Syrians aid Ukrainians in ties forged by war

NICOSIA – Syrians are mobilising to support Ukrainians, sharing hard-earned knowledge gleaned from years of war involving Russian forces, such as surviving shelling, helping refugees and responding to chemical attacks.

With both Ukrainians and Syrians seeking accountability for the ravages inflicted by Russian forces in their countries, they feel a unique bond is growing between them.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power had appeared to be hanging by a thread after the civil war erupted in 2011, until Russian forces stepped in four years later turning the conflict in the regime’s favour.

“From our experiences in Syria, we might be among those most able of understanding the pain of the people of Ukraine,” said Raed al-Saleh, head of the Syria Civil Defence force, known as the White Helmets.

“Syrians have lived the shelling, killing, and displacement brought on them by Russian forces.

“The time and place have changed, but the victim is the same – civilians – and the killer is the same – the Russian regime,” he told AFP.

During the fighting in Syria, which has claimed over 500,000 lives, the White Helmets have worked as first responders, rescuing thousands from under the rubble of homes shelled by Russian and regime forces in rebel-held areas of Syria.

The fate of Ukraine’s besieged southeastern port of Mariupol, the scene of some of Moscow’s fiercest assaults, has drawn comparisons with the eastern districts of Syria’s north-western city of Aleppo.

The former rebel stronghold was levelled by air strikes in 2016, during a months-long siege.

“Look at the city of Mariupol. This is exactly what we’ve seen in the city of Aleppo in Syria,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told an international forum last month.

He wanted to convey a message that “‘Russia was always a bad actor, Aleppo is proof of that and now it is our turn to suffer’,” Emile Hokayem, analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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