The woman who shows what war does to people

By Misch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

Disguised as a man among Mujahidin in Afghanistan. Next to snipers in Sarajevo who "shoot at children and women like they'd shoot rabbits". Side to side with children who would rather sell rose oil instead of opium. In a group photo between her kidnappers. Ursula Meissner's pictures show what no one wants to experience.

It was a surprisingly short journey from the "nice blonde in the pink blouse", as a work colleague called her at the beginning of her career, to the "charming picture thief" she sometimes had to be since. Now an internationally renowned war photographer, she experienced her first bombardment some 30 years ago in Afghanistan in a small stream – from which she promptly jumped up to photograph an exploding shell. Only to return home later with a photo of "a pile of splattering dirt". "So stupid of me", as she says herself today. "Hollywood does that so much better."

Still, she has been drawn back to Afghanistan again and again. More than 25 times she travelled the war-torn country – with, among other places, stops in Sarajevo, where she photographed a cellist playing "Yesterday" while hiding from snipers in the fog, or in Sierra Leone, where she documented people who had their arms and legs chopped off with bush knives. Later, she photographed the rebels who had caused the massacre themselves. Ursula Meissner spoke to the Lëtzebuerger Journal during her stay in Luxembourg for a presentation.

Lëtzebuerger Journal: After the bombing in Afghanistan, you vowed never to go to a war zone again. You have broken this promise dozens of times: Somalia, Sarajevo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Iraq … Why?

Ursula Meissner: When we went back to the village after the shelling, I cried all the way and, yes, swore to myself that I would never do that again. But when you look into the eyes of the refugees or the eyes of the children who are so apathetic they can't even cry anymore because they don't have the strength … you have to do it again. I understood at that moment: There are so many stories that need to be told. And in order to tell them properly, there have to be people on the spot who report neutrally. That's what I continued to do.

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The woman who shows what war does to people


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