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After 4 Years, Aid Convoy Reaches Besieged Damascus Suburb Of Daraya

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Humanitarian aid has finally reached the battered Syrian city of Daraya, not far from Damascus. It was taken over four years ago by Syrian rebel forces. And after that, Syrian government forces blocked off the city, bombing it regularly. Residents have been waiting four years for help. Yesterday's convoy made it in after Russia helped broker a two-day window of calm. We reached one of the aid workers who made it into Daraya, Pawel Krzysiek with the International Committee of the Red Cross. He's now back in Damascus. Welcome to the program.

PAWEL KRZYSIEK: Hello.

CHANG: When you first arrived in Daraya, can you tell me, how did people react?

KRZYSIEK: So contrary to what we expected, coming with a very limited humanitarian aid to Daraya, the people greeted us very positively. They were smiling. You could see on their faces they were happy to see us. I mean, maybe because we were one of the very first humanitarian workers reaching this town, everyone was very positive, but had only one request to us.

CHANG: What was that request?

KRZYSIEK: Please come back with food actually because we didn't have food on this very convoy.

CHANG: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. I understood that you were able to bring medicine and baby milk but no food. Why couldn't you bring food this time?

KRZYSIEK: The humanitarian aid allowed in was sort of a confidence-building measure. I mean, we are aware that what we brought into Daraya yesterday is definitely not what the people need. Yeah.

CHANG: As you were handing out supplies to people, what did they tell you? Were you struck by any of the stories of how they had been surviving these past four years?

KRZYSIEK: You know, one thing that struck me a lot yesterday was when I was talking to a woman just before we head out, her child, you know, just pulled her hand and asked, did they bring bread?

CHANG: Oh.

KRZYSIEK: And she said, yeah, bread is definitely something that we are all dreaming about. But, no, habibi - which means honey, basically, in Arabic - no, they didn't bring bread yet. We hope that they will bring it very, very soon. And, you know, I hope that, too.

CHANG: Can you tell me, Pawel, I don't understand why is it more complicated to bring bread than medicine or baby milk?

KRZYSIEK: I don't know. I don't know.

CHANG: Well, I'm just - I'm trying to understand.

KRZYSIEK: I mean, I wish - I'm trying to understand.

CHANG: Yeah.

KRZYSIEK: But I'm looking for answers. And I don't know.

CHANG: So this is a city that had tens of thousands of people in it before the war. And now I'm reading that there are four to eight thousand people left because it's been bombed over and over again. Where are people living?

KRZYSIEK: Those who stayed and those who we had seen, I mean, live right now in the flats that are located underground.

CHANG: Underground? Like in basements?

KRZYSIEK: Like in basement, yes. I mean, the basements adopted into flats are the safest option for the people nowadays.

CHANG: So apparently, you know, this period of calm will last just a couple days. How much can you accomplish in Daraya in that very, very short time?

KRZYSIEK: Well, I mean, regardless of the truth, we will not stop pushing for humanitarian access. We must be allowed to do our job.

CHANG: Pawel Krzysiek is with the International Committee of the Red Cross based in Damascus. He's one of the aid workers bringing medicine and nutritional supplements to people in the besieged city of Daraya. Thank you so much for joining us, Pawel.

KRZYSIEK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.