Warning: This story includes images that some people may find distressing.
When the Syrian revolution began, Mohammad Darwish was a young dentistry student in Damascus.
For the past two years, the 26-year-old has been one of just two “doctors” treating about 40,000 residents in his hometown of Madaya — where children were famously starved to death as a tactic of war. Dr Darwish and hundreds of other residents are due to evacuate the besieged town after months of negotiations.
“No matter what words I use, I still can’t tell you enough about what we endured in this town,” Dr Darwish told ABC News.
“The most difficult part was the starvation. Hunger was the most powerful weapon.”
A mountainous village about 40 kilometres from Damascus and close to the Lebanese border, the rebel-held town of Madaya has been cut off from the world since June 2015. Surrounded by Syrian Government forces and their allies, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, the town’s residents have had little chance to escape and no way of bringing food in.
“It’s a very tight siege, the town is completely sealed. Checkpoints were closed. No-one was allowed in or out — no civilians, no-one,” Dr Darwish explained.
“During the days of the starvation, almost no people were walking on the streets, people had no energy to walk or to stand up.
“It was real starvation. Some people slaughtered animals such as cats or dogs just to survive, they had to eat.”
Dr Darwish was part of the town's medical team that sent photos and videos of emaciated, starving children to ABC News in a desperate attempt to inform the world of their plight.
"Shelling, shooting can hit or target some people, but starvation … it targeted all the residents of the town," he said.
After global outcry over the images, the Syrian Government was forced to allow a UN food aid delivery to the town, but not before 28 residents, including six babies, starved to death.
"The UN Security Council and the other UN bodies are only names and slogans, they are not effective on the ground," he told ABC News.
"Remember it was only after the regime and its militants were forced to give the OK did they supply aid, food for people who were dying from starvation."
Disappointment in international community, UN
For Dr Darwish, the hardest part in the past year was knowing the world was aware of their plight — but nothing changed.
Despite intermittent aid deliveries, residents continued to starve to death and to die from preventable conditions he and his team did not have the facilities to treat.
"Because of the lack of food, 81 people died," Dr Darwish told ABC News.
"And that doesn't include the people who tried to break the siege and went to leave the town to look for food and they died because of landmines or snipers."
He's bitterly disappointed in the international community and the United Nations.
"It's shameful, they let us down," he said. "Specifically us the people of Madaya and the Syrian people in general.
"The world watched us die and be massacred and they did nothing."
Shelling and sniper attacks on the town in recent months have created near daily casualties for the exhausted and under-resourced medical team in Madaya.
"We as doctors, we also starved," Dr Darwish said. "During the shooting and shelling, we had hard casualties to treat.
"We had internal injuries, nerve system injuries, so we had to try out best to operate on these patients, because we couldn't refer then outside.
"We had casualties and killing on a daily basis."
Heartbreak at leaving homeland, family
After months of trying to secure an evacuation deal, Dr Darwish and hundreds of other civilians, as well as opposition fighters and their families, are due to leave Madaya.
The Syrian Government has struck numerous local deals with besieged rebels under which they leave for insurgent-held parts of northern Syria that border Turkey.
The opposition calls it a deliberate policy of demographic change to forcibly displace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's opponents away from the main cities of western Syria.
Residents of two pro-Government Shi'ite towns, al-Foua and Kefraya — which have been besieged by opposition fighters — are also due to be evacuated.
British-based war-monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said convoys were moving towards Madaya, al-Foua and Kefraya, and evacuations were expected to start on Wednesday morning (local time).
Despite the horror Dr Darwish has experienced, he said he was heartbroken to leave Madaya.
"I'm leaving my homeland, my childhood place, where I grew up," he said.
"I'll miss it, my land, the air, the mountains, everything. And I'll miss my parents who are going to stay in Madaya. I'm leaving my people."
Dr Darwish said he would never forget what he and others went through in the town.
"I will remember them one by one, forever and ever, the people who suffered with me at the same time," he said.
"Those who lived with me during the hunger, during the shelling and the suffering, who helped the patients with me, these are the people who I'm going to miss most."
Dr Darwish cannot believe six years after daring to dream of a free Syria, this is where he is today.
"I'm leaving with nothing on me, without any achievements of the goal we've aimed for from the beginning," he said.
"We achieved nothing, nothing for the past six years, only killing, mass destructions and war."
It has been nearly two years since Dr Darwish has eaten meat and fresh vegetables, but he said it was not food he is allowing himself to dream of.
Escaping safely is his only concern, he said.
"I lived on oats and rice," Dr Darwish said. "We had days where we had nothing to eat, only water and weeds or leaves or water with spices. This is how we survived and stayed alive."
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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