuania’s coat of arms and a map depicting shifting national borders - parts of it now in Poland - hang on the wall. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. One of the leaders, school’s sports teacher, Kestutis Peleckis said the organisation “also encourages patriotism.” He added: “When we need to organise national holiday celebrations, we find little support with the local government,” he claimed. Lithuania’s coat of arms and a map depicting shifting national borders - parts of it now in Poland - hang on the wall. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian-Belarusian border, November, 2016. Patrolling the Schengen border is mostly undertaken by foot and car patrols. The main challenges are cigarettes contraband and illegal migration. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Lithuanian-Belarusian border, November, 2016. Patrolling the Schengen border is mostly undertaken by foot and car patrols. The main challenges are cigarettes contraband and illegal migration. Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. The music and dance groups in Salcininkai Cultural Center are funded by the regional council, and mostly play Polish folklore. “We also learn Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Gipsy and Jewish dance and music,” said the group’s leader, Barbara Suckel, “our parents had to learn Russian, now everything is going back to normal centered on Lithuanian language.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. The music and dance groups in Salcininkai Cultural Center are funded by the regional council, and mostly play Polish folklore. “We also learn Lithuanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Gipsy and Jewish dance and music,” said the group’s leader, Barbara Suckel, “our parents had to learn Russian, now everything is going back to normal centered on Lithuanian language.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Zydre, sipping coffee next to a redeveloped lakeside beach, said: “The problem here is like elsewhere in the provinces - there just isn’t that much to do.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party. Zydre, sipping coffee next to a redeveloped lakeside beach, said: “The problem here is like elsewhere in the provinces - there just isn’t that much to do.” Salcininkai, Lithuania’s Polish and Russian-speaking city is only five kilometers from Belarus. In the backdrop of ‘Zapad 2017’ military exercises across the border, Lithuanian government has finger-pointed at the the substantial Russian-speaking minority for being susceptible to separatism, and held multiple military exercises in the region. In turn, however, they have demonised the vulnerable population, suffering from depopulation and social exclusion. In April, 2017, unannounced snap drills in the area became the center of controversy. Armed men in military fatigues took over the local police station and institutions with little resistance from the unprepared security forces. Political fallout from these exercises continue to this day. Additionally, the voting patterns in Salcininkai and Lithuanian peripheries along the 670 kilometer border with Belarus are firmly with the pro-Kremlin, Polish minority party.

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Ghostly remains of Tsar’s European ar...
Kaunas
By Benas Gerdziunas
21 Jul 2017

A photoessay, exploring a unique snapshot of European history, stretching from the mighty symbols of Russian Empire’s oppression, to the Holocaust and KGB’s atrocities.Russian Tsar Alexander II, chose Kaunas, Lithuania as the location for the most modern fortress in the Russian Empire. Found in a strategic location in the middle of two rivers, the city has long stood as the barrier between East and West during the Teutonic conquests, Nordic Wars, Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars. Following the construction of thirteen forts - complete with weapons infrastructure, military hospitals and churches - every third man in Kaunas was a soldier in the Russian Tsar’s army. In the onset of World War One, the fortress fell in just over a week, taking the lives of 20,000 defending soldiers with it. Forward 26 years, the 13 forts ringing Kaunas served as a grim backdrop to Holocaust, where Nazis and local collaborators executed over 30,000 Lithuanian Jews. Intermittently, the forts served as German ‘stalags’ and later, sites of KGB prisons. In total, over 50,000 people were executed there. Today, the forts in Lithuania’s second largest city Kaunas stand mostly abandoned. Some served as temporary bases for newly reestablished Lithuanian military in the 1990s, some were fitted out for paintball tournaments and children’s playgrounds, as some continued to decay amongst empty bottles and cigarette butts - number of lives were claimed by the treacherous network of tunnels and wells inside. In December 2016, the forts were bought-out by the renewed Kaunas leadership, which plan to establish a tourist trail and properly mourn the tragedies, and the structural beauties of the fortresses.

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Saber Strike 2017 - NATO exercises in...
Pabrade
By Benas Gerdziunas
16 Jul 2017

Lithuanian military and its NATO allies, trained to fight together in urban conflict scenarios.

