The Ukrainian Muslims fighting against Russia

by | Aug 4, 2022 | World

Kharkiv, Ukraine – Ali Khadzali stands among the blown-out buildings of his hometown, Kharkiv, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Ukraine’s border with Russia.Since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February, Khadzali has worked with a team of six volunteers to provide humanitarian assistance and evacuate people from areas hit hard by the fighting.
Khadzali, a warm, charming 30-year-old, wears a skullcap, a hoodie, and cargo pants. He is on a break between the day’s duties early one afternoon in mid-May. Russian forces have been pushed back from the city, but intense shelling has reduced much of the northern suburbs to debris.
The distant rumble of artillery still reverberates through this now empty neighbourhood. Nearby, a large playground with colourful swings and seesaws is strangely intact, framed by high-rise buildings blackened and scarred by weeks of bombardment.
Khadzali was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, to a Ukrainian mother and a Syrian father. He would regularly visit Syria until war broke out there in 2011. In 2015, Russia’s intervention in Syria’s now 11-year-old civil war tipped the scales in favour of the Assad regime.
“Both of my homelands, Ukraine and Syria, were invaded by Russians,” Khadzali says.
Buildings in an empty neighbourhood in Kharkiv show the scars from weeks of bombardment [Micah Reddy/Al Jazeera]
Joining the war effort
In 2015, Khadzali became a chaplain – an imam offering spiritual services within a military context.
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