"Russia is with you" read bags of aid in Syria. But their delivery often follows waves of bombing targeting hungry civilians.
It was mostly children killed and injured on Monday night when the Russian and Assad regime air forces bombed the besieged town of Erbin. Of the five kids who were killed, some were just infants. They were born and died under siege. Only hours after launching their strikes the Russians sent in an aid convoy just a short walking distance away from scene of the attack. The three trucks marked in Cyrillic arrived at a neighbouring checkpoint carrying sugar, rice, tea, and pasta under the supervision of Russian military police. Bags handed out by soldiers were marked with a Syrian and Russian flag and the words: “Russia is with you”. The aid never made it inside — the soldiers staged the photo op outside the besieged suburbs of Damascus.
Civilians and activists railed at the images. Artino, a siege survivor who made it out of the area after being injured, said “They want to kill us with one hand, and feed us with another. It’s the same thing we saw in other places that were bombed by the Russians like Aleppo and Homs. For their propaganda, they come in triumphantly afterward to pretend distribute bread to the same children they were killing hours earlier. If they are interested in sending in actual humanitarian aid, they’d let UN aid trucks pass. This is just a message to say ‘we can feed you, no one else can’”.
Lina, an activist from Damascus, said “This really felt humiliating. You can see the Russians there, with your own eyes. It’s the first time I feel completely like my country is under occupation.”
Later, eyewitnesses confirmed that eight airstrikes had targeted the neighbourhood in Erbin. They described it as a small crowded area of 150 square metres, with buildings full of families. It was a relatively safe area in the besieged Damascus suburbs – a couple of months had passed without bombing – and displaced families had gravitated there. With a ceasefire announced for the Damascus suburbs only days earlier, the attacks were met with shock.
A White Helmet rescue worker who responded to the attacks said his team showed up to find people running in the darkness – there was no electricity in the besieged neighbourhood. The families had gone to bed and woken up to the explosions going off. “We arrived to find people running and screaming, there was blood everywhere, and people were stuck under the rubble in complete darkness”.
By the time the sun came up, rescue workers were still driving in to carry out injured civilians.
Later, they lined up the small bodies and wrapped them in shrouds. The images are reminiscent of the many other photos of many other kids that have died under the Syrian regime siege of the Damascus suburbs.