‘Who is in that plane?’ Bombing trauma haunts children brought home to Russia from Iraq

Memories of war in Iraq still haunt the five children from southern Russia who were recently reunited with their families with the help of RT’s campaign. We caught up with Fatima and Khadija in Makhachkala, Dagestan, to see how the girls are getting on.

There were joyous scenes earlier this week when five children, including the two sisters Khadija and Fatima, arrived on a plane to Grozny and were embraced by their families. But after witnessing terror, the deaths of their parents and spending time in a Baghdad orphanage, it is not easy for them to adjust back to normal life.

“[They spent] three days without food or water in a dusty, dirty basement. She told me that when there were bombs, they would run to a basement. And when she sees a helicopter now – Ah!!” Fatima’s granddad Anwar told RT

“A helicopter, an airplane, she freaks out. I tell her not to be afraid, she asks “But who is inside there?”

Little Khadija, who’s picked up a bit of Arabic, showed RT’s reporter her toy bikes and cars.

“I have a bicycle and a car. I like riding on the car,” she said. “I don’t let them [the others] ride on my bike, but I let them ride on my car. But my little sister doesn’t know how to ride the bike.”

But even now, as the children run through the house laughing and playing, the memories of war remain with them.

“I was opening an ice cream the other day, and I have a habit of opening the wrapper by popping it. I accidentally did it and she flinched as if she’d heard an explosion,” said Anwar.

The children’s return became possible after their story was brought to light by RT as part of the “Bring them home” campaign, which calls on anyone with information about the children in RT’s videos from Iraq to submit it at children@rttv.ru.

Khadija and Fatima were recognized by their 7-year-old friend, who used to play with them two and a half years ago and showed the footage to their relatives.

Hopefully now that they are out of the warzone in the Middle East, the two girls will be able to enjoy the normal, happy childhood that was denied to them.

Fatima and Khadija are survivors of the battle of Mosul, a months-long effort by Iraqi forces, with the support of Kurdish and Shiite militias as well as airstrikes from the US-led coalition, to dislodge Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) from what had been Iraq’s second-largest city. The fighting intensified as the Iraqi army approached the western part of the city around the Grand al-Nuri Mosque, where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first declared a caliphate in 2014. In April, Lisa Grande of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” as around 400,000 civilians were trapped in the besieged areas, lacking food, water or medical supplies.

Just how many civilians were killed in the battle for Mosul is still unknown, but some sources estimate it could be as high as in the tens of thousands. According to the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, over 165,000 people fled eastern Mosul alone during the fighting.

Around 50 Russian-speaking children still remain in Iraqi orphanages, Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Russian Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, told RIA Novosti earlier in August, although the real number of children from Russia and the neighboring Central Asian republics taken away by their radicalized parents to the warzones of Iraq and Syria could be far higher.