Syrians recount horror of Russian airstrikes | News from the war in Syria

Images of Russian missiles hitting Ukrainian towns quickly made the rounds in Syria and Ahmad al-Khatib, from Aleppo, was stunned by what he saw.

“It’s going to fill up Aleppo on Ukraine now, isn’t it?” al-Khatib, having lived through the time when the Syrian city was under intense attack, asked in shock. “It’s crazy that what we experienced a few years ago is being played out almost frame by frame in Ukraine.”

Often considered one of the most brutal battles of the Syrian civil war, pro-government forces retook the city of Aleppo from rebels in 2016. This bloody offensive was made possible by heavy aerial bombardment from Russia, including targeting non-combat installations. such as hospitals.

Now, as Russian forces continue their invasion deeper into the heart of Ukraine and launch more intense airstrikes on urban areas, Syrians remember the horror of attacks orchestrated by the same army.

“There were bombs and blood everywhere, and you sleep and wake up to the sound of military planes flying overhead, and then to the sound of airstrikes,” al-Khatib told Al Jazeera. “Houses were shaking, children were crying and we were all waiting for death.”

“I don’t want to come back”

Speaking from his apartment in Turkey where he moved in 2017, al-Khatib said that while he was initially stunned by the Russian attack, he was not particularly surprised at what he saw.

“We have repeated to the whole world that [President Vladimir] Putin is committing crimes in Syria, and Putin is capable of much more than what is happening now,” he warned. “It could get very ugly.”

For years, Russia has used the war in Syria as an effective military training ground. By supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who stood firmly with the Kremlin during the invasion of Ukraine, Putin tested his military capability in Syria as well as the West’s response.

After Putin entered the Syrian war in 2015, Russian forces made their mark in nearly every rebel-held area, shelling both military outposts and civilian areas. Putin launched an extensive bombing campaign to help al-Assad eradicate nearly all opposition forces and turn the tide to regain control of much of the country.

Some fear a similar fate will befall Ukraine as Russian air attacks intensify and residents of major cities including the capital, Kyiv and Kharkiv, frantically flee to neighboring countries amid the worst crisis in Europe since World War II continues to unfold.

“They used everything they could in Aleppo, and although I don’t want to see that, I wouldn’t be surprised if they started using the same planes, bombs and missiles to target civilians in Ukraine,” he said. said Mustafa al-Qaseem, a Syrian who used to live in Aleppo and now lives in Germany. “Just reading the news from afar gives me chills – I don’t want to see those days again.”

“We faced them alone”

The war in Ukraine, like that in Aleppo, is widely documented and shared on social media. Syrians’ desperate appeals during the war, for the most part, went into a black hole.

Putin has continued to act with relative impunity despite reports of bombings of hospitals, schools and other civilian areas by his forces – in clear violation of international law. The intensity of the airstrikes also reached a new high in Aleppo, where Human Rights Watch said Russia and the Syrian government had committed war crimes.

Now, in Ukraine, reports have shown that Russian forces are also shelling civilian areas in major cities, raising fears that Putin may be picking up the old playbook he performed during the war in Syria.

“Years ago in Aleppo, Russia bombed and destroyed the city for months, and the same planes were killing us daily – we faced them alone,” said Ahmed Abazeid, a Syrian from Aleppo. “The world showed solidarity with words and it ended with Putin winning and displacing people.

“I hope we will not see the fate of Aleppo again in Kyiv.”

Empathy for Ukraine

In Syria, empathy for Ukrainians is widespread as many have experienced the ordeal of living under intense Russian air attacks. From offering to go to Ukraine to join the Ukrainian fighting forces to painting graffiti to show their support, many Syrians say solidarity is unmistakable.

“How can I go to Ukraine and fight alongside the Ukrainian army? Is there a way ? I am ready,” wrote Suheil Hammoud, a prominent Syrian opposition figure who now lives in Idlib, on Twitter.

For others, expressing support for Ukraine is more than showing empathy – it’s “another form of justice”, according to al-Qaseem.

From Aleppo, where Russia has carried out some of the most brutal airstrikes, to Idlib, where Putin’s air force is still pounding villages – to watch the war in Ukraine closely is to repair the justice that was not returned to Syria, he mentioned.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked global outrage – from the toughest sanctions imposed on Putin and his oligarchs, to an outpouring of support for Ukraine from around the world. The attack on Ukraine has isolated Russia from the international community.

“I’m happy to see that the world is finally starting to pay attention to what Russia is doing,” al-Qaseem said. “It would be better if they also saw what they were doing and still doing in Syria, but we hope that [Putin] could finally be held accountable so that at least another form of justice can be served for us Syrians.

Comments are closed.