Isolated within a haunted landscape of endless rubble and bullet holes, the Syrian people struggle to rebuild in the aftermath of war. Following a series of air strikes led by United States military forces, the city of Raqqa has been largely freed from the clutches of the Islamic State (IS). This freedom was hard fought and won, but their sacrifices aren't over yet. Produced by ABC News Australia, City of Ghosts travels through various corners of this devastated wasteland to uncover a bruised but determined humanity.
The first sign of hell can be found at Heaven Square. It was here that IS made a show of public beheadings. Area residents - including many children - were forced to watch on a sea of plasma screens that lined the area.
In another segment, a soldier recalls an endless parade of prisoners who were held and tortured on the field and in the hollow halls of a now-abandoned football stadium. The terrorist group drew several plans of attack on the bare walls, and covered the floors with their shaved beard hair when they were desperate to escape unrecognized.
An Australian volunteer who fought alongside Kurdish soldiers searches through piles of jagged stone to find bomb shells, trip wires and land mines. The process of disarmament is a lengthy one, and has to be completed before any meaningful rebuilding can take place.
The area is dangerous to navigate, and some still fear a lingering ISIS presence that remains in the shadows. Nevertheless, the filmmakers brave through their journey and visit the crumbling former home of Khaled Sharrouf, an Australian citizen who immigrated to Syria in order to fight in support of ISIS. We see the gun range he used to train his children in warfare and weaponry, and the areas where they caged other children from the region who were kidnapped. Ultimately, he and two of his own children were killed in the air strikes.
How does a once thriving community of 260,000 rebound after such tragedy? City of Ghosts shows us a region that has been decimated in many respects. But their new-found freedom affords them a glimmer of hope that has eluded them for far too long.