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Confronting Belgium's colonial legacy
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
03 Jul 2017

Decades after Belgian rule in Congo ended, and a century after the atrocities in Congo Free State - where up to 10-15 million Africans were killed - people in Belgium are beginning to confront the troubled history. The unaddressed atrocities are fuelling frustration among the Congolese, who are to this day surrounded by statues, buildings and streets dedicated to one of history’s most brutal rulers. Through art, culture and advocacy, the diaspora and Belgian people are paving the way for an uneasy reconciliation of the past.

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Despite shelling, Ukrainian frontline...
Marinka
By Benas Gerdziunas
27 Mar 2017

Ukrainian-controlled town in the suburbs of Donetsk. Even as shells land weekly - in some periods daily - UN is funding efforts to rebuild the town. Local construction crews are hired to repair and refurbish various houses and individual apartments. This both employs the largely stagnant local population, and provides permanent shelter solutions. One of the main characters is Yuri Nagin - who served in the same town with the Ukrainian army, met a local woman, and has since stayed to live with her and the children in their home, 100 meters from the frontline. His job is to repair homes, which were destroyed in the artillery duels.

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Ukraine B-Roll
Mariupol, Marinka, Pavlopil
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Feb 2017

Abandoned Ukrainian positions, front line near Mariupol, front line school in Marinka,

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Lithuanian government and volunteers ...
Donetsk
By Benas Gerdziunas
22 Feb 2017

Lithuanian volunteers raised over 110,000 euros Jan. 13, for Ukraine in an event televised by the national broadcaster. Among pop stars, Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite, prime minister and other officials praised Ukraine’s efforts against aggression. So far, Lithuania has been the only NATO country to supply Ukraine with lethal aid. I’d like to pitch a story about Lithuania’s continuing support for Ukraine, leading with Blue/Yellow volunteers - who initiated the national fundraiser - as they deliver aid to various Ukrainian units stationed along the frontline. Additionally, I will interview Lithuania’s foreign minister Linas Linkevicius and Ukrainian officials on the continuing symbolic, and also military cooperation between the two countries. “Lithuania can understand our Ukrainian brothers. No one will forget that in January 1991, a group of Ukrainian volunteers was among the parliament defenders,” said president Dalia Grybauskaite, referring to Lithuania’s independence fights in January 13, 1991 - “For your, and our freedom,” she added.

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Baltic Paramilitary Prepares for Hybr...
Lithuania
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Feb 2017

The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union, a paramilitary organisation made up of civilian volunteers, comprises almost 10,000 members and is growing. It has seen a spike in membership since the conflict in Ukraine began. In light of uncertain United States commitment to NATO - following the election of Trump - and deteriorating security situation in the region, the Baltic paramilitaries may once play a key part in defending the countries against a potential Russian foe. (Multimedia draft: http://rokasanisas.com/riflemen/)

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Ukraine- The lasting impact of landmi...
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
27 Jan 2017

The United Nations estimates some 30,000 square kilometres of battlefields in eastern Ukraine are strewn with landmines, while the total number deployed since war broke out 2014 remains unknown. Civilians, who in some cases are attempting to return home following displacement, are particularly at risk. Despite a September 2014 deal between parties engaged in eastern Ukraine fighting, more than 260 civilians have been killed by landmines since the beginning of hostilities, while more than 450 civilians have sustained serious injuries from mines.

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Chechens seeking asylum in EU strande...
Brest
By Benas Gerdziunas
22 Sep 2016

Chechens fleeing Kadyrov's regime are stuck on the Belarus-Polish border. With a few exceptions, Polish authorities are refusing to accept their applications for asylum. Elsewhere, their plight is largely undocumented and ignored.

