Russian troops on patrol in the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour in September (photo George Ourfalian AFP)
Russian troops on patrol in the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour in September (photo George Ourfalian AFP)

The sole bridge across the Euphrates near Syria’s Deir ez-Zor, built by the Russian military, has enabled local farmers to deliver produce to the city and linked communities on either side of the river.

Locals recall that before the war there were twelve bridges across the Euphrates here. US bombardments have destroyed them all. Last year Russian military engineers built a 100-meter-long pontoon bridge near Deir ez-Zor, thus creating a vital link between communities the Euphrates separates.

“We have only one bridge left. Many people have relatives across the river. In the past we had no problems travelling either way. When the bridges were ruined, we stopped seeing each other,” engineer Malik al-Omar, of the Deir ez-Zor Province’s gubernatorial council, has told the media. Now that the pontoon bridge has opened, people have an opportunity to visit each other as before. For local farmers it is absolutely crucial to bring foodstuffs to the city.

The desert takes up a larger share of the province. The Euphrates valley is an oasis. Local farmer Abd al-Hai Shmayan recalls that when the Islamic State (terrorist organization outlawed in Russia) seized the territory, he had to flee the area where his family had cultivated land for more than 150 years.

“As soon as the bandits left, we were able to get back to normal life and work. The Syrian soldiers and your [Russian — TASS] army have given us a chance to live calmly and earn a living,” the farmer says. “I grow wheat and vegetables and plan to plant cotton.”

In the village all homes ruined by the militants have been restored. Tractor engines are heard roaring all around: local farmers are hurrying to work their fields. “Getting back here is the best of what one can think of. I have my tractor and work to do. My neighbors are alive and safe and sound,” says tractor driver Halil Abul.

The sole way to bring farm produce to Deir ez-Zor is across the ‘Russian bridge’, as local people are in the habit of calling the pontoon crossing created by the Russian military. “We go to Deir ez-Zor to sell our produce — beans, pepper and garlic. We make good money,” says farmer Turkasyan Hamad, who has brought several dozen sacks of harvest in the back of his small truck.

The bridge makes a fast way for the local people to get to the city to handle their private affairs. “One of my kids has a sore throat, we are going to the hospital,” says a local woman, Hamara, with two little kids — a three-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy — by her side. “It’s been very easy to move around since the bridge opened here.”

Large-scale postwar reconstruction is underway in all of Syria’s areas retaken from the militants. Homes, businesses and infrastructures are being repaired or built anew. According to the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides and Refugee Migration Monitoring, in recent years a total of 957 educational and 238 health service establishments have been restored, six automobile bridges and 1,300 kilometers of roads repaired, 1,200 kilometers of high voltage power lines laid, and 199 water supply facilities, 315 bakeries, 776 electric power substations and 14,500 industrial enterprises commissioned.

At the moment, in 345 communities in ten provinces: Aleppo, Damascus, Deir ez-Zor, Latakia, Hama, Homs, Daraa, As-Suwayda, Quneitra and Raqqa work is in progress to restore and repair 2,700 homes, 225 schools, 176 preschool childcare centers, 241 medical facilities, 203 bakeries, 203 power substations, 281 water pumps and 90 places of worship.