The woman in labour stared out from the stretcher, as medics rushed her over a wasteland left by a Russian attack on a maternity hospital. In a different hospital and feeling her baby slipping away, she begged doctors: “Kill me now.” Hours later, both she and her child were dead.
The horror of the attack on a maternity hospital in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol stunned the world. But it was not the first time Russian bombs had fallen on women as they gave birth.
As Russian strikes reduce Ukrainian cities to ruin – killing, injuring and terrorising thousands of civilians – comparisons have been made with the second world war, but there was a much more recent precedent. The tactics, and even some of Russia’s soldiers, have come direct from the civil war in Syria – which Moscow joined in 2015 to support President Bashar al-Assad.
Since then it has carried out a brutal but ultimately successful campaign – helping Assad seize back nearly all of the country from rebel hands. In the process, entire cities have been devastated and up to 24,743 civilians allegedly killed by Russian strikes, according to the civilian harm monitor Airwars.
From the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, to the great cultural and economic powerhouse of Aleppo, Russian bombs hit hospitals, schools, markets and queues of people waiting for bread. Its planes helped enforce Syrian sieges on the ground, reducing people to desperate skeletal bodies. And when Russia and the Syrian army promised exit routes, they sometimes bombed and shot the civilians trying to flee. [Continue reading…]