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Eastern Ghouta To Northern Syria, But Still Far From Safe

DON GONYEA, HOST:

We have a very personal update now from Syria's long civil war. Last March, I talked to a young man named Mouayad Mohildeen in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. Mouayad, his wife, 3-year-old son and year-old daughter were living in a basement with more than a dozen others. They had little food. It was dark and stuffy. And his daughter was suffering from asthma. But they were trapped because of bombing by Bashar al-Assad's regime.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MOUAYAD MOHILDEEN: Did you hear it, my friend?

GONYEA: Yes, that was...

MOHILDEEN: That is bombing right now.

GONYEA: And how often is it? Is it constant? We've...

MOHILDEEN: All day long. Believe me, my friend. It's all day long.

GONYEA: The Syrian government has now taken control of Eastern Ghouta. Mouayad and his family, who spent 52 days in that basement, are now living in the countryside of northern Aleppo Province.

We checked in with him the other day, and I asked how he made it out.

MOHILDEEN: My neighbor told me that there's rumors about evacuating us, and we have been evacuated from Eastern Ghouta to this area. We had 36 hours in the bus.

GONYEA: Who provided the bus?

MOHILDEEN: I asked the driver. He told me we have to say it is the Red Cross. But the regime takes the bus from the highway and told them that you have to go to Eastern Ghouta and move these people to northern Aleppo.

GONYEA: So you were told it was a Red Cross bus, but they were moving under the authority or permission of the Assad regime?

MOHILDEEN: Yes. The military people from the Assad regime or the Russians. There was so much Russian soldiers in the borders of Eastern Ghouta, and they can speak Arabic.

GONYEA: You were evacuated. I understand you first went to a camp.

MOHILDEEN: Oh, my God, yes. It's really, really horrible way to live. It's too much hot in the day and much cold in the night. So thank God that I have a business management degree. And I managed to secure a apartment in a city called al-Bab in northen countryside of Aleppo.

GONYEA: When you were in Eastern Ghouta, you were in an area that was controlled by the rebels. What is the situation where you are now - is it still held by rebels? Has the Syrian government taken control? What is the situation?

MOHILDEEN: Eastern Ghouta is a besieged area. The rebels there - they are from the towns or villages that is in Eastern Ghouta, right? Here in northern countryside of Aleppo, there's so many, many rebels that I don't know the strategies. I don't know what they are going to do, especially this territory is under authority of Turkish government. Here in this area, daily, there's fighting between the rebels - between the rebels, not with the regime - no, between the rebels. About what? I don't know what they are fighting for.

GONYEA: And right now, describe the level of security you feel you have in this apartment and this place where you're living.

MOHILDEEN: OK, let me put it like this. In a scale from 1 to 10, the security in Eastern Ghouta was zero. Here, it's maybe four or five.

GONYEA: So not good, just significantly better than the horrific situation you were in.

I know you have been opposed to the Assad regime. Have you been sympathetic to the rebels or affiliated with the rebels? Where do you place yourself?

MOHILDEEN: This is a big question, my friend. I still - I'm still against the Assad regime, and I am against the al-Qaida. I am against ISIS, although I'm maybe against some rebels and how they are thinking right now in this area. And right now, I may be start to giving up for this revolution.

GONYEA: Right now, it appears that the civil war in Syria may be winding down with the Syrian government, the Assad regime retaking most of the country and holding on to power.

I'm wondering, how do you see your future and your family's future in this country given all of that?

MOHILDEEN: My friend, I don't know. But the only thing that I know - I won't come back to my village, to my town that is under authority of Assad regime because I don't trust him. I don't trust him, and I don't trust anyone that he is working with because I have suffered a lot from this awful regime. I suffered a lot from bombing and shelling. I suffer a lot from the looks in my children eyes where are scared by bombing and shelling. How can I re-trust this regime and go back to my village? It's a really big decision for a 29-year-old father.

GONYEA: Mouayad Mohildeen, I thank you for talking to us. I hope you can stay safe, and I wish you and your family the best as you deal with all of this.

MOHILDEEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.