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Syrians Have Been Living Underground In Response To Airstrikes

Living conditions in eastern Ghouta have all the shades of hell. Here's how people are surviving.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 2:33 p.m. ET

Posted on April 14, 2018, at 6:08 p.m. ET

F’s family and friends huddle together in the dark below the streets of eastern Ghouta while planes pass overhead. They have been living in their basement since their home was damaged by bombs in late February. They only make quick trips up to the main floor to use the bathroom.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

F’s family and friends huddle together in the dark below the streets of eastern Ghouta while planes pass overhead. They have been living in their basement since their home was damaged by bombs in late February. They only make quick trips up to the main floor to use the bathroom.

As the war in Syria enters its eighth brutal year and the complex alliances, front lines, and war crime allegations ebb and flow from view, it is very difficult to get unbiased information. As a general rule, BuzzFeed News does not use images from nongovernmental organizations. We have decided to make an exception in this case given the paucity of reliable information and because of the shocking recent news from the town of Douma and the impending foreign policy decisions that it may prompt. We have not been able to independently verify this information.

The family seen in these photos had been living largely underground in the beleaguered eastern Ghouta neighborhood as the Assad regime sought to gain control from the rebels.

The living conditions underground were inhospitable at best, according to the International Rescue Committee, which provided the pictures and quotes to BuzzFeed News. In search of safety, dozens of people packed into the basement of a house destroyed at the end of February.

"There is little fresh air and the high humidity in close quarters was causing mold and respiratory infections to flourish. Cooking, cleaning, playing, and sleeping all had to be done below ground to protect from airstrikes. To go upstairs and outside to retrieve household items or food rations was risky at best," the IRC said.

As we publish, the Assad government has newly captured their neighborhood, and it is unclear if or how their living conditions will change now that the front lines have shifted and the US has conducted airstrikes. We are using first initials to protect their identity.

Sitting next to her family’s belongings, U said, “I hope the world will look at me, listen to my voice, and stand with me. I wish to go back to my home with my family.” Many are worried that the structures they live in won’t take any more shelling — and are especially worried for the fate of their children.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

Sitting next to her family’s belongings, U said, “I hope the world will look at me, listen to my voice, and stand with me. I wish to go back to my home with my family.” Many are worried that the structures they live in won’t take any more shelling — and are especially worried for the fate of their children.

Syrian children climb out from their underground shelter in eastern Ghouta.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

Syrian children climb out from their underground shelter in eastern Ghouta.

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The children living in the basement bunker make time to play. F's family and the other people living with her can’t turn on any lights for fear of being spotted or attacked. F. said, “They [her grandchildren] describe it as if they’ve been buried alive or like living in a grave."
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

The children living in the basement bunker make time to play. F's family and the other people living with her can’t turn on any lights for fear of being spotted or attacked. F. said, “They [her grandchildren] describe it as if they’ve been buried alive or like living in a grave."

F’s family and the other people living with her do not have access to a proper kitchen — the basement isn't prepared for such use.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

F’s family and the other people living with her do not have access to a proper kitchen — the basement isn't prepared for such use.


Due to the siege, food prices in eastern Ghouta are on average five times higher than elsewhere in Syria — the cost of bread has increased by 1,500%.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

Due to the siege, food prices in eastern Ghouta are on average five times higher than elsewhere in Syria — the cost of bread has increased by 1,500%.

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F’s grandson A plays with a balloon in the basement.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

F’s grandson A plays with a balloon in the basement.

Residents of eastern Ghouta told IRC aid workers that the fighting has impacted children the most. “My grandchildren are tired of living underground,” F said. “They are tired of having to pump water manually and move it to the basement on a daily basis, tired of having to go upstairs every time they want to use the bathroom.”
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

Residents of eastern Ghouta told IRC aid workers that the fighting has impacted children the most. “My grandchildren are tired of living underground,” F said. “They are tired of having to pump water manually and move it to the basement on a daily basis, tired of having to go upstairs every time they want to use the bathroom.”

Laundering clothes poses a serious risk to families in Douma, as they must go outside — the poor ventilation and high humidity of the underground basements make drying their garments impossible.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

Laundering clothes poses a serious risk to families in Douma, as they must go outside — the poor ventilation and high humidity of the underground basements make drying their garments impossible.

A man takes advantage of the rare pause in fighting. Families emerge from underground to try to stock up on food, water, and other essentials.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

A man takes advantage of the rare pause in fighting. Families emerge from underground to try to stock up on food, water, and other essentials.

A stands on the stairs. While underground shelters provide temporary safety, these makeshift bunkers may not be able to handle further attacks.
Abdullah Hammam / International Rescue Committee

A stands on the stairs. While underground shelters provide temporary safety, these makeshift bunkers may not be able to handle further attacks.


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