‘The couple were just strangers blocking my view. But as they reached out and embraced each other, it seemed an optimistic image representing the young people of a city that had suffered’

I first visited and photographed Sarajevo in 1996. I had been volunteering in neighbouring Croatia and managed to hitch a ride in to Bosnia in a UN vehicle. The war and siege had ended a few months before and the city was enjoying its long-awaited peace. Sarajevans took to its scarred streets in huge numbers, meeting with friends and drinking coffee safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t be struck down by a sniper or shell.

The destruction of the city at that time was jaw-dropping, surreal and seemingly total: rows upon rows of broken, bombed-out high-rise flats; shell craters and explosion indents everywhere; hospitals, offices and factories all in ruins. This was urbicide, a late-20th-century Dresden or Stalingrad. Everyone who lived through the nearly four-year siege had a nightmare to share.

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