Yuri Kozyrev is known best for his photographs of conflict—he just won the top award at Visa pour l’Image, the international festival of photojournalism, for his coverage of the Arab Spring. But one of the photographs he’s shot that may have had the most impact is not of a battle, but of a badly burned 12-year-old boy lying in a Baghdad hospital bed, the victim of a misdirected allied bomb during the Iraq war. The picture of Ali Abbas ran in TIME‘s April 14, 2003 issue, generating a flood of media interest in the young Iraqi. Offers came from Canada and Britain to fit him with artificial arms and recover from his wounds, while donations poured into funds set up in his name.
When Kozyrev took the picture eight years ago, he was part of a small, strictly controlled group of journalists the Iraqi government allowed in Baghdad, then still under Hussein’s rule. They were taken to only a few sites, one of which was Abbas’ hospital, to be shown victims of U.S. bombings. “This was the way we could cover it. This was the way they wanted us to see the war,” says Kozyrev. As the journalists were escorted around the hallways, a doctor took Kozyrev’s elbow, pulling him away from the group, to the top floor of the hospital. There, alone with his aunt, was Abbas; asleep, badly burned and unaware that his entire family had been killed.
Kozyrev got off three frames, and talked briefly to the aunt before the doctor took him back to the group. “I was struck by Abbas,” says Kozyrev. “He was suffering. At the time, I don’t think he knew how bad it was.”
“The next day I decided to go to his village,” says Kozyrev, “fill in the details of his story and get confirmation that he was bombed.” With his driver, Kozyrev snuck out of the hotel and headed south out of the city. Stopped once by armed Iraqi soldiers, who let him go once they understood his mission, Kozyrev found the ruins of the farm and an uncle who was looking through the rubble told him about Abbas’ family.
After the photo was published, Kozyrev saw Abbas only once more—at a hospital in Sadr City, where the boy had been moved. When Kozyrev went to check on him, he found a line of journalists waiting to interview Abbas. “He was crying,” says Kozyrev. “By then, he realized what had happened to him.”
In July, for TIME‘s 9/11 commemorative issue, Swiss photographer Marco Grob took Abbas’ portrait in London, while reporter William Lee Adams asked him about his life since the bombing. Abbas, who recently became a UK citizen, talked about hoping to set up a charity for victims of war.
Kozyrev keeps abreast of Abbas’ progress, asking about him through friends in the UK. ”I know he is doing OK,” says Kozyrev. “Or as well has a boy who has been through what he has can be. But people should know he was only one of many wounded kids in the hospital that day.”
To see TIME’s interview with Ali Abbas, click here.