If anyone has watched Channel 4 News in the last year they’ll have seen Waad Al-Kateab’s footage.
She was commissioned to film the life that was left for the people of Eastern Aleppo and in doing so she became Eastern Aleppo’s messenger to the world.
As Channel4 put it ‘all year Waad has provided dozens of outstanding reports that have led and dominated our programme, and have now been viewed hundreds of millions of times by people around the world’.
She lived there with her daughter Sama, less than a year old, and her husband, a Syrian Surgeon. Both herself and her husband risked their lives each day – and while doing so she provided an unflinching testimony and objective record of what was happening to her people. Both Waad as a journalist, and her husband as one of around 35 doctors left in the city would have been coveted by the Syrian government.
A lot of the footage captured was within Eastern Aleppo’s largest remaining hospital, al-Quds. And the edited shorts juxtapose Aleppo’s streets, in which the Syrian people were relentlessly attacked, and the inside of the hospital, in which lives were desperately trying to be saved.
This juxtaposition is perhaps no where clearer than in the edited short ‘the barrel bomb baby‘. As the Syrian government and Russian forces bombed the city continuously – Waad filmed the doctor’s trying to save a pregnant woman and her unborn child. After the mother had been badly injured from a barrel bomb* and had shrapnel in her stomach.
She films despite there being 200 airstrikes in one day. She films as the Syrian goverment and Russian forces bomb the food markets, water supplies, hospitals, medical storage facilities, convoys delivering aid and finally Al Queds hospital itself – where nurses, patients, doctors and Aleppo’s last paediatrician were killed.
This is when the Syrian goverment and Russian forces said they were bombing terrorist targets.
And then there is the grief of those left behind. Outside of the hospital Waad films a gardener, Abu-Ward, and his son, Ibrahim. She tells the story of Abu-Ward’s devotion to his craft and in doing so captures the resilience of the Syrian people. But when Abu-Ward is killed during an airstrike – the short becomes a window into the silent grief of a devoted son who asks Waad ‘what do you want me to do?’.
(footage from film)
As the western world became obsessed with Trump’s next Tweet, in the city of Aleppo the East was finally taken by the government forces. Waad documented Aleppo’s final days in the last remaining hospital and then filmed the final hospital itself being bombed. And then came the influx of patients struggling to breath from chlorine gas – a chemical weapon.
(photo Waad Al-Kateab took)
You can watch all of Waad Al-Kateab’s footage here as part of Channel4’s Inside Aleppo. Along with a written narrative and a timeline of the events that took place there.
On 1 March 2017 the United Nations Commisson of Inquiry’s report said the Syrian government and allied Russian forces have committed war crimes – a fact that wouldn’t have needed verification for Waad and the Syrian people.
Waad was awarded two amnesty international media awards for television news and best new journalist. But trapped inside Eastern Aleppo at the time and unable to accept the awards, she gave these words to be read out in her absence:
“Maybe this will be my last letter to you and to the world. I am in the most dangerous city in the world and only today 30 barrel bombs and 100 artillery shells fell on my neighbourhood (al-Sukkari). I wanted to be with you but the siege of the city prevented that. I am just one individual among the 270,000 people who live under this siege. The only thing that’s available in this city is air, but this air, most of the time, is polluted with poisonous gases and chlorine. We are not the only city in Syria under siege and our salvation will not be achieved only by the lifting of this siege or halting the bombing, but with the fall of the Assad regime and getting our freedom and dignity as Syrians. I would have liked for my lens and my colleagues’ lenses to give you the complete picture of Aleppo, but we are helpless in front of the horrors of annihilation that the Russians and the regime are enjoying in this ancient city. This is a perished city called Aleppo. And all its people are asking you to remember your humanity.”
But we, in the western world, didn’t do that.
Waad and her family are now, miraculously, safe in London. She is a true heroine – I fall short of words worthy to describe her.
*(Definition by Google) A barrel bomb is an improvised unguided bomb, sometimes described as a flying IED (improvised explosive device). They are typically made from a large barrel-shaped metal container that has been filled with high explosives, possibly shrapnel, oil or chemicals as well, and then dropped from a helicopter or airplane.