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Lynsey Addario: ‘It’s my job to make sure people care’

Why the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist is compelled to work in conflict zones

Photographer Lynsey Addario at combat outpost Vegas in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 14 October, 2007 

Lynsey Addario remembers the exact date she arrived in Ukraine. “There was a mass of 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, so the New York Times sent me,” she says. “It was February 14, 2022 – Valentine’s day – when I went in.”  

This isn’t the American photojournalist’s first experience at dropping everything to cover a breaking story on 14 February. “On Valentine’s Day 2005, I was sent to cover the death of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in Lebanon. I left my ex-boyfriend sitting at the table.”


Opposition troops burn tyres to use as cover during heavy fighting, shelling and airstrikes near a checkpoint as rebel troops pull back from Ras Lanuf, Eastern Libya, 11 March, 2011 

There have been far greater sacrifices for Addario. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer has spent more than two decades covering conflict and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Darfur, South Sudan, Somalia, DRC, Yemen and Syria for publications, including the New York Times, TIME and National Geographic. The work has brought with it a heavy mental burden from being a witness to trauma and suffering, as well as attacks on her own personal safety, from car crashes to kidnappings. 

Addario is driven to report the reality of what is happening around the world, she explains. “I believe people who can’t be there on the ground need our coverage to understand the complexities of war. There are people much more privileged than others, just by virtue of the fact they were born in a different place. I feel almost guilty that I was born into such a privileged life in the United States. I had loving parents, food, water, shelter. When I started travelling around the world and working as a journalist, I became aware that that was not the norm. How could I not make people more aware of that? It’s necessary.”

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Ukrainian children hold handmade guns and pretend to operate a checkpoint in a village in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, 12 May, 2022 

The conflict in Ukraine was Addario’s focus for much of 2022, including bearing witness to a war crime. She will return in 2023, and isn’t optimistic that the Ukraine conflict will be over soon. “I’d like to say I am, but I’m not.” 

The determination of Ukrainians has made a marked impression on her. “I first saw the resilience at the beginning of the war when people started volunteering to fight,” says Addario. “Ulula, a young teacher, was offering herself up to fight on the second day of the war, crying as she was going into the recruitment centre. I asked her why she was crying. She was scared for her country and scared because she’d never held a gun. But she signed up and she’s still in the military. I’m in touch with her a year later. People haven’t given up.”

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Ukrainian families and elderly are evacuated from villages along the frontline to the Pokrovsk train station in Donbas, Ukraine, 10 May, 2022 

Although it is regularly at the top of the news agenda, the war grinds on, while life for many people in the UK and around the world continues largely undisturbed. “That’s the reason I keep going back, because it’s my job to make sure people care,” Addario says. “It’s human nature to have a saturation point and a need to see some positive things. But the reality is that people in Ukraine are still experiencing horrors every day. It’s the job of journalists to keep the awareness level up and keep pressure on governments to try to negotiate some sort of peace.”

All images by Lynsey Addario.

Lynsey Addario is interviewed in the May/June issue of the RPS Journal. Restless Courage: Ukraine and the World at War is published by Blue Star Press, £45.

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