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September 18, 2021

Welcome to Hell, Sarajevo, 1992

“It’s just extraordinary, watching people’s psychological preparation before crossing this 50 meters of open ground thinking they’re going to die. Lovers hold hands and dash across together; the men have this macho thing, walking upright and waving to the Serbs in the hills; some proud women march across in defiance; but other people spend literally minutes just psyching themselves up before they run, heads down. And the old people, of course. So many old people have died here because they just can’t move fast enough. More than anywhere I’ve been, this is a sniper’s war.” – This is the photographer Tom Stoddart describing what has become known as “Sniper Alley,” the most dangerous stretch of street in Sarajevo.

A woman hurries past graffiti in the area known as “Sniper Alley” in Sarajevo’s main thoroughfare, during the siege in 1992. (Photo © Tom Stoddart / Getty Images)

Stoddart spent two and a half weeks in the city, finding out and photographing how ordinary people were managing to exist in the war that has made this one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

He flew to Split, bought a car and drove to Ilidja, the last Serb-held suburb outside Sarajevo, from which he made the hair-raising run along the airport road into the city.

“‘Don’t go there, the Muslims will eat you’ - the soldiers tell you things like that. You just drive as fast as you can. Plenty of people have been killed in the crossfire along this road. We heard that the Serb soldiers get a dollars 500 bounty for hitting a journalist.”

At the entrance to the city is a wall inscribed with graffiti: “Welcome to hell.”


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