Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis: ‘How we survived when Mekelle was shelled’

A son orphaned, a daughter lying in a coma, an elderly woman killed – these are just some of the casualties reported by a doctor and other survivors of the bombardment of their city by the Ethiopian military during its operation to overthrow the ruling party in the northern Tigray region.

Their accounts of what happened in Tigray’s capital Mekelle – which has a population of about 500,000 – contradict that of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

He told the federal parliament that the military had not killed a single civilian during the operation that led to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) being ousted from power in the region on 28 November.

Mr Abiy ordered an air and ground offensive against the TPLF on 4 November after it seized military bases in Tigray, following two years of tensions over the political direction of Ethiopia.

There was a communication blackout during much of the operation, but with mobile phone services now restored, the BBC spoke to several residents – whose names are being withheld for their safety – about their ordeal.Landlord in Ayder district:
Heavy artillery fire destroyed four homes in my compound on Saturday, 28 November. In one family, only a boy survived. His father, mother and two sisters died on the spot. Their bodies were destroyed, almost to pieces. For six years, they were my tenants. What happened to them was very sad.

In the compound, three other women were wounded – one on the hand, another on the leg and the third on her face and breast. Two of them are still in hospital.My wife was also injured, but not badly. I was wounded on the chest, and still have the injuries. We both got discharged from the Ayder Referral Hospital (the main hospital in Mekelle) a few days ago.

It was very hard to get proper treatment because of the shortage of medicines, equipment and even doctors. There were many causalities, and the hospital was focusing on those with major injuries.

When I got discharged the hospital told me to buy medicines for myself and my wife from pharmacies outside, but they did not have the medicine. They were out of stock.

Life is difficult. For about 40 days now, the main markets are closed. We cannot get basic necessities. It is hard to even get food.

Many residents who fled Mekelle to save their lives are not yet back. We do not know about their whereabouts.

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A young mother-of-two in Hawelti district:
There was artillery fire and bombardment in Mekelle before the 28th. But on that day, it was in my area.

It started in the morning and carried on into the evening. Some of the artillery was passing over our home. We were scared. The children were crying.

One of the shells destroyed a house in the area. It killed an elderly lady and wounded her daughter very badly. She is still in a coma at Ayder Referral Hospital.

Most of our neighbours left Mekelle before the shelling on 28 November.But me, my children, and some other tenants stayed in my house because of a disabled lady who could not run away. But when the shelling got heavier on that day, we went to a nearby building that was still under construction.

We hid in its basement, where we spent the night.

‘Hungry troops ask for food’
The next morning, we started hearing the voices of people, but we still stayed there until we felt it was safe to come out.

Later on, we saw federal soldiers who had now taken over.

They asked for food and water because the markets and shops were all closed.

We had little food which we were sharing among ourselves, but I gave them some of it.

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