Pulitzer winner explains haunting refugee photo

Istanbul Photo Awards winner recalls story behind harrowing photo of refugees arriving on Greek island

Russian photojournalist Sergey Ponomarev had been waiting for five months before he photographed a group refugees desperately jumping off a boat having reached the Greek island of Lesbos.

That image from November last year later won an award at the 2016 Istanbul Photo Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for depicting the worst refugee and migrant crisis facing Europe since World War II.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency in Istanbul on Wednesday, 35-year-old Ponomarev said policemen were waiting for the boat, which was being driven by the smuggler himself.

"Once the smuggler saw the police he tried to withdraw…retreat from the shore and people started to jump [into] the water," Ponomarev said.

"I captured exactly that moment when people are throwing their possessions, their clothes to the shore and trying to get out of the boat as fast as they can because they felt the boat was retreating from the island," Ponomarev added.

The Moscow native said the weather conditions were rough around the time the photo was taken and that crossing the sea with a rubber boat was very dangerous for the refugees.

"Some of the refugees decided to find a wooden boat or the smugglers found some more reliable vessels for them," he said.

Ponomarev said he witnessed how riot police at border crossings did not have the experience to deal with refugees and children.

"The policeman who had to deal with refugees were mostly [trained] to deal with soccer fans, hooligans, they were riot police," he said.

"They had no experience to deal with refugees, with women and kids and exhausted men who had to walk for hours; we, as journalists, witnessed that and tried to depict those problems," Ponomarev added.

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