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On Syrian frontline, Ukraine evokes painful memories

STORY: Abu Ahmad is a Syrian rebel fighter. As he follows the news from Ukraine, he is reminded of the pivotal role Moscow played in turning the tide of the conflict in favor of President Bashar al-Assad. Ahmad and his group held out for years against government forces in eastern Ghouta until Russian air power came to Assad’s aid in 2015.”The aggressive Russian campaign that was held against us has tipped the scales in favor of the enemy. They followed a scorched earth policy.”Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, suffered the longest running siege in modern history – more than five years – before succumbing in 2018 to a Russian-backed offensive.U.N. investigators found the siege and recapture of the region were marked by war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ahmad left eastern Ghouta and ended up in Tadef, along with tens of thousands of other Syrians, when it fell to government forces, leaving through a safe corridor to the rebel-held north instead of risking life back under Assad’s rule. Such corridors were a feature of the war as Assad’s opponents streamed out of defeated enclaves all over Syria.In Ukraine, evacuation corridors have opened in some cities to help residents to flee. But both sides have accused each other of breaking ceasefires. Syria’s main frontlines have been frozen for several years.And the country is split into separate zones where Russia, Turkey and the United States hold sway. Though Tadef is mostly calm these days, the aftermath of war can be seen everywhere. As 26-year-old Sheikh Ahmad Taha watches the news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation”, he has this advice for Ukrainians. “I advise Ukrainians not to go to war with the Russians. Russians are stronger, they have stronger weapons. This is my only advice.”

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