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Ukraine: The Wait
Kiev, Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Dec 2015

Completed over the course of three trips to Ukraine in 2014/15, this multimedia piece explores the heavy silence of war - away from the war porn of frontline fighting and Western-Russain power plays. With Ukraine slipping back into the corrupt era of Yanukovich, the anxious wait for reforms, true independence and peace continues.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-30
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
29 Aug 2015

September, 2015. The decrepit reminder of the war in Zolote, Luhansk region, ruins the beautiful vista over the Donbass steppes. Yet, the war is still on going, the steppes are the buffer zone, and the current trenches still scar the landscape, two meters behind the tank.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-29
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
19 Mar 2015

September, 2015. Destroyed building in buffer-zone village Pavlopil, Donetsk region. It was later recaptured by Ukrainian forces.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-28
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Sep 2014

Elderly man listens to street musicians near the Maidan square in Kyiv, September, 2014.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-26
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
16 Mar 2015

March, 2015. The strategic southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol in Donetsk region continues to rely on its heavy-industries, even as shells randomly hit its eastern outskirts.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-27
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
07 Sep 2015

Musicians play in Kyiv metro, September, 2015.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-25
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
07 Feb 2017

February, 2017. A Ukrainian marine sits inside a makeshift dining hall near Mariupol in Donetsk region. The Ukrainian military has experienced significant levels of post-traumatic stress disorder, which goes largely untreated.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-23
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
27 Aug 2015

August, 2015. Sergei, the NCO in charge of the position, looks across the no-man’s land in Popasne, Luhansk region.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-24
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Sep 2016

September, 2016. Konstantine Zarubin sits in his grandparents' home - two floors below the home of his best friend, Edek. In 2014, Edek was killed by a landmine as the boys climbed in a quarry. When trying to seek psychological support, his school headmaster called Konstantine 'weak'.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-22
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Mar 2015

March, 2015. Separatists’ diversionary raid on a railway bridge in Mariupol, Donetsk region, leaves passenger trains stranded in Mariupol, Donetsk region. After many months of idleness, the bridge was finally repaired.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-20
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
30 Aug 2015

September, 2015. Sergei sits during night watch in Zolote, Luhansk region, prepping his gun at the slightest noise in the distance; remains of an exploded 80mm mortar shell is a few meters away. In the morning, his face bathes in the warmth of a late summer’s sunrise – “What a beautiful day, we all woke up alive.” Sergei died on September 23 during a skirmish, one day before he was due to return home.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-21
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Sep 2014

Oka, a refugee from Luhansk, sits in her rented apartment in Kharkiv, September, 2014. She recalls the moments when the bombs started hitting her city, before she fled with her then-husband to Kharkiv.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-19
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Sep 2016

Destroyed industrial building in Luhansk region, September, 2016.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-18
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
25 Sep 2016

Donbass steppes in Luhansk region, September, 2016.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-16
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Mar 2015

August, 2015. Two of Tanya‘s seven children huddle by a television in Kramatorsk refugee centre, Donetsk region.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-17
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

February, 2017. Yura Nogin repairs war-damaged buildings in Marinka, Donesk region, where he now lives with Oksana Sidorenko, whom he met while serving with an artillery detachment in the town.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-14
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
19 Sep 2014

Ukrainian children celebrate national day in Mariupol, September, 2015. Outside the city, battles continue despite the Minsk I ceasefire.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-15
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
09 Feb 2017

February, 2017. Child runs past sandbagged windows in a frontline school in Marinka, Donetsk region. Signposts on the wall direct the children to an underground bunker, where they routinely have to hide from artillery shelling. Additional coloured stickers indicate if the wall is safe to hide behind, if artillery shelling takes place.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-13
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
29 Aug 2015

September, 2016.“I came here to replace the guys who have been here for months without rotation, so someone can go home - not because I’m some big Ukrainian patriot,” says Vladislav, stationed in Zolote, Luhansk region.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-12
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Mar 2015

March, 2015. ‘Psych’, a young volunteer fighter with one of Ukraine’s makeshift battalions ‘St. Mary’ in Mariupol, Donetsk region.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-10
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
10 Feb 2017

February, 2017. The front line town Avdiivka, Donetsk region, has been the epicenter of a recent escalation in fighting. At least eight civilians died here in January alone, as the humanitarian crisis worsened with heating and electricity cut off. Temperatures dropped to -8 degrees at night in unheated buildings. This hole was left by artillery fire in 2014, and a home of a local man — who didn’t want to be named — was completely destroyed in February.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-11
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
10 Mar 2015

