From migrants trying to reach Europe and the United States to armed conflicts and protests around the globe, Reuters photographers witnessed some of the most important events of the year.
They were in frontline trenches with Ukraine soldiers as Russian troops amassed at the border. They were on the streets in Myanmar when police fired live ammunition at anti-coup protesters. And they scaled scaffolding to capture images of thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump storming the U.S. Capitol
"I didn't want to risk getting crushed or injured by the massive crowd, which was hostile toward members of the media and had already assaulted several of my colleagues that day," said Reuters photographer Leah Millis. "I chose to risk climbing some scaffolding that had been erected for the upcoming inauguration to give me a better view."
Others followed rescue workers out into the Mediterranean Sea where they saved migrants trying to reach Europe, including a boat where a fire had badly burned a Libyan family.
"The sight of burnt flesh peeling off people as they groan, moan, cry, scream in unspeakable agony is not something one forgets," said photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi.
They also captured the joy as families reunited after a year of separation due to the pandemic and the success of farmers using boats to save their cattle from flood waters in Canada.
Below is a selection of some exceptional Reuters pictures taken in 2021 along with the stories behind the shots, directly from the photographers who took them.
Jon Nazca: Lava is seen through the window of a kitchen following the eruption of a volcano in El Paso, La Palma, Spain.
“There is something astonishingly beautiful and hypnotising about seeing a volcano erupt. But it’s a different thing entirely to spend day after day next to a volcano, listening to the incredible noise it makes, the shaking of the ground, the gases that make breathing so difficult, and the ash that falls constantly on your head..
Four days after the eruption started, I landed on the Spanish island of La Palma. I was struggling to find somewhere to stay and at last I found a house on the outskirts of town. I was worried about my safety, the house felt too close to the exclusion zone. However, it had amazing views of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, the perfect place for a photojournalist.
I wanted to capture an image showing what the inhabitants of La Palma were experiencing. I was able to access the house next door with my colleague Miguel Pereira. I went straight to the window in the kitchen and began to set up. Miguel had left a glass of water in the sink and I liked the human element this brought - the warmth of the home contrasting with the heat of the volcano outside. It’s an everyday image, a kitchen the same as any of us might have, but while you are washing dishes, outside a volcano is erupting.
The image is disturbing, even threatening. It could be your house, your kitchen.”
20 May 2021. Gaza, Palestinian Territories. Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Debris fly as smoke rises following an Israeli air strike, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa: “I have covered four wars since 2002, and I’ve lived through many difficult times, including the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas this year. The Israelis would sometimes fire “roof-knock” munitions- a smaller missile fired at the top of buildings in Gaza to warn its residents to leave. The stronger missiles that followed would shake the whole area.
On the eleventh day of covering the bombing of Gaza City, I went back to Khan Yunis, a city in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, to see my family. After a few hours, I received news of the Israeli army's threat to bomb a family's house in the middle of the city's market. Israel has said it provides advanced warning for civilians to evacuate and targets structures where it believes militants are operating. I was exhausted from the previous days covering the war and I hadn’t slept the night before from fear of the bombing in the area I was staying. But I rushed to the scene to capture what happened.
I asked around to make sure I knew exactly where the house was and stood with multiple buildings in front of me so I wouldn’t get hit by any stray shrapnel from the bombing.
When the warning missile hit, there was complete silence from crowds of people who had gathered to watch. Next, multiple high-explosive missiles bombed the house.
Through my lens, I watched as people ran away from the scene shouting “God is great.” Others moved closer to film the bombing with their mobile phones while police tried to move the crowds away as there were still some unexploded missiles. No one was injured or killed in the attack.
In previous coverage of the bombing operations, we saw flames and smoke coming out of the buildings, but this time, the house’s furniture, doors, windows and stones appeared in front of me flying through the air. I felt for a moment that the life of a family, like my family, was vanishing. I left the scene feeling that there is no safe place in Gaza.”
19 Jun 2021. Tbilisi, Georgia. Reuters/Irakli Gedenidze
A composite image of five separate photographs shows a sunspot and the International Space Station in silhouette as it passes across the Sun, seen from near Tbilisi, Georgia.
