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Masterful reporting reveals the victims of Ethiopia’s Tigray war

Desta Haileselassie sits at his desk in Stockholm, Sweden, Oct. 18, 2021. Cut off from Tigray due to a communications blackout, Desta has compiled a list of more than 3,000 Tigrayan victims of the war, including 19 members of his own family. He is one of many in the Tigrayan diaspora who have waited for months to know whether loved ones are alive. (AP Photo / Nat Castaneda)

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Nairobi-based East Africa correspondent reporter Cara Anna, Stockholm video journalist David Keyton and Copenhagen, Denmark-based immersive storytelling producer/photographer Natalie Castañeda used a distinctive, nuanced approach to explore one of the biggest unknowns in Ethiopia’s yearlong Tigray conflict: the death toll.

The story,funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting,went beyond the numbers,humanizing the horrific toll of the war through a Tigrayan man,Desta Haileselassie,who collects the names of the dead — a groom,a lawyer,an ambulance driver — more than 3,000 Ethnic Tigrayans so far. He reluctantly revealed to Anna that 19 members of his own family had died. Keyton and Castañeda conducted a delicate interview with Desta in Stockholm,while Anna attended online. The listkeeper was deeply affected by his experience but the journalists earned his trust, gently eliciting information from him while careful not to re-traumatize him.

The resulting package is powerful and engaging — and balanced,noting atrocities and victims on both sides of the conflict. It introduces victims by name and goes on to tell their stories. At its most personal it focuses on Desta’s mother,whom he hasn’t been able to reach since June. Instead he listens to recordings he made of her voice.

The photos and presentation by Castañeda are no less compelling as AP continues to lead coverage of the Tigray conflict despite severe restrictions on access. Readers,competitors and experts complimented the work,with one describing it as a “masterpiece of precision, thoughtfulness and humanity.”

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