Ukraine, Syria, Russia and the small community of Idlib

Giacomo Pizzi15 March 2022

In these three weeks of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, there have been numerous references and comparisons in the news – often misused – with the Russian military operations in Syria and Chechnya. There has been talk of similar military tactics adopted in past conflicts, of weapons used, and comparisons have been made between the conditions of some Ukrainian cities and the most devastated Syrian cities; like Mariupol for example, compared by the deputy mayor of the city to the battered Aleppo.

The war in Ukraine and Syria: after 2 years there is a risk of a new escalation in Idlib

But there’s more. In fact, just as the tragic anniversary of the war in Syria , that marks the beginning of the eleventh year of conflict ,occurs, alarming news reaches us from the Idlib front. “The intensification of the Russian offensive in Ukraine could lead to a reduction in military engagement in the province, and we fear that this will lead to an escalation of violence by the Jabhat al-Nusra rebels, and the resumption of fighting in the region.” To inform us is Friar Hanna Jallouf, a Franciscan, one of the last two Christian religious left to support the small communities of Knaye and Yacoubieh in Idlib.

Father Hanna’s fears also partly concern the news of recent days according to which not only Russian mercenariesof Wagner recalled from the suburbs of Damascus, the capital of Syria, have been employed in Ukraine, but also Syrian mercenaries. According to the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat , about 23,000 young people trained by the al-Bustan militia are ready, and for some time the news of 16,000 militiamen from various Arab countries and North Africa already hired to go to reinforce the Russian advance has been continuously relaunched.

In Idlib we are locked inside a cage – the Syrian friar tells us – everything is lacking: sugar, rice, oil … We also always live in fear of some reprisal by rebel groups in the region, but in the last two years the fighting had been greatly reduced.” Now the spectre of war is once again haunting the hopes of the small Christian communities in the villages of Knaye and Yacoubieh. Here where the agreement between the government of Bashar Al-Assad, the Russian ally and Turkey guaranteed as much as possible in such a situation, a certain stability.

Pro Terra Sancta side by side with the Franciscans, for the hope in Idlib

Then Father Hanna launches an appeal: “Please do not forget us – he says – who are still at the mercy of this hideous war, at the mercy of people who want to eliminate us! Don’t forget the 210 families of Kanye and Yacoubieh, trapped in a dramatic condition“. An appeal that on this occasion we want to relaunch with strenght.

In recent years Pro Terra Sancta has always tried to be present in the province of Idlib even in the hardest moments of the pro-Turkish occupation with the provision of emergency aid in special centers.

In our projects we try to support local Christian communities and the most needy families, offering basic necessities: food, clothes, medicines, baby products (diapers and powdered milk).

This help is fundamental for the survival of the small community that in recent years, despite the terrible conditions, has witnessed an impossible hope, undermined by hunger, poverty and persecution, but never definitively suppressed.

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