Hoda Khati has suffered years of deprivation under the siege of Syrian government forces in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus. What she remembers most are the cries of her neighbours. hungry children at midnight.
When she saw reports of similar sieges taking place in Ukraine, this time at the hands of Syria’s closest ally, Russia, she said it sparked bitter memories of Syrian survivors of their government’s attempts to starve them into submission. Many spent years in besieged towns as supplies of food, fuel, and medicine dwindled, as people eventually resorted to eating grass, leaves, and even cats.
“I would wake up screaming because they wanted to eat,” recalls Ms. Khati, 42, now the director of a women’s center in the last rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib. With every picture I see, I go back and relive the moments I lived in GhoutaShe added, her voice began to tremble. “It’s very similar.”
Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus besieged from 2013 to 2018, was just one of a long list of rebel-held towns and cities that Syrian government forces and their allies have besieged and isolated from the rest of the country to crush an armed uprising against the president. Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian rule turned into an 11-year civil war. Sieges like this It enabled the Assad government to regain control of a large part of the country.
The Russian military has played an instrumental role in the Syrian war and has supported Mr. Assad in many ways, including air strikes that have targeted and killed civilians. Russian Air Force Hospitals were repeatedly bombed in Syria In order to crush the last pockets of resistance to the government, according to an investigation by the New York Times.
The war in Ukraine, in many respects, follows a guide eerily similar to the war in Syria Siege of cities like Mariupol The targeting of hospitals and schools – all tactics aimed at forcing the population to surrender quickly. Many Syrians blame Russia for providing Siege military tactic to Syria after it was famously used against the city of Grozny to crush separatism in the Russian region of Chechnya.
Haida Mohieldin, 48, said her family lived for two years In the town of MadayaNear Damascus, which was under rebel control at the time and subjected to one of the worst sieges of the war. She remembered that one day her brother, after making a great effort to secure a few bullets, shot a sparrow to feed his family. After he cleaned the bird, he walked away for a moment to light a fire to cook it. But his 5-year-old son caught the bird and started eating it raw.
She said that others in Madaya eat feral cats and wild hedgehogs. Her mother spent a week eating nothing but broth.
The Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent monitoring group, said that about a thousand civilians, including more than 400 children, have died as a result of the siege over the course of the war, due to reasons including starvation and lack of medicine.
In the northern city of Aleppo, once the commercial capital of Syria, government forces besieged the opposition-held half for nearly six months in 2016.
Ahmed Aziz, a survivor of the Aleppo siege and program officer at the Big Heart Foundation, one of the Big Heart Foundation, said some people added wood pulp to thyme, a spice mixture of thyme, in order to stack it up and make it last longer. Relief groups that were in town at the time.
Bakeries have stopped operating due to a lack of flour and targeted airstrikes. Pain relievers and antibiotics quickly ran out and people relied on medicinal herbs used in teas such as chamomile, lemon, and wild thyme to treat illness and pain. But even those quickly became rare and people were searching networks of friends and neighbors only to find a small amount.
As in Ukraine now, the weather near the end of the siege of Aleppo was very cold. Everything that could be burned was, including doors, sofas, and window frames. At his home where 11 people live, Aziz said he burned an entire bag of summer clothes at once — using a few pieces of clothing as a igniter each day to keep warm.
Mr. Aziz said about Ukrainians under Russian attack. “Feel them and say God is with you.”
To keep generators running, especially those that power field hospitals, most of the besieged areas of Syria have switched to burning plastic once they run out of regular fuel. Residents said the fuel extracted from plastic bottles and containers was particularly toxic, often clogging generators.
In Ghouta, Ms. Khati said she spent months in basements, and eventually was forced to leave her home. When despair set in, long after the population had eaten all the chicken, they resorted to eating chicken feed, grinding it and making bread from it. She recalled how her family would buy a potato – whatever they could – to use as a remedy for any stomach ailment.
Although Ms. Kheti closely follows news from Ukraine, she said some images are difficult to view, such as the video clip that appears in the aftermath of a deadly air strike.
March 7th marks the fourth anniversary of her brother’s death in Ghouta. He and one of his neighbors ventured out of the basement where they were sheltering to get water for the families there. She said he was killed minutes later in an airstrike. It was just a few days ago from the area give up Ms. Khati and her surviving family members boarded evacuation buses to the northwestern province of Idlib, never to return home.
“We don’t wish this on anyone, not even our enemies,” she said.
in Damascus Moadamiya Suburb Noureddine Moukheiber, 34, who now lives in France, said that after a plastic-fuel generator failed at night, doctors had to operate on a patient using only four or five small light bulbs, the ones at the end of cigarette lighters.
The Syrian regime has repeatedly blamed the siege on opposition-held areas, saying it was the rebels’ fault.
“We didn’t understand what the siege was when it started,” Mukheiber said. “We didn’t think it would last that long and people would starve in such a systematic way.”
In the first weeks of the three-year siege of Moadamiya that ended in 2016, some residents tried to flee through the town’s agricultural fields. But he said they were killed by regime snipers.
“That was a message for us,” he said. “You will die by snipers, by bombing or by starvation.”
Attacks on those fields made them inaccessible. Instead, people started planting tomatoes, lettuce and chard in any patch of soil between homes and along roads, Mr. Moukheiber recalled. The people lived on one meal a day and in the last months of the siege, which often consisted of raw olives, bitter and barely edible and any green plants.
Once he came home after a day of not eating anything. He would go out all day documenting the air strikes and asked his mother what he was eating.
“I couldn’t get anything,” she told him. “Go to the kitchen. There is an olive dish.”
He ate five raw olives despite their bitter taste, which he still remembers to this day. They made him sick for two days.
He said it was common for people to pass out due to malnutrition.
Having lived through a war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and forced millions from their homes, Mr. Moukheiber hoped their experiences would at least serve as a lesson to the international community.
“The same scenes are repeated,” he said. “If you are not going to intervene in Syria, at least learn from it and protect others.”
Howayda Saad Contribute to reporting from Beirut
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