‘We Truly Have Lost Everything’: A Journey Out of Kabul the Day It Fell

ARLINGTON, Va. — Nadima Sahar, a 36-year-old authorities official in Kabul, was resigned at first. She would keep, regardless of how unhealthy issues received. She noticed hope within the progress Afghanistan had revamped the previous 20 years. Maybe, she thought, she may push for an inclusive authorities, with extra girls and ethnic minorities.

But on the day town fell to the Taliban, her family and friends members flooded her telephone with calls and textual content messages, begging her to go away.

When one buddy advised her that the presidential palace workers had already fled, and that there have been rumors President Ashraf Ghani was gone, too, Ms. Sahar determined she needed to get out. As a high-ranking authorities official in schooling, she stated that she knew that the Taliban would most likely kill or arrest her.

“As soon as I heard that, my heart just sunk,” Ms. Sahar stated. “If the president had left the country, then that meant we truly were in a bad situation. We truly have lost everything.”

Ms. Sahar’s 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son had left Kabul three days earlier together with her sister, Sadaf Sultani, who was visiting from Britain.

“My sister was willing to fight until the end,” Ms. Sultani stated. “But I had to force her to allow me to take her kids.”

Ms. Sahar allow them to go pondering it might solely be just a few weeks earlier than situations in Kabul calmed down, even because the Taliban superior towards town after seizing province after province. On nights when the gunfire and explosions have been particularly loud, the household would shelter in the lounge, which had few home windows.

For Ms. Sahar and 1000’s of others, fleeing Afghanistan meant abandoning the one residence they knew. Although many have been decided to flee within the final days earlier than the U.S. troop withdrawal, risking their lives to succeed in the airport, others resisted leaving, apprehensive about kin and clinging to the lives they spent years constructing.

Ms. Sahar knew it was naïve to suppose that the state of affairs in Kabul won’t change into so unhealthy. But the considered leaving once more terrified her. She had been via this earlier than: When she was about 5, she had fled to Pakistan throughout Afghanistan’s civil battle.

“I think it was that crippling fear of becoming a refugee again, not knowing what the future holds for you and starting your life from scratch,” Ms. Sahar stated, her fingers wrapped round a cup of tea in a buddy’s house in Virginia, the place she has been staying since she fled. “I guess I just didn’t want to face that.”

By Aug. 15, the day the federal government collapsed, solely Ms. Sahar and a cousin have been nonetheless dwelling within the four-bedroom house.

Around 2:30 p.m., she grabbed a backpack and tossed in her paperwork, pockets, laptop computer and scarf. She took one additional set of garments: a brilliant floral-print chapan, her favourite piece of clothes. As she packed, her fingers couldn’t cease shaking.

The cousins fled on foot after they heard that the Taliban had invaded Kabul. They tried to take a taxi, however the streets have been already crowded, and each driver advised them it was unattainable to drive via the mayhem. People have been crying and shouting on the telephone, and a few had began to loot banks.

After working for greater than an hour and a half, they reached Hamid Karzai International Airport, the place lots of of individuals have been ready inside. Families, authorities officers and prosperous enterprise executives clambered to succeed in the tarmac, determined to seek out area on one of many few flights scheduled to go away that day.

One of Ms. Sahar’s pals booked her a ticket for a flight to Istanbul, the final aircraft set to take off. As they tried to get onto the tarmac, phrase unfold that the Taliban had reached the gates exterior. Ms. Sahar advised her cousin to go away instantly. If they have been discovered collectively, Ms. Sahar stated, the Taliban would possibly kill them each.

Tensions started to rise. One man beat an airport employee who was turning individuals away on the gate. All of the flights have been overbooked, the employees advised the gang, and there was no probability that any of them would depart.

Ms. Sahar began to lose hope after making an attempt to maneuver ahead for greater than 5 hours. But then Kabir, an airport employee, took her via an employee-only door and onto the tarmac. He stated he didn’t know her however felt a duty to assist.

“She was crying,” he stated. “She was alone, and nobody came to her.”

Kabir advised one in every of his pals to stick with Ms. Sahar whereas he tried to discover a approach to depart. She tried to board her flight to Istanbul, however flight crew members stated the aircraft was already full and have been turning individuals away.

About an hour later, Kabir known as. He advised his buddy and Ms. Sahar that that they had 5 minutes to get on a aircraft in one other part of the tarmac. Its lights have been off after they reached it, Ms. Sahar stated.

They climbed the steps to the aircraft, and though Ms. Sahar didn’t have a ticket, the flight crew allow them to each on. They have been the final two individuals to board.

About 20 minutes later, the flight took off. It was removed from full, with each different seat empty, she stated. Later, a crew member advised Ms. Sahar that the aircraft didn’t have permission to fly, and that it had been chartered to evacuate the airline proprietor’s household and pals. She didn’t see every other aircraft take off that night time.

On the flight, she stated, emotions of guilt, shock and grief collided. But principally, she felt numb.

Ms. Sahar didn’t know the place they have been going. About an hour in, she requested the individual seated subsequent to her, who didn’t know both, however they quickly realized that they have been on their approach to Ukraine.

Once they arrived, the passengers have been detained for a number of hours. Some of them had firearms and plenty of didn’t have passports or visas.

After she was launched, Ms. Sahar contacted just a few pals and booked a flight to Northern Virginia. She arrived at Dulles International Airport on Aug. 17, simply earlier than 1000’s of Afghan evacuees arrived within the subsequent few weeks.

Since then, she has been staying in a spare room in her buddy’s house in close by Arlington. The partitions are principally naked and the closet is almost empty, apart from just a few shirts and pairs of pants her pals purchased her.

Security employees at her house constructing in Kabul, the place a number of authorities officers lived, have advised her that the Taliban have come 4 instances. Most not too long ago, 21 individuals from the Red Unit, an elite pressure, confirmed up. The Taliban have additionally visited her workplace thrice, leaving messages together with her colleagues saying they’d give her amnesty if she returned and transferred energy to a brand new head of the schooling authority she ran. But Ms. Sahar and plenty of others have grown skeptical, given the growing studies of detentions, disappearances and executions by the hands of the Taliban.

“The strength of your word is something I no longer believe in,” Ms. Sahar stated.

Ms. Sahar, a U.S. everlasting resident, hopes to get a job in Virginia. She got here to America in 2002, graduating from Roger Williams University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She labored in Washington for a 12 months earlier than returning to Afghanistan in 2009.

She doesn’t know when she’s going to have the ability to fly her kids to the United States. For now, she is submitting job purposes and calling her kids each night time to learn them a bedtime story.

Even although she fears retaliation, she hopes to return to Afghanistan. Staying in America completely, regardless of its safety, isn’t an choice, she stated.

“That’s like giving up on everything you believe and saying, ‘You know what, do whatever you want to do with that country,’” Ms. Sahar stated. “I would like to go there to contribute in whatever capacity that I can, even if it means being there as a voice of dissent.”

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