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‘A great character, a brilliant photographer, a great colleague.’ Yannis Behrakis, award-winning Reuters photographer, has died aged 58. Photograph: Reuters

Pulitzer-winning Reuters photographer Yannis Behrakis dies aged 58

Respected photojournalist covered violence and upheaval across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia

WT24 Desk

Yannis Behrakis, one of Reuters’ most decorated and respected photographers, has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 58, Reuters reports.

Behrakis covered many of the most tumultuous events around the world, including conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, a huge earthquake in Kashmir and the Egyptian uprising of 2011.

He narrowly survived an attack on a convoy in Sierra Leone and led a team to a Pulitzer prize in 2016 for coverage of the refugee crisis.

The Reuters US general news editor Dina Kyriakidou Contini said “his pictures are iconic – some works of art in their own right – but it was his empathy that made him a great photojournalist”.

“My mission is to tell you the story and then you decide what you want to do,” Behrakis has said. “My mission is to make sure that nobody can say: ‘I didn’t know’.”

Behrakis was born in Athens in 1960. In January 1989 he was sent on his first foreign assignment for Reuters – to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. For the next three decades, Behrakis was regularly on the road covering violence and upheaval across Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

In 1998, covering the wars in the former Yugoslavia, he photographed an ethnic Albanian man lowering the body of a two-year-old boy who had been killed in the fighting into a tiny coffin. Behrakis took the picture from a high position and used a slow speed/zoom technique to create a dizzying sense of movement.

“The picture was very strong and the body of the boy almost floating in the air,” he said of the image. “It almost looked like his spirit was leaving his body for the heavens.”

In 2000, while covering the civil war in Sierra Leone, Behrakis, Reuters colleagues Kurt Schork and Mark Chisholm, and AP cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno, were ambushed by gunmen.

Schork, one of Behrakis’ closest friends, was hit and died instantly, and Moreno was also killed. Behrakis and Chisholm survived the attack by crawling into the undergrowth beside the road and hiding in the jungle for hours.

“I think that changed Yannis a lot,” Chisholm said of the attack and Schork’s death. “He was a great character, a brilliant photographer, a great colleague.”

Behrakis said he hated war, but, like many others, he loved the travel, adventure and camaraderie that came with it. He said Schork’s “memory helped me to ‘return’ to covering what I consider the apotheosis of photojournalism: war photography”.

In 2015, Behrakis and a team of photographers and cameramen worked in relay for months to cover the thousands fleeing wars in Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. It was then that Behrakis took what many consider to be one of his best pictures – of a Syrian refugee carrying and kissing his daughter as he walked down a road in the rain.

“This picture proves that there are superheroes after all,” he explained. “He doesn’t wear a red cape, but he has a black plastic cape made out of garbage bags. For me this represents the universal father and the unconditional love of father to daughter.”

Behrakis is survived by his wife Elisavet and their daughter Rebecca, and his son Dimitri.

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