Irakli Gedenidze: ”About a year ago I got interested in astrophotography. I have always been fascinated by overcoming challenges and shooting the transit of the International Space Station (ISS) across the sun provided many obstacles.
The station transits the sun three to four times a month where I live, but you have to know the exact coordinate of where on earth it will be visible. In reality, due to weather and other problems, you can capture this event only once or twice a year with an astro camera attached to a telescope that follows the movement of the sun. A tiny cloud or slight increase in humidity can ruin the moment, which lasts between 0.5-2.0 seconds. A special filter is required to avoid eye damage.
I left the house before dawn to set up near Tbilisi, Georgia. About 1.5 minutes before the moment, I felt the most nervous and kept checking the focus. I didn’t know until I got home and examined the images on my computer that I had successfully captured this rare moment. After editing and combining five separate frames, you can see that the ISS passed right next to a dark sunspot.
My next challenge is to capture the ISS passing in front of the prominences of the sun - a bright, gaseous feature that extends outward from the sun's surface, only visible using a special filter.”
22 Jun 2021. Ashburn, United States. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein
A man is detained by police after a fight broke out during a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S.
Evelyn Hockstein: “U.S. classrooms have become a political battleground as several Republican-led states enact rules to limit what can be taught in public schools about America's troubled legacy of race relations. I covered local news in Virginia and expected an upcoming school board meeting in Ashburn on this topic could become heated. But I did not imagine that police would haul two people away in handcuffs.
A crowd of hundreds flooded the hearing and quickly became unruly, prompting the school board to shut it down and walk out. Pandemonium erupted. I noticed a commotion at the opposite side of the room and a group of police officers. I worked my way towards the disturbance, but my view was blocked. I jumped onto an empty chair and climbed several rows across the seats to get closer to the action. I looked down and saw police restraining a man with a bloody mouth. A man behind me grabbed my sleeve and shouted at me to move. I was unsure if he was trying to take pictures with his cell phone or was attempting to stop me photographing the scene, but I ignored him and kept taking photos.
Though I was surprised how the night devolved, the chaos and rage that I photographed ultimately felt like another reflection of the tensions that have been playing out across the country for years.”
30 Jul 2021. Mediterranean Sea, Italy. Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi
A Libyan man, who suffered severe burns when he fought a fire on a boat of migrants, and his daughter, also injured in the fire, wait to be medically evacuated off the coast of Lampedusa island in the western Mediterranean Sea.
Darrin Zammit Lupi: “I spent several weeks during the summer of 2021 on board the NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, operating in the central Mediterranean. During that time, we carried out several rescue operations. The second rescue took place at sunrise on July 30 - a boat carrying 64 people off the Libyan coast.
We arrived at the small overcrowded wooden vessel, the migrants had horrific burns caused by a fire. Someone had been smoking a cigarette close to some jerry cans full of fuel, and one of them suddenly ignited.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Osama, a Libyan man travelling with his wife and six children, had grabbed hold of the tank as it was engulfed in flames and flung it overboard.
His action in my eyes makes him a hero and undoubtedly saved lives. But Osama was severely burned on his arms and legs. His 12-year-old son was left in critical condition with horrendous burns all over his body and two of his daughters were badly burnt on their hands and feet.
What I witnessed will stay with me for a very long time. The sight of burnt flesh peeling off people as they groan, moan, cry, scream in unspeakable agony is not something one forgets.
Later that evening, with Osama’s son rapidly deteriorating, and the very real fear that he would not survive the night, the Italian Coast Guard agreed to medevac him to Lampedusa together with 14 other injured people and family members. This photo was taken as we waited for the medevac to take place. In tears, Osama tightly held onto his 16-year-old daughter, both very clearly in pain and under intense shock, a paradoxical moment of poignant, heart rending, exquisite silent beauty amidst the horror.
From Lampedusa, they were immediately flown by helicopter to Sicily where they spent several weeks recovering in hospital. Once fully recovered, the whole family was reunited and after a brief period in a migrant centre, they were relocated to Germany.”
