Whoever Saves a Life

by Sebastiano Tomada


THIS IS a story that paints a frank and troubling humanitarian portrait of the effects of war, and the many kinds of people who get swept up in its path.

More than three years after the start of the Syrian war, the country's second-largest city, Aleppo, is nearly a ghost town. Whole swaths of the city are abandoned and lie in ruin. The civilians who remain in the city live a life of fear and grief as their families, friends, and neighbors are killed and wounded by President Bashar al-Assad’s indiscriminate campaign to regain control of the city.

Members of the Civil Defense team take a moment to reflect after a grueling day where many of their comrades were injured. June 22, 2014.

The latest wave of this attack brought with it an intense aerial barrel-bombing offensive. These crude, highly inaccurate devices can wipe out entire buildings and are often dropped in quick succession, presumably with the aim of targeting the men attempting to rescue victims of the first explosion. Among those rescuers are members of the Civil Defense Team, also know as the ‘White Helmets’. They are volunteer rescue workers in the most dangerous place on earth. Each day more than 50 bombs and mortars land on some neighborhoods in Syria. Many are rusty barrels filled with nails and explosives, rolled out the back of government helicopters onto homes, schools and hospitals.

The White Helmet volunteers have saved 10,221 lives in the past year alone—and this number is growing daily.

After covering the conflict in Syria for the past 3 years, I directed my attention to the often forgotten humanitarian aspect of the war. It was during this time that I came across the Civil Defense Team and, with the support of The Syria Campaign and activists on the ground, I was able to document their everyday plight in the besieged city of Aleppo. The material gathered (both video and photos) was used to support the non-profit mission of The Syria Campaign in capturing the attention of the public and demanding more from governments, institutions, and the media, all while celebrating those leading the humanitarian responses to the Syrian conflict.

The bullet riddled rescue truck used by the Civil Defense Team in Aleppo, Syria. June 18, 2014.

A young rescue worker, and member of the Civil Defense Team, reacts to a nearby air strike by the Syrian Regime in Aleppo. June 18, 2014.

Civil Defense members rescue a man who had been trapped inside his home after a barrel bomb collapsed it. June 20, 2014

Civil Defense and Free Syrian Army fighters join forces in search for survivors amongst the rubble of a collapsed building that was struck by a regime airstrike. June 22, 2014.

Members of the Civil Defense team remove the dead body of an 8 year old child from a car destroyed by a regime barrel bomb. June 19, 2014.

A critically injured member of the Civil Defense Team is treated for his shrapnel wounds inside a make-shift hospital. June 22, 2014.

Civil Defense rescue volunteers sleep in the basement of their new headquarters, a former school. June 21, 2014.

While waiting for a regime attack, Civil Defense volunteers gather outside their headquarters in the destroyed neighborhood of Hanano. June 19, 2014.

In the Old City of Aleppo, large tarps are hung between buildings along the front line, limiting the view of regime snipers who have been targeting FSA fighters as well as civilians. June 21, 2014.

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