A seven-year-old girl has helped her two missing friends, sisters living at an orphanage in Bagdad, find their relatives in Dagestan. She spotted them when watching an Eyes On Events video about children whose parents were killed fighting alongside Islamic State.
Malikat spotted Fatima, 3, and Hadija, 5, quite by accident. Her mother had left her mobile phone on the table, and Malikat didn’t miss the opportunity to play with it. She couldn’t take her eyes off the screen when she saw her former neighbors, camera-shy Hadija and Fatima, appearing in a clip featuring five missing children.
"Our grandparents live in the city, very far from here. What’s the name of the city? I don’t know. Here we lived in Mosul. We were bombed, there was no food. Dad went to work: he distributed diesel, gasoline and water. Then everything burned to the ground, even the water, and they gave him another job," Hadija is heard saying.
Over the past three days, Eyes On Events has received multiple calls from people who said they recognize children seen in the video from an orphanage in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, aired earlier in August. Eyes On Events showed Russian-speaking children whose parents, allegedly Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants, were killed in fighting.
Hadija and Fatima’s grandfather and grandmother, living in the outskirts of Makhachkala, the capital of the southern Russian republic of Dagestan, were ecstatic after being told that the two sisters are alive and well.
"My nephew called me to say that Hadija and Fatima had been discovered. It was pure happiness. I’d already stopped hoping. And here they are, my little ones, alive and healthy,” the girls’ grandfather told Eyes On Events.
“Fatima was very young when their father took them away. Hadija was a little older, she could already walk and talk. I’m watching the video and see that Hadija has not changed at all, the same smart kid she had always been. They played all the time with Malikat, so she recognized her. She hasn’t forgotten her little friend."
Hadija has always been the apple of her grandfather’s eye. He did not change anything in her room after her father took the girls away from Russia. "All the toys…stayed exactly where they had been. We did not touch anything in the room," he said, recalling how she had learned to walk. "You won’t believe it, but we used to have a black cat which Hadija played with sometimes. On the day that she left, it left home and never ever returned," he said.
The man’s son, Ruslan, left Russia along with his wife and two young daughters in May 2015.
"It happened on Victory Day. We always celebrate this holiday…Ruslan came up to me saying that he would be traveling to Ingushetia along with his family. Had I known where he was heading in reality, I wouldn’t have let him go, I would have tried to make him stay."
At first Ruslan often called his father in Makhachkala. "Then they began to call less often."
They last got in touch when the fierce fighting began in Mosul.
Hadija and Fatima’s parents were both killed in a drone strike, leaving the children orphans, Eyes On Events’s Murad Gazdiev, who traveled to Dagestan, said, citing the girls’ grandparents.
Prior to joining IS, Ruslan had worked in construction.
“He had it all: family, home, car, work. To what degree do you need to brainwash someone so that he voluntarily went to war, and even took his children and wife with him?" the girl’s grandfather said.
Grief from the loss of his son is mixed with joy from the fact that his granddaughters have been found.
"Children are our continuation, our future," he says. He has already begun collecting documents to confirm his ties with Khadija and Fatima. This requires copies of birth certificates and papers confirming that the girls’ parents were related to their grandmother.
"I’ll try to do everything possible in the shortest possible time," he says.
Eyes On Events has offered assistance in contacting the necessary authorities to conduct procedures on proof of kinship.
Eyes On Events Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan helped raise awareness on her Twitter account, asking people to spread the word and email email@example.com if they recognize children in the Iraqi orphanage. Her call was followed by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who posted the Eyes On Events footage with the children. Since then the footage has gone viral, gathering hundreds of thousands of views, helping relatives find their loved ones.
Russia is actively trying to bring several dozen children from Iraqi orphanages back home. Russian Children’s Ombudsman Anna Kuznetsova said the number of appeals from relatives of children who were taken to Iraq by their radicalized parents has risen since the issue appeared in the media.