1 Aug 2021. Tokyo, Japan. Reuters/Issei Kato
Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is escorted by police officers at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan.
Issei Kato: “I received a report that a Belarusian Olympic athlete was about to be forced to return home against her wishes and was seeking help. While rushing to the airport I found out the situation revolved around track and field athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya but no one seemed to know where she was or what was going on.
Arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, I happened to find her, standing alone and looking anxious surrounded by several police officers, near the check-in counter. A short distance away, other Belarusian athletes and officials were checking in for their return flight. I managed to confirm that she was the athlete seeking help from the Olympic accreditation hanging from her neck and informed her that I was a Reuters photographer covering the situation. There were only a few media outlets there, but I hoped my presence would act as a deterrent to anyone trying to force her away or harm her.
She asked the Japanese police for help and they decided to move her to another location inside the airport. I captured the moment when they helped her with her bags and she walked to safety.
Tsimanouskaya eventually defected and a few weeks later she was reunited with her husband in Warsaw, where the couple said they plan to make a new life for themselves. She has applied for Polish citizenship so she can run for that country and I would love to photograph her at a future track and field event.”
22 Aug 2021. Grizzly Flats, United States. Reuters/Fred Greaves
A firefighter works as the Caldor Fire burns in Grizzly Flats, California, U.S.
Fred Greaves: “As a photographer covering wildfires in California, 2021 was one of the most challenging years that I can remember. A severe multi-year drought along with sustained hot and windy weather created multiple “mega-fires” that were unpredictable and quickly consumed hundreds of square miles.
It can take hours to navigate around large wildfires in remote areas, so proper planning is critical to make sure you are in the right place. I also have to wear safety equipment and check on weather conditions and local fire activity so I don’t become trapped.
Firefighters were conducting a nighttime controlled burn to clear brush out after temperatures cooled and the wind had died down to protect homes that were potentially in the path of the Caldor Fire in Northern California.
They lit backfires at the base of a hill, expecting it would burn at a moderate pace. Instead, the flames quickly raced up the side of the hill, creating the swirling curtain of fire that silhouetted one of the firefighters. It was yet another example of the unpredictable nature of wildfires.”
27 Aug 2021. Klausenpass, Switzerland. Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
cow is lowered by helicopter after its summer sojourn high in the Swiss Alpine meadows near the Klausenpass, Switzerland.
Arnd Wiegmann: “In parts of Switzerland, cows spend the summer months in the lush mountain pastures of the Alps. In the region of the Klausen Pass, which is 1,948 meters (6,391 feet) above sea level, more than a thousand cattle were due to come back down at the end of August.
Sometimes they need a little help making the trip. A farmer told me about 10 injured cows would be flown out by helicopter the day before the rest of the herd made the annual Alpine drive, or “Alpabzug”.
The cows hung from the helicopter in a special suspension harness on a long rope and were brought down one-by-one in quick succession to a plateau near the top of the Klausen Pass. Waiting farmers and a flight technician received them and quickly released them. Surprisingly, they appeared very calm and did not seem to be anxious after their flight.”
19 Sep 2021. Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. Reuters/Daniel Becerril
A U.S. border patrol officer grabs the shirt of a migrant trying to return to the United States along the Rio Grande river, after having crossed into Mexico to buy food, as seen from Ciudad Acuna, in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.
Daniel Becerril: “The United States was holding hundreds of Hatian migrants at a camp in Del Rio, Texas. Many of them told me they were forced to stand in long lines in the intense heat to receive only one piece of bread and a bottle of water per person every day. "They don't give us food. They want to starve us,” the migrants told me.
Many migrants crossed back over the Rio Grande river to search for food and water in Mexico. At first, the U.S. Border Patrol allowed them to cross the river dividing the two nations. But by the late afternoon, the migrants were ordered to leave the river and return to camp. The agents drove their horses at them, waving something that looked like a whip. I can’t get out of my head what I heard one Border Patrol agent say, "Go back to your shitty country."
