In darkness, light shines on a man carrying another person with a leg wound on his shoulders as they flee Mosul at night

Escaping by night © A. Liohn/ICRC

For centuries, armed conflicts were fought by armies on vast battlefields. Even if cities were besieged or sacked, fighting rarely took place in the streets.

In the 21st century, wars are being fought in cities.

From 2010 to 2015, half of the civilians who were killed in armed conflict died in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

And 70 per cent of these people lived in cities.

Almost nowhere is worse affected than the Iraqi city of Mosul.

An elderly man and woman sit on the floor of an empty room with walls marked by hundreds of bullet holes

At home in Mosul © A. Liohn/ICRC

Khaled and his wife sit their heavily damaged home in Mosul.

“We only left because of the shelling. If we had stayed, we would have been dead by now,” Khaled said.

Two young men in Mosul look up from a corner of a dark room with scratched walls and a window above them

Mohammed and Ibrahim © A. Liohn/ICRC

“Millions of people… were driven out of their homes, who had to flee, leaving everything behind,” said Robert Mardini, director of operations for the Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Like more than 780,000 others in Mosul, Mohammed and Ibrahim fled their home when the fighting got too intense.

When they returned a month-and-a-half later, their home was in ruins.

“It’s a complete catastrophe, there are bodies here that have been on the ground for 45 days,” Mohammad said.

“Look at the destruction: the buildings and houses which have been hit, they are rubble. Our neighbourhood has become a disaster area.”

A young boy pushes a bicycle with a box containing a bag of rice attached to it

A boy finds a way to transport food for his family © A. Liohn/ICRC

Still, life goes on, and the Red Cross and our partners the Red Crescent support tens of thousands of people with food, clean water and medical care.

The children still find creative ways to keep going, belying the trauma and destruction around them.

Families walk down a dusty road carrying their belongings in bags as they flee Mosul

Mosul’s citizens on the move © A. Liohn/ICRC

But thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, will never be able to return to the homes they once knew.

When the fighting reached their neighbourhood, these people fled.

More than 322,000 people now live in camps outside the city. Another 288,000 are staying with family or friends.

Many feel relief to escape to safety. But then the reality of who and what they have lost hits hard.

“All the traumas we see, more than 90 per cent, are directly war wounded traumas,” said ICRC emergency room doctor Julia Schürch.

Mosul General Hospital once treated sprained wrists and delivered babies.

Recently, almost every patient has been wounded in the conflict, including children.

People have “gunshots and shell injuries, which means from blasts, bombs,” Julia said.

“Here it is really a very high number of war wounded cases, from very small superficial lesions from flying elements to deadly injuries.”

Robert Mardini added: “Many die on arrival.

“When you see a father staggering into the hospital carrying in his arms a two-year-old shot in the head, you realise that our common humanity is under attack.”

An elderly man leans on a stick while walking through the ruins of his house in Mosul

Among the rubble in Mosul © A. Liohn/ICRC

Often, it is the youngest and the oldest who are hardest hit.

This man’s house was destroyed in the battle for Mosul.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent have been supporting both people still inside Mosul and those who fled since the battle started last October.

As the battle for Mosul comes to an end,  the world needs to remember those who have died, those who have fled, and those who just want to go home.