Winners of General News – Stories | World Press Photo 2021
Here is a look at the heartwrenching tales from the General News–Stories category of the World Press Photo 2021 contest.
Over the years, World Press Photo has played a pivotal role in showcasing significant stories—revolutions against corrupt governments, migrations due to conflicts, the battle of survival of endangered species, and stories of hope and resilience. The contest recognises and awards the best visual storytellers who have gone out of their way to document these moving narratives, with an aim to bring about change. This year’s winning images represent perseverance, as the world grapples with a pandemic amidst ongoing chaos and destruction. However, there is a glimmer of hope, as a few citizens have begun to take charge.
First Prize: Valery Melnikov, Russia, Sputnik
Paradise Lost: Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh resumed in September, after a lull of 30 years. When the Soviet Union was crumbling at the end of the 1980s, ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, part of Azerbaijan, took advantage of the power vacuum and voted to join Armenia. Fighting intensified after the Soviet Union finally dissolved in 1991, and continued until a ceasefire in 1994. More than 20,000 people died and a million people, both Armenian and Azerbaijani, had to leave their homes. Victorious Armenians declared an independent state. In the intervening 30 years, little has been done to resolve the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and there have been periodic military clashes between the two sides. A July 2020 border clash triggered massive protests in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, with thousands of demonstrators calling for the country to go to war with Armenia. Renewed hostilities, which each side blames the other for starting, began on 27 September in what became known as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Conflict continued until 9 November, the worst fighting the area had seen since the 1990s. In a settlement brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained possession of territory lost in the 1990s, but the regional capital, Stepanakert, was left under Armenian control. Although fighting is over, reconciliation will prove difficult both to Armenians who feel they have lost their homeland and are now displaced and to Azerbaijanis returning to a region ravaged by war.
Second Prize: Roland Schmid, Switzerland
Cross-Border Love: Switzerland closed its borders for the first time since the Second World War, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In towns like Riehen and Kreuzlingen, citizens had barely noticed the borders with Germany for decades, and had crossed freely. The closure lasted from 16 March to 15 June. Barrier tapes indicated boundaries that should not be crossed, retracing borders that had been reinforced with barbed wire during the war. In some places, these barriers became meeting places for people who were no longer allowed to be together. Despite regulations to restrict movement and socialising, many individuals found inventive ways to see their loved ones.
Third Prize: Laurence Geai, France
COVID-19 Pandemic in France: The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Europe were reported in France on 24 January. Reports of infections in other European countries followed quickly, and on 13 March the World Health Organisation declared Europe to be the epicenter of the pandemic. By the end of March, Paris and its suburbs accounted for more than a quarter of the 29,000 confirmed infections in French hospitals, with 1,300 people in intensive care. France went into home lockdown between 17 March and 11 May, with restrictions in Paris being extended to 14 June. Schools, cafés, restaurants, non-essential shops and public buildings were closed, and people outside the home had to carry identification and signed declarations for any travel. Care homes were closed to visitors. Hospitalizations reached a peak in April, with 7,148 people in intensive care, when ICU capacity was only 5,000. Specially converted trains transported patients from overcrowded hospitals to regions that had fewer cases, and the French military airlifted critical cases from eastern France to hospitals in neighboring countries. As the death rate rose, morgues filled to capacity and ad hoc mortuaries were opened in places like the refrigeration hall of Paris’s Rungis wholesale food market. Funeral homes were ordered to bury or cremate bodies immediately, without any ceremony, mortuary preparation, or anyone in attendance.
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