A thousand miles from Ukraine, Syrians in Idlib fear history is repeating itself

Ukrainians have been living, suffering and dying under withering Russian air, artillery and missile strikes. Their plight and resistance are perhaps nowhere better understood than in Syria's Idlib province. There, Syrians who oppose president Bashar al-Assad are in their 11th year of resistance against him and his closest ally Vladimir Putin. Abdul Razzak el-Shami and Ali Rogin report.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Ukrainians have been living, suffering and dying under withering Russian air, artillery and missile strikes.

    Their plight and resistance is perhaps nowhere better understood than in Syria's Idlib province. There, Syrians who oppose President Bashar al-Assad are in their 11th year of resistance against him and his closest ally, Russia's Vladimir Putin.

    Producer and videographer Abdul Razzak el-Shami calls Idlib home, and he worked with our own Ali Rogin to bring us this report.

  • Ali Rogin:

    A thousand miles from Ukraine, Syrians in Idlib province commemorated 11 years of war, perpetuated by a common enemy, Vladimir Putin.

    For much of the last decade, Putin's punishing air campaign has propped up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his murderous campaign against his own people.

  • Ahmed Abu Hajar, President, Idlib University (through translator):

    Of course there is one criminal, whether in Russia, Ukraine or Syria, and that is Putin. It was Putin himself that targeted hospitals and schools, infrastructure and educational buildings in Syria and in Ukraine.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Idlib's people are under constant threat of Russian airstrikes. But their province is the only one still controlled by anti-Assad rebels and Islamist insurgents, after 11 years of war sparked by peaceful protests against the arrest of teenage graffiti artists who were inspired by the Arab Spring.

    The demonstrations began in March 2011 and were met with vicious force. The crackdown grew into a full-on civil war, pitting rebels, including military defectors, against the regime. Putin began airstrikes to support Assad in late 2015, and they continue today. So does their close relationship. Syrians in Idlib fear history is repeating itself in Ukraine.

  • Abdel Kafi Al-Hamdo, English Teacher:

    Because the world was ignoring what's happening in Syria, and this is repeated in Ukraine. And this will be repeated everywhere.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Almost half-a-million people have been killed, including more than 40,000 women and children. It's also the source of the world's largest refugee crisis. Almost seven million Syrians fled their country.

    An additional 6.7 million are internally displaced. They have ended up in places like the Kafr Lusin camp just north of Idlib City on the Syrian-Turkish border. Here, a spring snowfall brings disaster and must be cleared from tents to avoid collapse. And tiny hands have no way to stay warm.

    Many of the residents here are from cities long ago captured by Assad. Ahmed al-Khalif, from the northern city of Hama, has been here 11 years.

  • Ahmed Al-Khalif, Internally Displaced Person (through translator):

    To this day we live in camps because of the bombings by the Russian planes. This is our reality now, snow, bitter cold. We just want to go home.

  • Ali Rogin:

    But as long as these camps remain home, residents look for ways to pass the time. Lately, they have been following news of the war in Ukraine.

    Abdul Salam Yusuf is among them. He supports the Ukrainian people but resents how the world seems to classify Putin's victims by race.

  • Abdul Salam Yusuf, Internally Displaced Person (through translator):

    we wish to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, who share the same sad fate as us because of this criminal.

    But at the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine, we got a sense of some of the attitudes of world leaders. They call Ukrainians Ukrainian citizens, while Syrian migrants are called beggars and refugees.

  • Ali Rogin:

    But that anger is for heads of state, not the Ukrainian people. For them, there are messages of support, spoken in the universal language of art.

    Painter Aziz Al-Azmar takes homes destroyed by Russian bombs and turns them into canvases.

  • Aziz Al-Azmar, Artist (through translator):

    With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have felt that this scene is very similar to what happened to us in Syria. We also saw Ukrainian children and Ukrainian citizens fleeing from their villages and homes, just like what happened in Syria.

    If we don't put a stop to this, Russia will go further and invade all the weaker states it can. This is why we have come to paint on the walls of our destroyed homes pictures of Russian jets, a Russian bear invading Ukraine, to send a message to the world that this killer is uniting us in Syria and now in Ukraine.

  • Ali Rogin:

    As war in Syria surpasses a decade, its people still pray for peace and for Ukraine's war to be measured in months, not years.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Ali Rogin.

Listen to this Segment