Interview: Aleppo Survivor Recalls Siege As ‘Worse Than Hell’
Abdulkafi Alhamdo lived through the months-long siege of rebel-held eastern Aleppo with his wife and baby daughter, Lamar, now 11 months old.
An English teacher by profession, the 31-year-old Alhamdo was among a number of civilian activists who used social media to inform the world as his neighborhood was increasingly cut off by the Syrian government offensive, backed by Russian bombing, that finally retook the city in mid-December.
He spoke with Mark Krutov from RFE/RL's Russian Service about his flight from eastern Aleppo after surviving an experience he calls worse than "living in hell itself."
RFE/RL: The Syrian and Russian governments declared their offensive to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo complete on December 13. As part of an agreement with the rebel forces, the international humanitarian Red Cross and Red Crescent evacuated hundreds of fighters and civilians who wanted to leave the city and go to other rebel-held areas of the country. You were on one of the buses. What was that like?
Abdulkafi Alhamdo: I left Aleppo on the last day of the evacuation, exactly on December 18, but it was one of the most horrible evacuations I could imagine. Just imagine that for 20 hours we were on the buses without water, without food, without going to the toilet. My baby daughter was about to die in the bus, but when I asked the members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent for some water for her, they said it was prohibited. I told them what kind of ridiculous thing is that when all the cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs [that had fallen] upon our heads [during the siege] were not prohibited but water for my daughter is.
RFE/RL: What was the reason for the delays?
Alhamdo: It was a kind of humiliation by the [President Bashar al-] Assad regime and the Russian forces. When we left the rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo and were heading toward the countryside, which is under rebel control, we were stopped in the regime areas for 20 hours on the side of the road without any reason. When we asked members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent why, they told us not to ask any questions if we wanted to save our lives.
It's almost as if death is chasing after the people of Aleppo, wherever they are.
Some fighters preferred to go with their families in the civilian evacuation [instead of on special buses], and they were treated badly and some of them were killed during the evacuation.
All the civilians were evacuated through the western suburbs of Aleppo; some went to Idlib province [under the control of the rebels], some of them went to Turkey. But going to Turkey is a dangerous and expensive [journey], so most people went to the countryside west of Aleppo [under rebel control], and that is where I went, too.
RFE/RL: How are things where you are now?
Alhamdo: Nothing can be worse than the situation was in Aleppo. When we lived in Aleppo, life was much worse than in hell itself. So when we were evacuated here and lived for two weeks without any bombing, it was something very unusual for us to live like normal people again. But now, the bombing has started [where we are], the heavy shelling, the rockets from Russian and Assad's planes come again and again and people here are afraid. It's almost as if death is chasing after the people of Aleppo, wherever they are. With regard to the humanitarian situation, there is food and water. There is no electricity, but at least I can get some food for myself and my family.
RFE/RL: Will you leave Syria?
Alhamdo: I've never even thought about it. I want to stay in Syria. I don't want to leave Syria just because of Russia or Assad or Iran [whose professional and volunteer forces are fighting in support of Assad's forces]. This is a kind of occupation. Believe me, what happened in Syria is not a civil war at all, as the media says. This is a war against Syrians, an occupation.
Bombing and shells were falling on us like rain.
I know that Assad and Russia want us to leave for Europe, to Turkey, or to any other place on Earth, but not to live here. When we were living in Aleppo, they gave us only two choices: death or displacement.
Now that we are in the countryside, they are giving us these two choices again: death or displacement.
RFE/RL: During the time you spent in Aleppo, what were some of the things that you will remember for the rest of your life?
Alhamdo: You cannot imagine the suffering that I experienced in besieged Aleppo. There was no water, no food, no medicine. I remember one day when my baby daughter was sick [and] I couldn't find any doctor for her. There were some doctors in besieged Aleppo, but those doctors were occupied with amputating limbs or with life-threatening injuries, so there were no doctors to help my daughter.
She had a very high fever, pain in the abdomen. I was struggling to get at least some medication for her but could not. My wife soon also fell ill and could no longer breastfeed. The only thing I could feed to my daughter was mashed dates and I also mixed crushed rice with water and salt. She was crying all the time and asking to eat.
There are lots of unforgettable moments, but the last week in Aleppo was the most horrible of all. There was a time when I just cried for two days, not for myself but for my family. We were besieged in a very small area, about two square kilometers, 50,000 people, and bombing and shells were falling on us like rain. People were lying on the ground injured and killed, and no one could help them. The building next door collapsed, and I could hear some people crying for help but nobody could lift that roof off them to help them. They were left there until they died.
I hope the things that happened in Aleppo will not be repeated now in the countryside. I hope that our voice is heard around the world, that the UN Security Council, the international community, will hear: Please help us, help the children, help all the people who are now in the countryside west of Aleppo, help as soon as possible.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.