On Thursday March the 29th, 2018, the Syrian group Women Now for Development released a video in which we hear the voice of one of the many Syrian women still living in basements to flee the regime and Russian bombings.
The name of the woman in the video is not revealed. But plese, listen to her voice.
I am talking to you now and I see the sky is full of planes. I see the bombings. Who are they bombing? I don’t know. Us?
We have been able to do a lot in these past 7 and a half years since the start of the Syrian revolution which has unfortunately turned into a war.
We as women have achieved a lot inside Eastern Ghouta. In the field of education, medicine, relief… I am talking about the suffering of women inside Ghouta.
The woman became the head of her household after losing her husband and father. Some men lost their jobs here because of the shelling. There is a lot of pain to talk about, and a lot of stories.
The rockets are falling now, if you can hear them.
We need a solution. We want a solution to live in safety. We want a solution to resolve the fear and horror that we have. The state of oppression. Or we cry inconsolably, these tears which fall that are hot and painful.
I wanted to raise my voice in this message. I hope it provokes a response from the people who are listening to me.
The following is an extract of a text written by Leila Sibai for an upcoming Special Coverage page on Eastern Ghouta which will be featured on Global Voices.
On February 18, Syrian regime forces, the Russian air force and allied militias started a military offensive of unprecedented intensity on the Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus. As of March 18, the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) for Syria reported 1042 casualties since the beginning of the escalation, of which only 36 were non-civilian. As the days since March 8 have seen intense bombardments by Syrian and Russian warplanes, the number of dead has continued to rise since.
According to the VDC, 30 medical facilities have been hit, 3 of which have been rendered out of service, with a further 6 facilities suspended from services.
Ghouta has been subjected to an almost complete siege since late 2012, when the Syrian regime lost control over the area. In 2013, the regime tightened the siege, preventing food and medical supplies from entering. Ghouta became the harshest and longest-sustained example of the regime’s ‘starve or surrender’ strategy.
During the night of 21 August 2013, the cities of Sin Tarmar and Zamalka in the Eastern Ghouta were hit by the largest chemical attack witnessed in Syria during the entire conflict. Around 1,500 people died.
“Do Others Know We Exist?”
In January, about a month before the beginning of the latest military offensive, shelling began to intensify in Ghouta. People went underground and started to spend most of their time in overcrowded shelters.
In a testimony collected by Global Voices at the start of the military escalation on February 20, Bereen Hassoun, a nurse and mother, gives a harrowing account of her everyday life between the basement and the local medical centre in Harasta in Ghouta.
Life in the basement is rudimentary. People suffer from the cold and have little access to the most basic amenities. Diseases circulate easily between the children due to the unsanitary living conditions.
“The water was very dirty, and I didn’t have diapers for my son. They cost 300 Syrian Pounds (approximately 50 US cents) apiece. Instead, I used a cloth covered with a plastic bag that used to hold the 800 Syrian Pounds (approximately USD 1.55) worth of bread. There was barely enough water for us mothers to wash those diaper cloths. We washed them in the same place we washed the dishes, where we washed our hands and from which drank.”
Sometimes, when the field hospital became too crowded, they would have to move minor cases to the shelter, where they would be treated in plain sight. Injured children would be treated in front of other children.
Bereen gives a raw, painful account of her experience of motherhood under siege. The siege fundamentally affected her ability to provide for the most basic needs of her children. She describes the guilt she feels as she eats secretly, away from the eyes of her children, because she cannot handle the hunger anymore.
“What is motherhood when you can’t even buy a “piece of biscuit” for your son, or ensure a child’s most basic needs because they’re too expensive, too far out of reach, or not there at all because of the siege? When you eat quietly, it feels as if you’re stealing. You eat just because you can’t stand hunger anymore. How do you live when you have to lie to your son, trying to convince him that radishes are in fact apples?”
Bereen and other parents also have to address their children’s well-founded fear of death as the offensive continues. She describes her own fear and pain at the news of the death of her neighbour when the planes hit the building facing the basement.
“We were crying for Umm Muhammad, and because we were afraid. We wondered whether we were going to face the same fate, and whether our children would be rendered motherless.”
The following is another testimony collected by Global Voices on March 1, 2018. This time, Aous Al Mubarak, a dentist in Harasta.
In his testimony, Aous recounts the long plight of Ghouta since the start of the uprising in 2011. He reminds the reader of the initial peaceful protests that were met with violent repression.
“Roughly a year after the start of the revolution, thousands of martyrs and tens of thousands of imprisonments later, after the regime’s lack of response to any of the demands, no matter how small, and its continuation of its brutal crackdown, protesters began to carry weapons.”
Aous then touches upon the many consequences of the siege: the hunger, the shortage of supplies, the increasing prices of commodity products, and the people starving to death.
“The number of dead in Ghouta has reached the tens of thousands, among them those whose requests for medical evacuation were denied by the Assad regime. Despite all the rhetoric about de-escalation and truce agreements, the regime’s crimes have never stopped. Ghouta’s residents hear the news and statements then look at their reality only to find nothing has changed.”
Talking about the latest offensive, Aous mentions the systematic targeting of medical facilities and the tireless work of the civil defence team, the White Helmets, who rush to every explosion site to pull victims out of the rubble, despite the great risk.
But Aous also reminds the reader that, despite all the hardships, life in Ghouta was not always bad.
Ghouta was one of the liberated regions that witnessed great developments in democratic self-governance and grassroots initiatives.
“I do not wish to say that all we have witnessed is horrific, as society has managed to make great strides in democratic self-governance, the most important being the election of local councils in which all, including women, can participate—something that had not occurred under the 50 years of rule by both Assads. We have also witnessed the development of many civil initiatives to reinforce the idea of human rights and societal development.”