Douma: In the United States, her children could have “played under the sun”. But trapped in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, Michigan native Deana Lynn and her eight children are living out a nightmare underground.
At 44, US-born Lynn has spent nearly half of her life in Douma, a sprawling town at the heart of the now-infamous Ghouta suburbs, east of the Syrian capital.
Air raids and rocket and artillery fire have pounded Ghouta for more than a month as Syrian troops, their Russian ally and loyalist militia battle to capture the last rebel bastion on the doorstep of Damascus.
Douma, where Lynn lives with her Syrian husband, children, and grandchildren, has been hit hard.
“Now, we’re living under bombardment daily, every day. My children are in a state of hysteria,” she tells AFP in her living room, where thick green curtains block out sunlight and the boom of bombardment can be heard.
“The children are screaming. The parents are screaming. When the bomb comes close, it’s just terrible,” says Lynn, in a traditional overcoat and dark brown headscarf.
Lynn met her Syrian husband at the University of Michigan.
They married and had five children in the United States before moving to his native Ghouta just before 2000 - the year Bashar Al Assad rose to the presidency.
She remained in Douma as protests against Al Assad erupted in 2011, when rebels captured it in 2012, and after regime troops completely encircled it in 2013.
Lynn says her children, five of whom are American citizens, have been traumatised by a half-decade of siege and strikes that have hit hospitals and schools.
“I tell my children that in America you can play under the sun. You can climb trees. You can have fun. You can go to a playground and be safe,” she says.
Not so in Ghouta, says Lynn, where “if you go outside, you just worry that maybe a bomb will fall.”
Syrian troops have recaptured more than 80 per cent of the one-time rebel bastion in a blistering air and ground assault that has killed more than 1,500 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
More than 300 of them have been children.
“We’re being bombed day and night. By shells, by missiles, by anything you can think of. We spend the day and the night in our basements,” Lynn says.
During rare moments of calm, she comes upstairs with her children to use the bathroom and cook whatever simple meals they can scrounge up - sometimes just boiled cauliflower.
“I do think about America and I think about the children of the free world everywhere. I think to myself, why can’t the children here be a part of that free world? Why do they have to be oppressed like this?” Lynn says.
She imagines taking her children to visit her native United States, where her brother still lives, but insists that Ghouta is their real home.
“I don’t want to leave a place that we’ve made our home now for 18 years, a place my children know, a place that I’ve grown up in,” Lynn says.
“It’s not right for us to leave. It’s not right for it to be bombed. This is where they grew up. Their family is here,” she adds.
As Syrian troops eat away at rebel territory in Ghouta, they have opened several “corridors” - routes through which residents can flee into government-held territory.
An estimated 70,000 have used these corridors in recent days, bringing whatever they can carry and arriving shaken and exhausted at collective shelters.
“When you see thousands of people coming out, that’s because they’re fleeing. Their homes have been bombed to the ground - they have nothing left,” Lynn says.
“They’re not evacuating. You evacuate for a flood and then you come back. They’re kicking them out of their homes. They’re fleeing from the hunger, bombing and starvation.”
Lynn is a prolific Twitter user, firing off strings of tweets on the humanitarian situation in Douma and elsewhere with the hashtag #SaveGhouta.
On her account, she has criticised the US administration for not acting more forcefully to stem the violence in her hometown and says she has even reached out to the American president.
“I’ve sent to Mr. Donald Trump several messages. Actually, I think he doesn’t care, because I haven’t heard him speak about the Eastern Ghouta at all,” Lynn says.
“I wish he would listen and hear. I wish he could do something.”