Gutted buildings and smashed-up vehicles still line the streets of Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, a fortnight after parts of the country descended into ethnic violence.
The police checkpoints have come down and the curfew has been lifted, but there are continued reports of shootings, and armed soldiers are still out on foot. Everyone I meet – Uzbek and Kyrgyz alike – has been affected by the conflict.
People had their eyes gouged out and were shot, burnt and axed to death. Shops and schools were looted and razed to the ground, and there are reports of women and girls being raped. Many of my colleagues came under fire and helped man the barricades in their neighbourhoods.
“I saw dead people with my own eyes; burnt houses, burnt bodies,” a female colleague told me. “It was like a film.” As they explain what happened, I can’t even begin to imagine the horrendous ordeal they have been through.
Yet just days after the conflict – when many people felt it was still too dangerous to leave their barricaded homes – all our staff were back at work. “All my family is safe,” one told me. “And we have our house, but many people lost their houses, their lives. I am happy I am able to help.”
In the midst of such terrible atrocities, my Uzbek and Kyrgyz colleagues have showed an amazing strength and resilience. They have been working together to help as many children and families as possible. Even as the conflict raged, they were risking their own lives to save others.
Save the Children’s landlady, Rahima, is an ethnic Kyrgyz. She sheltered 50 children and 12 adults – both Uzbek and Kyrgyz – including three pregnant women, in her basement for days while gun battles continued outside and helped smuggle them to safety.
Many people have told me they believe that Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Tatar and Turkish families can live together in peace once again. It is stories like Rahima’s which make me understand why.