Ukraine horror all too familiar for those left behind by Putin's forgotten war in Syria
Peter Smith speaks to two girls who suffered horrific injuries during Russia's bombing of Syria
Russia’s assault on Ukraine has shocked Europe, but children in Syria know all about Vladimir Putin’s merciless bombardments.
At just nine years old, Elif now bears the scars from the last time the Russian leader decided to lay siege to a city.
“It used to hurt here,” she shows me, pointing at the burn marks all down the right side of her face.
“I have scars, but it’s better than it was. I had some operations and this is my face now.”
In the lottery of birth, some children get lucky; some get Aleppo in Syria - and that was Elif’s misfortune.
She was born into a city that was under relentless attack as Putin’s planes supported the Syrian regime.
When the children of Aleppo were maimed, the hospitals treating them were then targeted.
When Elif’s family lost their home and tried to flee this hell - they were bombed again in a refugee camp.
That’s where the bomb finally hit.
“I saw my husband and all my children burnt,” Elif’s mother, Halime, tells me.
“My son Ahmad died - he was 10 years old. The rest of us were taken to a field hospital and transferred to Turkey for treatment.”
Approaching the 11th anniversary of war in Syria, it is an occasion to remember, and mourn, the thousands of individual tragedies like this.
Elif’s physical wounds are just part of the damage done.
“My daughter now has psychological damage,” Halime says.
“She used to be so happy, now she hides from people. When we have visitors she runs away and says ‘I don’t want people to see my face.’”
In the safe haven of Turkey, though, Elif and her family have found a glimmer of hope.
World-leading plastic surgeons are now volunteering their services and expertise to help treat the injuries.
Elif has been through surgery four times and, though she will never be scar-free, she is able to live a full life again. She’s no longer in pain and she goes to school.
“I like my face,” Elif tells me playing and laughing with other children in the park outside her home. There was a time she couldn’t even smile.
This is only possible because of one woman.
Ayşegül Aksu, founder of the Ahmimder foundation, noticed so many Syrian children were left with these life-changing wounds from the war, and yet were languishing in camps with only minimal treatment.
Fed up waiting for the world to act, she set up the charity linking the children with plastic surgeons who were able to help.
“We have been able to help more than 400 children,” she tells me. The charity was only formed a year ago.
“But we can do much more. Every day more and more are coming.”
The next child we meet is one of the most concerning.
Emine has been through surgery 40 times to rebuild her face. She’s only 14 years old.
It has been seven years since she was burned from head to toe when her home was bombed but she still suffers unimaginably.
She needs specially made clothing to ease the pain on her skin.
Emine’s father has never been able to speak before about what happened to his daughter - but this time he says he wants to talk so the world won’t forget.
“Just four days ago we heard another child was killed in Syria, he tells me.
“He was having breakfast with his family when he was killed. I keep asking, ‘what did any child do to deserve this?’ Like what’s happened to my daughter.”
While Putin now rolls out war in Europe, Syrians like this are reminded of his legacy every minute of every day.
But somehow these are the lucky ones - scarred in different ways - but they have lived to tell their story.
After 11 years they just don’t know if the world is still listening, because while Syria keeps burning, the focus is fading from their forgotten war.