The White Helmets Documentary: Civilians Saving Syria

Review: Written by Orla Knox-Macaulay.

The White Helmets, an acclaimed Syrian humanitarian aid group who have saved over 58,000 lives during the civil war, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize next month following a recent documentary released on Netflix. The gripping 40-minute programme follows the lives of three male ‘White Helmets’ and tells their story among the chaos, distress and mass-murder of Aleppo.

With scenes of anarchy peppered throughout, the documentary truly portrays the destruction and pain that is felt by the Syrian nation. Infused by a melancholic atmosphere, viewers quickly empathise with the volunteer group, of which one member looses his brother while filming. Situations such as this enhances how real and heartbreaking the situation is for those living among the devestating conflict.

The content itself shows how Syria has reacted to Russian airstrikes. The White Helmets are the first on the scene after barrels bombs and cluster bombs have been dropped from the skies. Their job is not only to search and scan the area for survivors, but also to pull out dead bodies, some as young as babies, from underneath the rubble.

Showing unconditional bravery, the group has lost 130 White Helmets since 2013, however they have also saved over 58,000 lives across Syria – demonstrating the undeniable difference they have made to one of modern history’s most brutal wars.

One of many interesting scenes was a segment half way through the documentary, where a group of White Helmets travel to south Turkey from Aleppo to train for a month as rescuers. It’s at this point you really understand the stark difference between living in Syria and in a country that is not engaged in an external conflict. While they were in Turkey, they were not afraid for their lives for the first time. They were living in a place where bombs were not heard. There was silence.

Another moment that transcended the entire documentary for me was when The White Helmets were called to help after a bomb had taken down many houses. After 16 hours they were down trodden – mentally and physically weak. Then, they heard the cry of a baby. The baby, now two and named Mahmoud, had survived being under the rubble for 16 hours straight. When they pulled Mahmoud out, the volunteers – as grown men – broke down and started crying. This was because, to them, everyone is family. Mahmoud was a glimpse of light and hope among a country experiencing cold-blooded despair. This highly heartfelt moment has stayed with me, and probably will forever.

What makes the documentary so powerful is how it makes viewers question the effectiveness of bombing. The programme states that the Russians are trying to abolish ISIS, however, the men, women and children who are dying are completely innocent. The documentary reveals that over 400,000 Syrians have died so far due to the rash actions of Russia and other foreign intervention. The reality is that groups fighting in Syria, including countries launching airstrikes, are tearing apart families, without making a dent on ISIS.

Finally, I implore you to watch this documentary. It takes hardly any time out of your day but it really does widen your perspective. This is real Syria – real volunteers telling their  stories as heroes.

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