Syrian football fans in Russia for the World Cup have expressed their thanks to President Vladimir Putin and the country's people in response to support shown during the nation’s devastating civil war.
A group of Syrian fans from the country’s war-torn capital Damascus gathered outside Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, the venue for Russia’s epic World Cup quarter-final versus Croatia, wearing Russia T-shirts and hats and waving a giant Syrian flag.
Syrian fans from Damascus outside Fisht Stadium, some refugees in Norway and Czech Rep., chant 'Ross-i-ya', say they came to support Russia after vital Russian support in country's civil war - 'Thank you Putin', one girl shouts #Rus 🇸🇾 pic.twitter.com/YRaiXXRMJ0— Danny Armstrong (@DannyWArmstrong) July 7, 2018
Majed Hammo Abdulbaki, a 21-year-old refugee living in Norway but originally from Damascus, told RT that backing the Russian team was “the least we could do” for supporting his country “through hard times,” before going on to thank Russia and President Putin.
“Because we love Russia and they are supporting us in our hard time in this war and we want to thank them and this is the least [we can do]. Thank you very much, thank you and good luck for next time,” Majed said just moments after Russia lost a dramatic penalty shootout 4-3 to Croatia. The game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 after extra time.
Syria agonizingly missed out on a World Cup berth, being denied a spot in the finals in Russia by a 3-2 aggregate loss to Australia, the winning goal coming in extra time of the second leg in Sydney. A place at Russia 2018 would have been an astonishing achievement for a team forced to play home matches in Malaysia 4,600 miles from their capital, as a result of the conflict in the team’s homeland.
Despite Syria missing out on qualification by the tightest margin, Majed and the group were determined to fly to Russia to personally offer their thanks. Russia first sent troops to Syria in September 2015 at the invitation of President Bashar Assad, as part of the effort to rid the nation of terrorist forces.
Since then, troops loyal to Assad have recaptured swathes of Syria from militants, bringing stability to large parts of the country. Majed stated he believed that due to Russian assistance, the dire situation in the Arab republic has improved significantly.
“We didn’t qualify for the World Cup but Russia did and we want to support them because they supported us. They supported us in the war, so when we can’t support them in the war, we will support them in the sports. It’s the least thing that we can do for them. So we say thank you Russia and thank you Putin. That’s it,” he said.
“It’s getting much better now in the capital of Syria, it’s getting much better because of the Russia politics giving advice to the Syrian government with help dealing with stuff and this kind of stuff, so we are getting better with that, we are trying to deal with it and, you know, try to fix it with time. It will take time but it’s getting better.
“We come to support Russia because they supported us, that’s it. It’s a simple reason, [but] it’s a big motivation for us. We wanna support them in a way that we can do it for them. This one is a small thing but we hope that they appreciate it and that’s it.”
Syrian football fans from Damascus say the dire situation in the war torn nation is 'getting better in the capital because of Russian involvement and Russian politicians', outside Fisht Stadium in Sochi last night #Rus 🇸🇾 #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/PgGWAT6Mag— Danny Armstrong (@DannyWArmstrong) July 8, 2018
Echoing those sentiments was Michael Attallah, who accompanied Majed outside Fisht Stadium and was a member of the Syrian fans group. Wearing a hat and shirt emblazoned with ‘Russia’ and face paint in the color of the country’s tricolor, Michael praised the acceptance of the Russian people and credited the country for receiving them “as human beings.”
“Our military did everything it can but we are fighting all the countries of the world,” said Michael. “Syrians can’t enter any country of the world. Most of countries we can’t enter. But Russia, it just deal with us like normal people. We bought a ticket and came here like anyone in the world.
“They are saying that this is the best organization of a World Cup ever, and we are seeing that, we came here maybe if we went to another country maybe they wouldn’t let us in because we are Syrians, but here, everyone is equal, that’s it.”
Russia began withdrawing troops from Syria in 2016 but maintains a presence in the country to help with ongoing efforts at stabilizing the nation. Russia also continues to play a pivotal role in promoting intra-Syrian peace talks between the Assad government and various factions.