I wasn’t sure if I could write about Ukraine as a Syrian who survived barrel bomb attacks on my hometown Aleppo. I don’t know how to write about the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a woman whose city could be destroyed, besieged, and whose people could be exiled as a result of the Russian intervention in Syria. I don’t know if I have anything to say besides shouting in the face of the world, “We told you so.”

I daydream often about how the world would look if we had a different political reaction to the Syrian revolution. Maybe not even in the first year of daily Mukhabarat shots at our protests, but perhaps when the regime tanks started shelling the cities and the airstrikes terrorized every living thing. I daydream specifically about what the situation in my country, the region, and the world would have been like if maybe in 2013, the world hadn’t signed an agreement with Russia that gave them the green light to cross any of the world’s “red lines” to protect the use of chemical weapons.

How many Arab Spring protests were tamed by our defeat? What would the levels of freedom of speech in Turkey have been like? If we hadn’t been called a “refugee crisis”? If Russia hadn’t dared to declare publicly that they used us to test weapons, if they hadn’t been as secured in their veto power and their airstrikes? But all of that led us to shout in the face of the world, “WE TOLD YOU SO.”

I am baffled by my lack of shock. To all of the international circuit, that seems like a huge déjà vu. Officials tell the world how “the international community” should do something about Ukraine, as if they aren’t responsible for this jellied creature they call the “international community.” Guterres was almost in tears reading an edited version of a speech they most likely read about Syria, without any acknowledgment of the UN’s role in empowering Russia to become the imperial power they are today. I laughed at Joe Biden’s prayers, as if they aren’t one of the permanent members of the Security Council. An airstrike will take minutes to destroy a building; Ukrainians don’t have the luxury of waiting for the sanctions’ impact. But if I expected nothing different from the “international community,” neither did Putin.

But then I cried. I followed the photos of Ukrainian suffering. One of the curses or blessings of surviving a war was that I don’t shy away from horror. I don’t turn the TV off while looking away at my self-care routine. I look at the faces – their faces – that deserved to live in safe homes, not to leave in a rush, and not to explain to their children what war is. Their faces covered with blood and wrapped in white bandages, their faces with despair behind the bus windows, forced to leave Kyiv. I pause at the bags packed only with their necessities. I read about Ukrainians in exile, lobbying, writing, following up on the news, and shouting at the world to save their people. I cried. After all, I wished we were wrong, that our prophecy regarding Russia didn’t prove to be true.

I searched for the nearest protest to join the shout. I shared the protest invite with my fellow forcibly displaced Syrians, all of whom added the Ukrainian flag to their Facebook profile. Can I shout at the world, “We Told You So”? Can I shout at the world, “This was preventable”? Further bloodshed is still preventable.

But there is more that I can demand now, and for every population left to face airstrikes, demand a no-fly zone for Ukrainians. Do not wait till Putin bombs their hospitals; we, Syrians, know he will. Do not wait until Russian airstrikes target their schools when the world wakes up to images of maimed and dead children.

If you still can’t demand a no-fly zone, don’t shame their activists when they do. Don’t lecture them about a limited definition of anti-war and anti-interventions. Anti-war will always be a political stand based on love for humanity and the right to life.

As a survivor, human rights activist, feminist, Syrian, and global citizen, I demand a no-fly zone for Ukraine.

Also, let’s open up the discussion over the urgent need to reshape the United Nations to step up to its mission to “maintain international peace and security” at every political protest, discussion, academic circle, and policy think tanks. Let’s keep pushing toward dropping the veto power around massive human rights violations from Palestine, Syria to Ukraine.

For the Ukrainians who are fighting for their survival, we hope we can give a more positive input. I wish we had something to share with you. Reach out to us. We learned how to create a large network of civil defense volunteers to rescue people from the rubble. We learned how to crowdfund to support our refugees who were left alone to freeze every winter. We learned how to run underground schools and hospitals. In our exile, we are still learning how to live with the world that didn’t stop the war, how to handle being forced out of a country we loved, and how to allow ourselves to grieve. Oh, how much I hope you don’t have to go through any of this.

When I was in Aleppo, I used to hate the message that people in solidarity, with all their good intentions, used to text us, “Please, stay safe.” I didn’t know how to in the face of constant airstrikes. Maybe instead, I just want to say, “You deserve to be safe.”

“In the city of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, graffiti artist Aziz Al-Asmar Aziz Asmar painted a mural on a home that was destroyed in a Russian air raid to stand with the Ukrainian people after Moscow’s attack on Thursday.” Photo by: Muhammad Najdat Haj Kadour


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