Aden diary: the night we fled in terror

Aden diary: the night we fled in terror
5 min read
The Houthis and their allies came in the night, burned our homes and killed our people: a first-hand account from Khormaksar in Yemen's port city of Aden.
Aden has seen some of the worst fighting in Yemen's conflict (Getty)

On the 28 April the Khormaksar district of Aden, Yemen fell to the Houthi militia and its allied Republican Guard troops. This is an account of that night from an anonymous local resident.

We woke up at dawn from the sounds of violent explosions and gunshots, it was close to our house. We didn't know what was happening outside but we knew it was our turn to taste blood and destruction.

My father sneaked out to the living room to peak outside the window, while my sisters and I hid in the corner of the room. My brother was unable to hide his fear but tried to calm us down and reassure us, saying that in a matter of minutes the anti-Houthi Popular Resistance and the young men in our neighbourhood would take control of the situation, defeat the Houthis and kick them out.

It seemed that my mother and brother knew what was happening, I think I did too, we heard all the horrifying stories and we saw pictures of what happened in Crater and Mualla, it was our turn now.

Father what did you see? Khair inshallah (with God’s will everything will be good), that’s all he said but there was nothing good about what he saw.

He saw the neighbour’s house in the corner burning, bodies of people we know and others we don't lying on the streets, a tank aiming its turrent towards the houses, and the beasts were everywhere.

"God help us." My mother kept repeating this sentence the entire time. The shelling on the houses increased and the sound of gunshots were getting closer. My brother started to get ready, he wanted to join the resistance and all the others to defend our neighbourhood even though he did not own a weapon.

But my mother begged him not to go, and that is the only thing that stopped him.

No mercy, no remorse

Outside, with hearts of stone, the Republican Guards shelled our neighbourhood. Flames and thick smoke were rising from the burning houses.

They stormed into houses, threw the women and children outside and arrested all the men they suspected they were part of the resistance. 

A shell hit the top floor of our building, rattling it like an earthquake. We ran down to our neighbours' flat on the ground floor and when the flames spread in most of the apartments, we all ran to the next building.

This is when we all knew we had to leave Khormaksar, where I had lived for more than 25 years.

     We decided to escape from death to the unknown. We left with the clothes we had on, nothing else.

I had left only once before - in the war of summer 1994, and while it might have been scary I was only a baby, and didn't know what the fear of dying felt like.

We decided to escape from death to the unknown. We left with the clothes we had on, nothing else. The militias didn't give us the chance to take anything with us, they deprived us from everything, and only left us with painful memories of our house being burned down while we watched.

A scene I shall never forget.

The coalition struck back, bombing a building the militias were using as a base. The adjacent building collapsed as well, with all the residents inside.

Khormaksar witnessed that day a mass exodus of families. We left in one of our neighbour's cars under heavy shelling and sniper bullets that did not show any mercy to people trying to escape.

It took us an hour and a half to reach Mansoora with all the checkpoints, but it felt like we were on the road for years. A mass of people swamped the roads - people were dangling from cars, holding onto windows. One of our neighbours left Khormaksar in a small bus for eight people, but that day it carried 21, including six children.

Hope gone, lives shattered

He said the saddest part was the look of hope he saw when people on the streets saw the bus thinking they found their way out, only to be replaced with the look of despair when they saw that the bus was full. 

I found out later that "Muhsen", the grocery man who worked in our area, who came from Hadramout looking for a living in Aden, was shot directly in the head.

The four men who tried to save him were also shot one by one, and no one was able to even get close to them. Their bodies were left on the street.

Two boys who had not fled the area were killed when the beasts raided their home. They were shot in front of their families.

We stopped counting how many people we knew died that night. There is a hole in my soul, that nothing can fix. Imagine not having the chance to wash your loved ones and bury them. Sons, husbands, fathers, and friends were left on the roads.

Our sorrow doubled when we found out that under all this trauma, the beasts were looting our homes.

I will never forget the screams of children and women, the men with voices full of fear telling their families to hurry up. I will never forget looks of horror on my sisters' faces, my mother's tears, and how helpless my father and my brother felt because they were not able to protect us.

This is me today, homeless, jobless, the only clothes I own on my back, no papers, certificates or pictures. My ambitions and goals shattered.

Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, a date I will never forget and a lesson I have learned: missiles and bullets do not exclude anyone, they never ask your affiliation, who you are with or against before hitting you.

Yes, my body survived but my soul was killed the day Khormaksar fell.