Described as the deadliest civil conflict of the 21st century so far, the war in Syria has left more than 470,000 dead and caused 11 million people to flee the country. Two Syrian women talk to Refinery29 about becoming accustomed to the everyday reality of war, hunger and death during the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
Judy Aras, 23, lives in Homs, Syria, with her mother and four sisters
"I live in a besieged neighbourhood in the city of Homs. It's a sad life. It's not easy. We are bombarded every day. We do not have food or drink.
Our neighbourhood fell under the control of the fighters four years ago. When the residents refused to leave, the Assad regime besieged the area and prevented the locals from receiving food, drink and medicines. They began to shell the area and destroy it completely.
We have experienced a lot of suffering. We are constantly bombarded by planes and high-explosive rockets. We're hungry. We can't buy food because it's scarce; when you can buy it, it's very expensive. There are no vegetables or meat; we always eat rice. We miss having a normal life. There is no market or stadium. There are no hospitals here to care for the wounded, and you cannot go out for a walk or play sports because of the constant bombardment. I wish I could see a street or a building free from bombing, or a family unaffected by death.
My life revolves around my work and my family. I work as a television reporter, writer and photographer. I work with a group of friends and we report on the suffering of civilians. I do this every day because there is no holiday in Syria – the suffering never stops. Even if there's heavy shelling, I'm there reporting. I used to work in humanitarian aid for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent until I was arrested by the authorities in 2012. The experience of my arrest was very painful. I was beaten and insulted. I was released on the condition that I work with the regime, but I fled to the Damascus countryside with my family and I was able to go back and resume my work.
What saddens me is that I couldn't complete my education. I dreamt of studying at university but the institutes and schools have closed because of the shelling and destruction.
I lost my only brother four years ago. He died after being hit by a tank shell. I loved him very much. He was the source of my inspiration and strength. I don't know where my father is. He disappeared more than a year ago. He had been abroad since the beginning of the revolution, but he returned to Syria two years ago and settled in the city of Aleppo. From that day, I do not know where he is.
A lot of my friends are dead like my brother. I always cry and think back to all the times we spent together. Some of my friends have moved on but I talk with them online. I miss them all the time.
I cannot say that life in Syria is normal, but I try to live a normal life as possible. When I finish work I go home and try to have fun with my mother, my sisters and friends. I cook, play cards, read books and study political science. I make coffee, talk to my mother every morning and listen to music, and that makes me happy despite all the hard times I've been through.
I decided to stay in Homs because I grew up in this city and love it very much. However, we found out today that we cannot stay in the neighbourhood any longer. The regime wants to move us to another area of Syria. In two weeks, we will leave for the countryside, north of Aleppo. Many people have left Syria, but I hoped that I would live and die in it. I cannot expect anything from the future. I'm entering the unknown. But I will try to make my dreams come true."
Wa'ad al Kateab*, 26, lived in Aleppo with her husband and daughter until four months ago. They fled to Gaziantep in Turkey but are considering returning to Syria.
"Life was never normal in Syria. It was controlled by the government. Before the war, I always dreamt of studying media and becoming a journalist but my parents told me that that you can't be a journalist here, you'll be a pen with the government's hand.
I was in the final year of studying marketing at university when the revolution started. I couldn't graduate because we were in the midst of protesting. We thought the revolution would be over within four months. I started to film the atrocities in Syria and ended up working for different TV stations including Channel 4. I've covered everything from Isis' entry into Syria in 2013 to Russian forces coming in and destroying the opposition areas.
Journalists have had to go into hiding. I swapped my camera for a mobile phone as I couldn't hold a camera in the street as I feared being arrested. Did I ever just want to leave? Yes, I've been scared that I could lose my life, but you have to think about what you are doing for your country. I knew I had to stay and cover it even if it was dangerous. I needed to show the world what was happening in Syria.
Staying alive during my final six months of Aleppo was really difficult. We had no water, no food. There was no milk for babies. No medication. The regime was taking control of more areas and wanted to take Aleppo and kill all the people inside it. There was heavy shelling. The last hospital was directly attacked in the morning and the evening.
I wanted to stay in Aleppo but we couldn't, it became even more dangerous. My daughter had turned one and I was pregnant with my second child. We fled. We're now in Gaziantep in Turkey. We feel lost. We're trying to work out what to do. We want to return to the western side of Aleppo but the situation is too bad. There's attacks and a lot of Islamic militants. Another choice is to stay in Turkey, but I don't prefer that. We're waiting for our child to be born and then we will decide. In the meantime, I'm working on a documentary about the last days of Aleppo, and have recently visited London for media training with Channel 4. But ultimately, I do hope to return to Syria."
*Wa'ad's real name has been changed to protect her identity