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Geopolitics

Marah's Diary, Part 1: Childhood Hunger In Syrian War

A Syrian girl walks past Syrian army soldiers in Harasta, near Damascus
A Syrian girl walks past Syrian army soldiers in Harasta, near Damascus
Marah

As part of a collaboration between Syria Deeply and Rookie, we’re publishing the memoirs of a teenage girl living in the midst of Syria’s war. Marah, as she’s chosen to be known, lives in a city under siege. She was 15 years old when the uprising began. This is the first in her series of articles.

My city was once magnificent. In spring, it bloomed. We used to wake up to the sound of birds chirping and to the fragrant scent of flowers. Today, spring is here again. But what kind of spring is this? We now wake up to the sound of falling bombs.

Every day, we open our eyes to our bleak reality: to the mortar shells that bring fear, death, disease and destruction. It has robbed us of our loved ones, destroyed our special places, hurt our close friends. Take my neighbor's daughter. At just seven years old, she has lost the ability to speak after a rocket landed close to our street.

Today, my city’s familiar face has been replaced by the suffering of its residents: the young boy who has been exposed to chemical weapons and is unable to receive treatment. An old man who feels powerless after he lost his legs. A young man who wears black sunglasses as if to hide a severely scarred face that frightens children. A young woman who is now blind after doctors couldn’t extract the shrapnel from her eyes because they lacked the proper medical equipment and medication.

The shelling has turned my city into a ghost town of decrepit buildings and charred trees. Even our animals weren’t spared. You often see a limping dog, a dead cat or a bird mourning its destroyed nest.

The bombings have not only altered my city’s face, but also fundamentally changed its people.

During the hardest times, when bombs fell from the sky, we dreamed of bread. We rationed our food intake to one meal a day, depending on whatever greens we could find for sustenance.

I remember well the day cattle food was smuggled into the city. We milled the animal feed to make dough. It didn’t take us long to get used to the bad taste and weird texture of our new “bread." It brought us a semblance of happiness with the little olives, juice or yogurt — Syrian food staples — that we had. Our only concern was to eat. One can never get used to sleeping on an empty stomach.

Our collective will to eat meant we started getting creative with the cattle feed, also known as fodder. We cooked it as if we were cooking rice or wheat. We became so accustomed to it that we almost forgot what chicken, meat and fruit looked like.

One of the hardest days was when we heard that a car carrying fruit and candy had entered the city. At first, we were beyond thrilled, but our happiness was fleeting. The exorbitant prices for the items on display meant no one could actually afford them.

That day, a young boy with holes in his shoes squeezed his mother’s hand as they passed by the fruit car. He begged her for an apple. Holding back her tears, she promised to make him “fodder cake” when they got home. Similarly, a father ignored the car carrying the goods and picked up the pace as he dragged his daughter, who was demanding a banana or an orange. Who would believe that the availability of fruit would be worse than the lack of it? Is it not a child’s right to have an apple, a banana or a small piece of candy?

In this world, we have been stripped of our rights, starting with food. We try to entertain ourselves to forget our hunger, but there is no power and it is difficult to be without electricity after our lives once depended on it. I feel as if I’m living in the Stone Age. We wash our laundry by hand and burn wood to keep warm. In this new world, everything we know is gone. We miss the things we took for granted, like TVs and laptops.

Nowadays, the children refuse to stay indoors. My younger brother gets bored quickly, so my mother keeps him busy by delegating him the task of breaking firewood. His small hands have become thick and calloused. He executes his chore with anger and an air of rebellion. He now lives with a prevailing sense of deprivation. His feelings, along with mine, have altered without our knowledge or will.

I find myself forming a grudge against people who live outside my city. I wonder, why did this happen to us? What fault have we committed to live this bitter reality? Why were our childhoods stolen?

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Photo of three ​Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Anna Akage

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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