Russia's indiscriminate onslaught of Ukraine brings back haunting memories for Syrians

This picture taken on April 1, 2022 shows an aerial view of a giant sign being raised by protesters depicting Russia's President Vladimir Putin as an octopus with its arms wrapping around the countries of Georgia, Syria, Ukraine, and the world globe during demonstration in the city of Binnish in Syria's northwestern rebel-held Idlib province
4 min read
07 April, 2022
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has brought back painful memories for Syrians, who see the same military tactics being used on Ukrainian civilians as them. This has resulted in unprecedented solidarity between people from the two countries.

Inaction over Syria gave Putin the green light for Ukraine. This seems to be the general consensus among Syrian survivors about Russia's current bombardment of Ukraine. 

For many, the feeling is all too familiar. Russia has been carrying out attacks on Syrian towns and cities since 2015, in support of Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime.

The result: thousands of deaths and a continental refugee crisis. 

"As the war lingers on, many Syrians fear Ukraine may suffer the same fate as their own country as an experimental laboratory for weapons and war crimes"

Yet, shared trauma has concurrently led to shared solidarity between Syrians and Ukrainians, ranging from social media posts to mass protests, and logistical support to artistic homages. 

One Syrian artist, Aziz Al-Asmar has used his platform to send a message of solidarity to Ukrainians, while also trying to tell the world the pain Syrians have suffered at the hands of the same enemy. Aziz's paintings, done on rubble in Idlib are also a harsh reminder of Russia's indiscriminate airstrikes. 

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“We have terrible memories of Russian attacks and the destruction. That’s why we sympathise with the Ukrainians and we support their resistance,” Aziz told The New Arab

“We understand their suffering as we have witnessed terrible atrocities on our own lands,” he added.

Syrian artists Aziz Asmar and Anis Hamdoun paint a mural amid the destruction, depicting the colours of the Russian and Ukrainian flags, to protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine
Syrian artists Aziz Al-Asmar and Anis Hamdoun paint a mural amid the destruction, depicting the colours of the Russian and Ukrainian flags, to protest against Russia's military operation in Ukraine [Getty Images]

As the war lingers on, many Syrians fear Ukraine may suffer the same fate as their own country as an experimental laboratory for weapons and war crimes. 

Abou Ayman, an expert on the Syrian Revolution, told The New Arab: "In targeting and attacking public places: hospitals, schools and shopping centres; Putin is using the same tactics he employed in Syria."

“[For Ukrainians and Syrians] Our enemy is now one but unfortunately the world has only just realised the extent of Russia's aggression," Abou Ayman added.

Russia's involvement in the Syrian Revolution was spurred by an official request from the Syrian regime for military support. Russia has since enforced a no-fly zone which has killed hundreds of civilians in mass airstrikes. 

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Public attention toward the war on Syria in the West has ebbed and flowed, but broadly the war has been weaponised by right-wing politicians to push policies of isolation, tough border restrictions and xenophobia.

As of yet, the same cannot be said about the war in Ukraine. 

"A refugee does not choose to be a refugee, but is forced by harsh and cruel conditions"

Fared Al Mahlool, an independent photojournalist covering the humanitarian crisis across Syria told The New Arab: “When displaced Syrians began to flee Syria, most countries closed borders, so many died at sea.

“A refugee does not choose to be a refugee, but is forced by harsh and cruel conditions,” added Mahlool.

In a terrible twist of fate, some Syrians are now twice a refugee of Russian aggression.

Jana Kalaaji, a Syrian student in Ukraine who originally fled from Syria to escape from Russia’s aggression, working hard to enrol herself at a university in Ukraine, has been forced to escape war again, becoming a two-time refugee.

“I am seeking a second chance to become a doctor but it feels like my effort has been wasted in a blink of seconds so I’m having daily breakdowns and increasing anxiety as I’m very worried about my future,” she tells The New Arab. 

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Jana had escaped from Ukraine to Germany, but she has no idea what her future in Germany is, she is unsure whether she will get accepted into a university there, and if she does, starting from scratch again is her only option left.

The psychological trauma will live on with those who escaped the unimaginable horror forever and some still have physical wounds that remain grief-stricken.

The New Arab spoke to one bomb survivor, Kholoud Alwan, who fled from the Syrian war to Turkey. “I still carry the trauma from experiencing brutal violence in the Syrian war, my memory is scarred and physically I’ve lost my arm after being trapped under the rubble for hours.”

For many Syrians, Russian intervention in Syria had set the tone for the war in Ukraine. The success of Putin in Syria was his incentive to push Russia further, especially because of the political apathy of the West towards the war in Syria.

Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese British journalism graduate from Kingston University in London covering Lebanon.

Follow her on Twitter: @Rodayna_462