'Abdel Rahman was standing outside his family home in the tiny Syrian village of Marayan on a November afternoon when the Russian rocket hit, knocking him to the ground. He felt fine when he came to moments later, he said, and tried to get up. That’s when he realized both his legs had been blown off. “I looked up and my brother was screaming, but I lost consciousness,” he recalled.
About a month later, Thaer was gathering firewood when another Russian missile hit. He struggled to get up, but couldn’t. His father, Abdel Jalil al-Zein, first took his son to a local doctor, who stuck needles in his toe. There was no response. He loaded him into his car and drove him to the field hospital along the Turkish border, and when medical personnel there couldn’t help his son either, he obtained the permissions to cross into Turkey. Doctors eventually found a piece of shrapnel lodged in his spine. It has paralyzed him from the waist down, probably for life.
The two teenagers still hang out, but now they are permanently disfigured. They lie in the sitting room of a rented apartment in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, where they now live. Al-Zein lies on the bed with a catheter running from him, and Rahmoun lies on a mat a few feet away — one a double amputee, the other a paraplegic.
“I know that God will eventually give us our rights,” said al-Zein.
Two hours before Ahmed Zaki Assi, a spokesperson for the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, spoke to BuzzFeed News, Russian forces strafed his group’s positions in Maraat Numan, near where he was speaking from in Idlib province. The war has gotten tougher, he acknowledged, but it remains better than the situation in 2011, when Assad’s forces could open fire on peaceful protesters without consequence, or in 2013 when Iran and Hezbollah first entered the war in support of Assad.
“We’ve had harder conditions before,” he said, speaking via Skype. “The revolution is weakened because of this, but it’s not going to be ended by the Russian raids or others. On the ground, the revolutionaries advance. But the weapon that we can’t respond to is airpower. We cannot address airpower with our rockets.”
Mohammed Katoub was teaching the doctors and nurses about sexual violence against women when the Russian airstrikes began. A missile landed 400 meters away from the clinic, one of more than 100 care points and medical centers operated by the organization inside Syria. “I was explaining the difference between rape and sexual assault,” he remembers. “We ran into the streets because it is much safer than inside a facility.”
Zakaria Ibrahim, 26, an anesthetist at a gynecology clinic in Azaz, was working when a Russian missile struck within 10 meters of the facility, setting parts of it on fire. “Now the hospital is closed,” he said, as he waits for a lift home near the Turkish border after finishing a rotation.
“The idea is to weaken the civilians to make those living under the opposition areas feel life is hell,” he said. “By targeting bakeries, schools, and hospitals, you make people lose all hope.” '