‘Lots of people are dying’: Four young sisters among those caught up in Ethiopia’s bloody civil war

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There is a little park in Addis Ababa with a bench and some flowers and a big red wall.

It was built on scrap land by the manager of a local hostel, and there is a five-year-old who comes to draw every afternoon.

Her name is Kidist, and she sketches on the wall with small rocks that work a bit like chalk.

Kidist, 5, draws outside her family home in Ethiopia.
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Kidist also lost her heel in one foot during the explosion

“That is the face, that is the hand, the eyes, legs. Oh, the hair.”

As an image takes shape, her right sleeve slips down, revealing a nasty scar – one of many, say doctors, that cover her body.

Kidist also lost her heel in one foot after an artillery shell exploded in front of her family’s home.

Yigzaw family - speak about the impact of the Ethiopian civil conflict.
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The Yigzaw family speak about the impact the Ethiopian civil conflict has had on their family

Her sisters were also injured in the blast, which took place late last year.

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Bethlehem, who is nine, lost her Achilles tendon and the wound has never healed.

The 14-year-old, Yordanos, has lost most of her left leg.

The eldest sister is Abeba, 17, who has had part of her right leg amputated.

She wears a weary, distant look.

“When I walk on it, when I touch it, it hurts,” she said as she poked at a large scar above the amputated limb.

Yigzaw family  - two sisters in their family home in Ethiopia.
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The Yigzaw family are unsure of who fired the shell that destroyed the family home

Ethiopia‘s bloody civil conflict is waged with little knowledge of the cost. The number of dead, injured or missing are seemingly unknown as the forces of the government of Abiy Ahmed battle fighters from the rebellious region of Tigray.

But the impact on the Yigzaw family has been calamitous.

“Do you think about the war?” I asked Abeba.

“Of course, we are worried. Lots of people are dying, lots of people are injured. We are the example of that. We have been worrying and crying, but there is nothing we can do. What happened, happened.”

Nobody knows who fired the shell that destroyed the family home, located in a village called Hawelti. Both government soldiers and Tigrayan rebels were fighting nearby.

But the girls have found some safety and security in a cramped bedsit in the capital, Addis Ababa. They live here with their uncle, Kalayu, who found them last December, covered in blood, in the back of an Ethiopian army truck.

The Uncle of the Yigzaw family sisters, Kalayu.
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The four sisters found security in the capital Addis Ababa, where they live with their uncle, Kalayu

They had been brought to a place called Dessie for emergency treatment from the team at International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).

“It is very difficult when you see they are bleeding, they are injured, they cry. It is very difficult. I saw them in the (vehicle) so I pulled up there. I saw them…” Gripped with emotion, Kalayu was unable to continue.

He has taken up a role that he could not anticipate – a substitute parent to four vulnerable girls. He says he has little choice as their mother was killed in the attack and their father has been missing for months.

“I didn’t tell them about what happened to their mother because they were in a horrible situation. After seven months, we told the older two, but Kidist and Bethlehem (still) don’t know. They say, ‘I miss my mother, I miss my mother’…”

Kalayu is unable to continue the thought.

Yigzaw family - speak about the impact of the Ethiopian civil conflict.
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The family will soon have to find a new place to live

The ICRC has provided medication and rehabilitation in Addis Ababa but was clear that Yordanos was in pain.

We watched the girls get themselves ready for school, but the 14-year-old was unable to get out of bed.

“All of this is swollen,” she said, looking tearfully at the bulbous end of her amputated leg.

“Will you go to school today?” I asked.

“I can’t, the prosthetic won’t fit because it is swollen.”

Bethlehem, who is 9, lost her Achilles tendon and the wound has never healed.
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Bethlehem, nine, lost her Achilles tendon and the wound has never healed

Her siblings know this pain, but they still had to get themselves ready for school. Their uncle, is a teacher and this is what he expects.

Yet, the 32-year-old is shouldering much on his own. Financial support from the ICRC that keeps them in this cramped hostel finishes at the end of the month, and he will have to find the family a new place to live.

But his faith in the future is undiminished.

“God makes these things, and we are going to (get by). They will succeed their dreams and I will be beside them forever.”

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