BEIRUT – An American woman living in the besieged suburbs of the Syrian capital on Monday called on President Donald Trump to put more pressure on Russia to "stop bombing us" amid an air and ground assault by government forces that has killed more than 1,000 people over the past three weeks.
Deana Lynn, from Detroit, Michigan, and her family are among nearly 400,000 people who are trapped in eastern Ghouta, surviving on limited amounts of food and spending most of their time squeezed into underground shelters. Lynn moved to eastern Ghouta with her Syrian husband in 2000, to be close to his elderly parents.
The mother of eight — seven daughters and one son — has been working as an English-language teacher in a town in eastern Ghouta that she prefers not to disclose for safety reasons. But since Feb. 18, when government forces began their latest assault, Lynn and her family have been mostly staying in the basement, rarely emerging for fear they might be struck by shelling or airstrikes.
"It's been horrifying, especially (that) I have small children and grandchildren," the 44-year-old woman told The Associated Press via the WhatsApp messaging service.
Lynn met her husband in the 1990s while she was studying English literature at the University of Michigan and he was on a visit to the United States. Five of their eight children were born in the U.S., while their four grandchildren were all born in Syria.
"We've been taking shelter in basements. We go up and downstairs," she said. "We go upstairs to eat, to cook. We have to go upstairs to use the bathroom."
The Ghouta region was among the first to rise up against President Bashar Assad after protests erupted in March 2011, and it fell into the hands of opposition fighters in 2012. The following year, the army and allied militias surrounded eastern Ghouta from all sides. The enclave has been under an ever-tightening siege since then.
Over the past three weeks, government forces backed by Russian warplanes launched an all-out offensive, capturing more than half of eastern Ghouta from rebels.
"Right now we're eating whatever is available," Lynn said. "We're trying to make it last longer by making soup, so we put a small amount of rice or wheat in." She said her family is fortunate to still have some food stored up.
"Other people are not so lucky. They couldn't store food because they didn't have enough money, so really they're hungry. They're trying to just live," she said. She said a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice or wheat is about $8 and that the price could go up at any time.
She sent a photograph from the basement showing two of her grandchildren sitting on her lap. She has also posted videos on YouTube to tell the world about the suffering in Ghouta. In one of the videos, she is seen standing in an apartment near an open window, when the sound of a warplane is heard right before a shell slams down outside.
"The children are horrified when they hear the intense bombing, especially when they are close to our homes. They cry or they scream. Grown women, they cry and scream," she said.
She said that sometimes the shelling starts unexpectedly.
"We would be upstairs cooking or using the bathroom and we have to run downstairs, and we hope a bomb doesn't fall," she said.
"I am just a schoolteacher here. I am just a regular person living a daily life. My message to the United States, to President Trump, I wish he could put pressure on the Russian government to stop sending their warplanes here and bombing us."
Lynn said Assad's forces and Russian warplanes "are purposely hitting civilian targets, they're hitting medical centers, they're hitting basements which are shelters for a lot of people." Russia, which has been waging an air campaign in support of Assad's forces since 2015, denies targeting civilians.
Lynn said the family remained in eastern Ghouta after the Arab Spring uprising began because they hoped things would change. Later, as the civil war escalated, they stayed because they feared losing their home and property. "We didn't want to leave this place that my children were raised in," she said.
She said residents of eastern Ghouta hope the U.N. Security Council will implement the cease-fire it adopted last month, and that families won't be forced to leave as part of a surrender deal, as they have in many other parts of Syria.
"This is their home and this is their property. They shouldn't be forced to leave or evacuate their homes," she said.