August, 2015. The psychiatric hospital in Semyonovka, Donetsk region, saw heavy fighting at the start of the war. According to Human Rights Watch, patients and staff were evacuated on May 26, 2014 “to other facilities in Zhdanovka, Gorlovka, and Donetsk.” All of these territories are now under control of the pro-Russian separatists.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-9
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
24 Sep 2016

September, 2016. Pavel Albulov shows the deep scar in the center of his forehead, left behind after a booby-trap went off after opening the door to a house in Troitske, Luhansk region. He went inside to feed the animals left behind by the fleeing neighbours.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-8
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
10 Mar 2015

August, 2015. Semyonovka Psychiatric Hospital, Donetsk Region, 2015. Signpost reads ‚Exit‘ at Semyonovka Psychiatric Hospital in Donetsk region. It was completely destroyed after heavy fighting. A local man scouraging through remains of a destroyed home claimed the patients were taken to Russia after the evacuation.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-7
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
26 Aug 2015

August, 2015. After months without rotation, the prospects of an entrenched warfare in Popasne, Luhansk region, remain bleak. Faced with increasing apathy from their own society in Ukraine, many soldiers turn to bottle, or worse.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-5
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
27 Aug 2015

August, 2015. Child living on the frontline observes bombardment of Ukrainian positions in the rear, as shells fly overhead in Popasne, Luhansk region.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-4
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Feb 2017

February, 2017. A lone civilian walks on a road near Marinka in the Donetsk region, which has seen near-constant heavy fighting in the last three years. With key infrastructure and transport links destroyed, civilians are often trapped between the front lines

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-3
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
29 Aug 2015

August, 2015. The bomb-damaged Lenin statue seen through the window of a Ukrainian aroured personell carrier in Popasne, Luhansk region.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-2
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
15 Sep 2014

Ukrainian riot police during clashes with protesters, months after Maidan revolution in September, 2014.

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Ukraine 2014 to 2017-1
Ukraine
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 Sep 2014

September, 2014. Lenin statue in Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv, months after Maidan revolution. It was subsequently pulled down by protesters in 2014.

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Last battle against ISIS-11
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 Nov 2018

Kurdish and Arab SDF fighters dance at a military base, around 20 kilometers from Hajin frontline.

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Last battle against ISIS-10
Kobane
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2018

Family members huddle by a grave of a Kurdish fighter in Kobane, Northern Syria.

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Last battle against ISIS-8
Kobane
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2018

A grief-stricken comrade of a killed Kurdish fighter is pulled out of the grave during funeral in Kobane, November, 2018.

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Last battle against ISIS-9
Kobane
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2018

Bones of killed ISIS fighters in Kobane, Northern Syria.

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Last battle against ISIS-6
Kobane
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2018

Mother of a killed Kurdish fighter grieves during the funeral in Kobane, November, 2018.

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Last battle against ISIS-7
Kobane
By Benas Gerdziunas
04 Nov 2018

Poster in Kobane of a Kurdish fighter killed during fights against ISIS in 2014-15.

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Last battle against ISIS-5
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 Nov 2018

Blood and dirt soaked stretched of a field hospital in Hajin frontline, Deir Ezzor province.

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Last battle against ISIS-3
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 Nov 2018

SDF fighters walks next to the frontline against ISIS in Hajin, Deir Ezzor province, November, 2018.

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Last battle against ISIS-4
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 Nov 2018

Arab and Kurdish fighters from SDF man a position in the frontline against ISIS in Hajin, Deir Ezzor province. In the background, NATO coalition aircraft continue hitting ISIS positions. Days later, Islamist counter-attack overran the frontline and killed hundreds of SDF fighters.

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Last battle against ISIS-2
Kobane
By Benas Gerdziunas
06 Nov 2018

Funeral of a Kurdish SDF fighter in Kobane, Northern Syria. He was killed while fighting against ISIS in Deir Ezzor, November, 2018.

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Last battle against ISIS-1
Deir Ezzor
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 Nov 2018

A soldier from the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces looks towards ISIS lines in the distance, Deir Ezzor province.