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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Those Who Bring Back Hope From Hell

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Yelena Masyuk. Roman Babayan. Arkady Mamontov … The conflict zones — goryachiye tochki — war correspondents. These names and these words have become fused in our minds. Somehow they have become integral parts of our lives. And how many others are there, under fire, in the trenches? How many are there whose names we don't know?

I imagine that there are a lot of war correspondents out there who aren't interested in fame and accolades. They don't care whether we know their names or not. They seek only one thing: to bear witness, to make us understand what they have seen. But what price must they pay to do this? What is it really like there, in the goryachiye tochki?

These thoughts involuntarily entered my mind as I looked at a display of pictures by photojournalist Yury Rost recently. About 20 photographs were hanging there, but one particularly burned itself into my mind. It showed a child's face, bound up in some sort of kerchief. But the girl's expression was anything but childlike: Serious, gloomy eyes looked out at me from the stark, black-and-white photo. She just stood there, her hands at her sides and her legs spread slightly apart. Next to the photo was a brief text describing the fates of children in the Caucasus.

Childhood has passed them by. They haven't gone to the circus or the zoo. They didn't spend their mornings in nursery school or play endless games with their friends in the yards near their homes like I did. Life greeted them with teeth bared. Their first impressions were how to get enough bread to eat each day, how to survive in the harsh conditions of war. Who worries about these children of war?

I have a hard time grasping what is going on in the conflict zones. In Chechnya, in the Balkans, in the Middle East. I don't want to try to understand (I just don't have the strength!) why the United States is controlling the situation in the Balkans or why America feels obligated to interfere in national conflicts, to demand the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic, to bomb Kosovo, to defend Albanian extremists. I don't understand why America's zone of interest extends to the Middle East and why the United States continues to pursue policies there that simply pour fuel on the fires of conflict.

I refuse to understand Europe's position. Why are they passive in the face of the lawlessness going on in the Balkans?

And I am appalled by the so-called Arab-Israeli conflict: People must be mad to murder one another over bits of land. They say that religious views and holy sites have been objects of contention there for centuries. But if even the most enlightened specialists cannot come to grips with these issues, then what hope is there for someone like me?

And I am absolutely incapable of comprehending that thing that is covered up by the name "the Chechen question." How can rage be so blind, a government so helpless, money so damned all-powerful? I can't understand why the United States feels the need to interfere in our "family affairs." I don't understand why Europe is kept up at night by the deaths of Chechen civilians, but doesn't seem in the least moved by the cries of innocent Macedonians.

And what right do the Taliban have to destroy the ancient monuments of world culture? And why is the world practically silent as they do so? How did it happen that religious extremism spread across the world like the plague, turning people into animals? Where did this global madness begin? Can anyone end this long nightmare or is the world condemned to sink into primitive oblivion? Can it be that we no longer even desire peace? Have the profits of war really destroyed our sense of the value of human life?

And what about the children of war? How can these creatures cope alone with burdens that are too much even for adults to bear? Why must they pay the price for the mistakes of world leaders who place principles and national interests above compromises (I still believe that there are always compromises) that could change their lives?

The truth about war can only be known by those who really see it, who hear for themselves the sound of bullets in the air and of bombs the moment before they explode. The moans of the wounded. Only those who have seen the dust of pockmarked fields hanging in the air and have smelled the mixture of smoke and gunpowder and decay. … What prompts some journalists to leave the comforts of a normal live and sacrifice themselves for the sake of truths such as these?

My mind keeps returning to Rost's photograph. The girl just stands there, somehow strongly and defiantly. The more I look, the stronger and more determined she becomes. I even sense optimism.

I hate talking about war. It just seems wrong to discuss death and misery in warm, bright television studios or in a cozy living room with the family gathered around the television set. It isn't right to gloss over war-torn fates while sipping tea or driving through town with the radio playing loud music. Here there is peace, food, laughter and there — the unspeakable. Nonetheless, suddenly, unexpectedly, while chewing on some cake, wrapped in a warm blanket, stroking my cat, I find myself talking about the horrors of war.

Why do we criticize war reporters for over-dramatizing war? Do we prefer to live in a fog of ignorance?

I hate to read about war or to see it on television. But that photograph of the little girl changed the way I think about the world. Rost speaks of war, but he moves beyond the usual hopeless pessimism. He and I together are urging her on: Stand fast! Don't give up! You are not to blame! Stand firm, and we will, too!

And her eyes seem to say to me, "Of course. How could it be otherwise?" I don't remember the exact words, but their sense was clear, simple and something inside me was stirred. It wasn't that she said anything that I hadn't heard before, but she said it with a penetrating human voice.

How many international human rights commissions have come and gone from one or another war zone? How many solemn agreements have been signed by neatly dressed ministers? How much has U.S. President George W. Bush's administration pressured Yugoslavia to surrender Milosevic to the Hague tribunal? And on and on. None of this has the power to change things that such photographs and such front-line war reporting has. These things speak directly to our hearts. And our hearts speak back.

We will dig in and stand firm. And we will overcome, as long as there are some people who are willing to go down into hell and to find there — in hell itself — some bit of life and hope. And to bring that hope back to us and make us see it.

Dasha Barinova is an 11th-grade student in Moscow. She contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.