By early December of last year, the news out of East Aleppo had grown dire. Families witnessed and experienced staggering violence and were ultimately forced to flee their homes and leave their city behind — not knowing if or when they might be able to return.
Those fleeing included some of our own Syrian colleagues and their families. The dangerous circumstances they faced in the last few weeks before leaving make us even more grateful that our entire team made it out safely.
Before leaving, some of them wrote down their stories, sharing the overwhelming fear that pervaded East Aleppo in the final days before they left. Read their incredible stories — in their own words — below. (For security reasons, we cannot reveal their identities or share their photos.)
A man receives a food basket in Aleppo City before the city fell. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
One colleague who shared his experience buying basic supplies is married and, at the time, his wife was pregnant with twins.
“When I heard about besieging the Syrian cities like Az- Zabdani and Madaya, I never imagined how horrible the suffering that the people experienced there.
"The shops have become empty even of mice; no canned foods, no sugar, no tea, no coffee or even the simplest basics a family needs in order to survive."
Since Aleppo fell under complete siege, we have been leading a totally different life. I have been getting up to look for the daily needs of my family. There is nothing to buy in the market. The shops have become empty even of mice; no canned foods, no sugar, no tea, no coffee or even the simplest basics a family needs in order to survive. I keep walking looking for some locally produced vegetables but one is only able to find some eggplant and greens if he is lucky. While I am on my disparate journey, I hear the airstrikes conducted by the warplanes. No wonder, we got used to this habit we has become part of our bitter reality!
I turned to an entrance of one of the buildings, sheltering from the terrible bombardment where rockets were falling heavily. I thank Allah that I am still breathing. I keep on looking for some medicines which have become completely unavailable in the pharmacies; my wife is in dire need of these medicines because we are expecting twins in the coming months. I didn’t stock any milk powder or diapers which my twins would need because I didn’t expected that the situation would be as worse as it is now. It never came to my mind that I would lie to my wife and pretend that I am full when we are eating, in order to leave the rest of the only loaf of bread for her to eat!
Yet, I have full trust that Allah won`t leave us alone during this ordeal.”
Displaced families in Daret Azza, Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Radwan Awad/Mercy Corps
Another colleague, who is married, described his experience trying to purchase candles.
“This story took place two days ago. I left my house in Tariq Al-Bab neighbourhood to visit a friend of mine in Al-sha'ar neighbourhood in order ask about how they are holding up, mitigate the pressure I am under and make my morale up.
I was walking slowly turning right and left looking for an appropriate entrance among the buildings in order to turn to in case I need to shelter from a sudden airstrike. The people were panicked and were walking quickly in an attempt to meet their different needs, which forced them to go out of their houses; panic was characterized in their facial expressions with every airstrike they hear – near or far. We lower our heads until we realize that the airstrike is not over us and continue to our destinations.
While I was walking, I could hear the warplane conducting airstrikes launching a cluster rocket, which explodes in the air. A while later I could hear a series of explosions while I was trying to guess where the airstrike took place, and walking quickly in order not to be the next target and still looking for a shelter in case of emergency.
On my way, I came across a candle seller on the side of the street. I went back and asked him how much a candle was. He answered it was 150 SYP [$0.70]. I said oh my God; Allah might be in help of the people if a candle cost 150 SYP. After a second thought, I decided to buy some because they were helpful even if they were high in price and I might not find them somewhere else.
I told the seller to give me four candles. He opened a package of candles and counted four for me. He looked for some plastic bag in a cartoon by him to put the candles in. A long time passed and I started to be fed up but he didn`t manage to find one. I could hear the airstrikes and the ambulance and civil defense vehicles. I was in a hurry so I told him to give me all the candles. Suddenly, I remembered that I didn't identify the entrance.
While I was looking for one, I heard a warplane approaching closer and closer. It was above us. I ran along with the seller to the nearest entrance. The seller thought that the airstrike was far and over. He wanted to get out. I grabbed him and pulled him inside again as I knew it was a cluster bomb exploded in the air and it was not over yet. As I wanted to clarify that to the seller, the explosions started and the place was filled with shrapnel and dust.”
A Mercy Corps team member interviews an evacuee from Aleppo city.
"In fact, I have never been afraid as I am now. I look at my daughters, husband and big family. I have great fears that something bad might happen to them."
This colleague has a large family. Her relatives are struggling to survive due to lack of food.
“The worst thing is the feeling I have during the intensified bombardment where I look at the martyrs including children and wonder when our turn is.
In fact, I have never been afraid as I am now. I look at my daughters, husband and big family. I have great fears that something bad might happen to them. Fear and panic are controlling me because I have already experienced the bitterness of losing someone I love and I don't want to do that again.
I have a very poor aunt. She has a family of seven members. Before the besiegement, she was relying on donations of other people and the work of her 10-year-old son selling snacks in the streets. Her husband is unemployed. I arrived at her house at the time of breakfast. They were having some vegetable oil and thyme. When it was available, they didn't have the money to buy sugar. They rely on firewood in cooking which was mostly rice, bulgur, lentils and pasta prepared by vegetable oil.
My Aunt is pregnant. Every two or three days, she has to go to the hospital get nutritional injections and pills. Because of the lack of vegetables and fruits which pregnant women need, she is feeling dizzy and falling down.
She was crying because she had concerns that there would be no distributions of humanitarian aid and that what they had was running out. She had concerns with the advent of winter where they have no fuel to use especially at the time of delivery of the baby.
In short, before the besiegement, the populations were struggling to survive. The besiegement increased their level of vulnerability.
Early marriage is one of the possible coping mechanisms for my aunt. Her 15-year-old got married and now she has plans for her 13-year-old daughter.
She has a 14-year-old son who fled to Turkey. He is no longer contacting his family because he thinks that they are the reason behind his misery.
Another coping mechanism they are following is to have bread at only one meal. [Bread is a staple of the Syrian diet and is consumed at every meal.] My aunt gives each member half a loaf in one meal and the second meal is mainly rice or bulgur.
They are exhausted because of the lack of vitamins and sugars. My aunt is getting thinner as she is leaving her share for her children despite the fact that the doctor warned her that the baby will be malnourished.
The family has real concerns that there is no bread because nowadays they relying mainly on it and what they have of flour is only enough for a while.”
Unfortunately, the humanitarian crisis in Syria continues today. We have team members who are helping approximately 2.5 million people affected by the Syria crisis. We provide everything from the basics — like food and water — to art activities for youth to manage their stress.
As we approach the 6-year anniversary of the fighting, Mercy Corps remains committed to helping all Syrians in need.
Your support will allow us do even more. Here’s how you can make a difference:
- Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Syrian families and families in crisis around the world.
- Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page and spread the word about the millions who need us.
- Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help Syrians fleeing the war.
- Sign a petition. Tell Congress that we must continue to support Syrian refugees. Add your name to the list to stand in support with refugees.