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In Timbuktu, Protecting Priceless Manuscripts From Senseless Destruction

In northern Mali, Islamist extremists are on a rampage, destroying Sufi Muslim shrines and historical treasures. In a Timbuktu library, a man has vowed to protect his precious manuscripts from the fundamentalist wrath that has taken over the city.

The Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu (UNESCO/WHC)
The Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu (UNESCO/WHC)
Philipp Hedemann

TIMBUKTU - "If you destroy the library, it's all gone. Everything. Our history, our cultural heritage, our identity. It would mean total loss," says the man who for years has been with the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research library in Timbuktu. He works in the section for medieval manuscripts, archiving and digitizing them.

It's always been a race against the clock, he says, to research and record the precious sheets and scrolls so vulnerable to termites, the ravages of light and more. And it's a race that may now be lost, as the manuscripts he has worked so hard to preserve are threatened with destruction.

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Russia

When Mom Believes Putin: A Russian Family Torn Apart Over Ukraine Invasion

Sisters Rante and Satu Vodich fled Russia because they could no longer bear to live under Putin — but their mother believes state propaganda about the war. Her daughters are building a new life for themselves in Georgia.

A mother and her daughter on a barricade in Kyiv

Steffi Unsleber

TBILISI — On a gloomy afternoon in May, Rante Vodich gets the keys to her new home. A week earlier, the 27-year-old found this wooden shed in Tbilisi, with a corrugated iron roof and ramshackle bathroom. The shed next door houses an old bed covered in dust. Vodich refers to the place as a “studio” and pays $300 per month in rent. She says finding the studio is the best thing that’s happened to her since she came to Georgia. It is her hope for the future.

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Her younger sister Satu Vodich is around 400 kilometers further west, in the city of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, surrounded by Russian tourists, Ukrainian flags, skyscrapers with sea views and the run-down homes of local residents.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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