The images in this exhibition were captured between 2013-2014. By this time, the Syrian people had become accustomed to living in a warzone since the popular uprising erupted in 2011. The images do not reflect the situation today.
In Damascus, car owners switched off their car alarms so as not to disturb the neighbourhoods in which they lived. The pigeons at Marjeh Square still take flight at the sound of an explosion, but people have become used to the sounds of war.
Damascus's impressive Old City is characterised by great beauty, but also a calmness that has survived through centuries of war. The air, filled with the aromas of spices, can make you giddy, but this is something you can only experience in the Old City. A suburb of the city, known as Ghouta, which in Arabic means "gardens," is a place where many poor and uneducated Syrians used to live, but has become a stronghold for the uprising and the fighters of the Free Syrian Army. It can be a deadly mistake to go there from the Old City. In some places, just crossing a highway could suddenly land you in rebel-controlled territory.
Despite this, life goes on in the city with shops and hookah cafes open, bustling streets, and checkpoints every two hundred meters. People are still smiling but everyone knows that they could be killed at any time and their beloved, mysterious, ancient city destroyed.
In Palmyra, imposing stone colonnades still stand below stark hills dotted with tombs. The columns still glow peach-pink in the afternoon sun, passive, as if unimpressed by what is, after all, not the first war they have witnessed. At the Temple of Bel, one of the most well-preserved buildings in the ancient city of Palmyra despite being built in the 1st Century, a prominent column bears a new scar. A mortar shell has left its tell-tale mark on its stone, and although the structure that has stood for 2,000 years, it has refused to budge. Elsewhere, two other columns have collapsed, say officials, and bullets have pockmarked the walls. However, compared to the wholesale destruction that was feared, the damage, for now, is minimal. Despite this, the war has left deeper, less obvious wounds. Illegal digging, which has long been a problem at the many sprawling archaeological sites in Syria, accelerated over the first three years of the conflict. Grave robbers, some crude, others professional, have stolen numerous objects from Palmyra's tombs, say museum officials.
For both sides, Homs, a central Syrian city located on an important crossroads that had diverse pre-war population of 1 million, is crucial for the future. The government hopes it will be an example of reconstruction and reconciliation. The exiled opposition coalition, while condemning the continuing blockade of the Old City, last week called Homs “key to a democratic solution for a united Syria.”
On the edge of Homs's Old City, children play beside a house destroyed by shelling. An antique wood-framed mirror leans against the wall so that soldiers can look for threats coming from around the corner. A block closer to one of the city's last frontlines, rubbish, rubble, and rusted cars litter streets of charred and jagged buildings.
Sergey Ponomarev is a freelance photographer based in Moscow, Russia, and is best known for his work covering wars and conflict in the Middle East as well as the migrant crisis in Europe.
From 2003 to 2012 he worked for the Associated Press before going freelance. Since then he has worked mainly for the New York Times, but also for other publications including Paris Match, Volkskrant, Stern, Figaro Magazine. In recent years Sergey’s work has taken him to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, as well as Europe, Russia and Ukraine.