When I took this photo, I was standing in the river with water above my waist. One agent leaned over on his horse and grabbed the shirt of a Haitian migrant clinging to bags of food as he attempted to cross the river and return to the U.S. camp. I stayed in the river until dusk taking more photos, being careful not to cross over the border line and avoiding the dangerous currents that have drowned many migrants.
Often my work brings me close to acts of cruelty. I hope this photo will remind the world of the humanity we all share regardless of race, nationality, social class or lifestyle.”
14 Oct 2021. Beirut, Lebanon. Reuters/Aziz Taher
A man attempts to fire a rocket-propelled grenade, falling to the ground as he is hit by gunfire and then retrieved by onlookers, during a protest that turned violent in Beirut, Lebanon.
Aziz Taher: “I had heard about shooting at a sit-in for supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal movement in front of the Palace of Justice in the Tayouneh area of Beirut, an area known during the Lebanese civil war as the “frontline”. I entered the area cautiously and took cover in a corner of a building. The civil defence was helping citizens caught up in the violence and I decided to follow them.
I watched as a fighter crossed into the middle of the street with an RPG launcher on his shoulder and prepared to launch a missile. I took several pictures of him before he fell to the ground. The moment happened quickly and it was painful to watch, a person’s life ending before your eyes.
Capturing scenes like this affects me, bringing back memories of the civil war, but I take these photos to capture the pain of conflict, to try and make people think twice about war as a first option.”
16 Nov 2021. Abbottsford, Canada. Reuters/Jennifer Gauthier
Cows that were stranded in a flooded barn are rescued after rainstorms lashed the western Canadian province of British Columbia, Canada.
Jennifer Gauthier: “In November, massive floods and landslides devastated parts of the Canadian province of British Columbia, with a storm dumping a month’s worth of rain in just two days. In Abbotsford, a city to the east of Vancouver, I saw that I could jump a barrier and walk along the now-closed highway. I walked down to where the highway ended and the flood water began. A group of farmers stood on the highway looking over at a submerged barn and stranded cows in the distance, hatching a plan to get them to shore. Shortly afterwards the police arrived to clear the highway and asked myself and my colleague Jesse Winter to leave. We firmly but politely declined and they said they would let us work while they cleared the highway, but they would return.
The farmers headed out to the barn in boats and a Sea-Doo. A man in a hovercraft did loops around the barn to corral the cattle. The farmers tried a variety of techniques to get the cows to cross over to dry land, but they weren’t having it.
Eventually the man on a Sea-Doo tied a leash to a cow’s halter and swam it across. A group of men pushed and pulled it up to shore. They kept the cow on shore so the other cows could see that one of them had made it over safely, and repeated the process with the rest.”
24 Nov 2021. Dungeness, United Kingdom. Reuters/Henry Nicholls
Migrants are brought ashore by RNLI Lifeboat staff, police officers and Border Force staff, after having crossed the channel, in Dungeness, Britain.
Henry Nicholls: Thousands of migrants a year flee wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa and make a perilous crossing over the English Channel for a better life in Britain. The Channel is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong. Human traffickers typically overload the dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at the mercy of waves as they try to reach British shores.
In November, after several days of high winds and large swells in the Channel, there was a 24-hour break, which would make crossings less dangerous. I expected that a large number of migrants would attempt a crossing that day, even with temperatures near freezing.
The potential stretch of coastline for landings is vast. However, using a mix of rescue vessel tracking and shipping forecast apps, it's possible to identify likely crossing points.
The image shows a boat of migrants, with several children, disembarking on the beach in Dungeness. It was the fourth or fifth boat to be escorted to shore that day by rescue crews from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
The children were remarkably calm. However the adults on board showed an overwhelming sense of relief. They were emotionally and physically exhausted, well aware of the extreme risk they had taken.
I recognised the boy in the colourful checkered outfit from pictures taken by my colleague Gonzalo Fuentes of a group leaving the French coastline earlier in the day. It was a wonderful relief to know that they were safely across, after six hours at sea.
(Picture Editing Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson, Kezia Levitas; Text Editing Lisa Shumaker; Layout Kezia Levitas)
For part one of A Picture and its Story 2021 click