00:36 GMT17 April 2021
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    Sputnik correspondent Mikhail Alaeddin witnessed the offensive operation of the Syrian Army in the province of Hama, which resulted in the liberation of the Orthodox Christian town of Mhardeh. There the correspondent met with some of the civilians living in the town.

    Detachments of al-Nusra Front terrorists and several other militant groups tried to conduct a large-scale offensive in the Syrian province of Hama just a couple of weeks back.

    The terrorists besieged the town of Mhardeh, where together with the militia and their families several Russians had been living for more than thirty years.

    The population of the town consists exclusively of Orthodox Christians, with about 20,000 inhabitants in total. Many fled with families when a siege had started but many stayed behind and some returned to protect the town after dropping their women and children to safe areas.

    A tank at the Syrian Army's position to the north of Hama
    © Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresenskiy
    A tank at the Syrian Army's position to the north of Hama

    The Sputnik correspondent met with some of the people who had stayed in the town.

    “Today is a good day, there is no shooting and we once again managed to defend our city. I will introduce you to a Russian woman who has lived in Mhardeh for 30 years and I will show you the ancient Church of the Blessed Virgin so that you will be able to understand a little more about the essence of what is happening here,” a militia fighter named George, a graduate of a Soviet institute told Alaeddin.

    Living like one big family

    George and the correspondent came to a house which belonged to a commander of the militia named Simone. It seemed that everyone in this house lived like one family.

    A young man and a woman were sitting on a veranda preparing sandwiches for the fellows on the front line. Soon after Alaeddin arrived a Russian woman together with her husband came out on the veranda.

    Maria and her husband met in Soviet Russia when he came as a student from Syria. After they got married, they moved to Syria but nobody could have thought that one day they will have to face missiles flying overhead and hear battles raging nearby.

    “It's a stupid war, they've been preparing for a long time but we did not notice it. The educated people are normal but the rest were taught not to respect Christians and they just killed everyone. But we stayed [in the town] because if we go, who will protect the rest?” Maria told the correspondent.

    She further said that many men took their families and fled but they returned to defend the city afterwards.

    Syrian army troops during an assault on the city of Halfaya in the north of the Hama Governorate
    © Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresenskiy
    Syrian army troops during an assault on the city of Halfaya in the north of the Hama Governorate

    “We are living here as one family and enemies are everywhere around us. Now, it is probably the most difficult time in all the years,” Maria said in a low voice, pausing between sentences, seemingly trying to convey all the experiences and severity of what is happening.

    She feels the pain of the Syrian war deeply because she has become part of the Syrian history. For many years Maria has worked at a textile factory, she gave birth to Alexander and Nadezhda in this country and later became a grandmother.

    Praying to a different God

    Near the Christian town, the town of Halfaya of located. Today it is considered to be the largest stronghold of militants in the north of the province of Hama.

    The neighbors’ of Mhardeh have deployed missile and mortar fires in the direction of the Christian city simply because Maria Vladimirovna and thousands of people like her pray to a different God.

    George explains that Halfaya has become such a stronghold of militants because it is near the border of the Idlib province which is completely under the control of terrorist groups.

    “We must understand that Hama is in the heart of Syria and if the terrorists capture it they will be able to sever the country into several pieces. They will also isolate Aleppo from other provinces,” said George, while discussing the battle tactics with the correspondent.

    A church in the Christian town of Mhardeh north of Hama liberated by the Syrian army from militants
    © Sputnik / Mikhail Voskresenskiy
    A church in the Christian town of Mhardeh north of Hama liberated by the Syrian army from militants

    Importance of the town of Virgin Mary

    “Mhardeh is an extremely important city for Christians. In the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is believed that Virgin Mary was here for some time in this room to the right of the altar,” the guardian of the church told Alaeddin.

    The small church is located near the city center. Its doors are hanging quite low on purpose so that everyone who wants to enter it has to bow in respect.

    Everything inside looks modest and there is almost no light, only burning candles under the images of the holy saints and in front of the altar.

    The abbot showed the correspondent several icons of the holy saints, one of which was the “Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God.”

    “Russia has always been with us and never abandoned us and just the way during your great war you consecrated the earth with the icons of Virgin Mary on all four sides, similarly here we have ours and your icons that protect us and we them,” the abbot said.

    According to the correspondent, inside the room at the altar where Virgin Mary spent several days of her life, one can feel shivers running down their spine.

    Just about four kilometers from this historically sacred place there are terrorists who are ready to turn this place into a heap of stones as soon as they get a chance.

    But the residents of Mhardeh believe that the government forces will liberate the neighboring Halfaya and in the near future they will defeat terrorists in Idlib.

    However, to date, no one is in a hurry to bring their families back and everyone keeps their weapons close by.

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    Tags:
    terrorists, liberation, siege, civilians, Christians, interview, Syrian Army, Al-Nusra Front, Syria, Hama
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