War-torn Aleppo celebrates Christmas, shares stories of joy & loss with RT (EXCLUSIVE)

This year, many people in the liberated city of Aleppo are celebrating for the first time since the war began. RT’s Lizzie Phelan talked with residents of the war-ravaged city now recovering from its wounds.

“We did not expect that this moment would ever actually come. We had four years of pain, of war and blood... We are so happy that we can celebrate once again. Aleppo has been returned to us. This is our homeland. We couldn’t even imagine that we would once again see all this joy and celebration,” a young woman named Maja said.

Most of the city’s residents, however, are mourning as well as celebrating – that’s just how life is right now.

For teenager Reem, this is the second Christmas without her elder sister Nour, an accomplished basketball player, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet while coming back home from a game.

“Life without her is very hard, but I think about her every minute and I feel like she is with us,” Reem told RT.

Many of those who suffered the death of their entire family are young children, and now live in orphanages. One of them is run by the Armenian Orthodox Church, and has been shelled quite a few times.

Some of the boys shared with RT what they would like to get for Christmas: while Levon said he wanted to see the citadel in the Old City – a place he has never visited – little George said what is perhaps the Christmas wish of all Syrians.

I just want peace, all over Syria, that is all.

This week, the Syrian Army declared it had regained control over the city, the eastern part of which had been held by anti-Assad rebels since 2012. The Red Cross also said that the complex operation to evacuate those who “wished” to leave was completed.

READ MORE: Russian military police in Aleppo to provide aid and protect humanitarian staff (VIDEO)

Syrian President Bashar Assad thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s help in liberating Aleppo. In separate remarks, he called the evacuation one of the biggest humanitarian operations in the world. More than 78,000 civilians managed to flee the eastern districts into government-controlled areas with help from the Russian Center for Reconciliation. Now Russia hopes for a Syria-wide ceasefire.

“The operation... involved tight contact with our colleagues from Turkey and Iran,” Russian

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Friday, “The next phase should follow. I believe we are on the verge of reaching an agreement on a full ceasefire in the territory of Syria.”