The battle for Hawzen is part of a larger war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region between the government’s forces and Tigrayan fighters that has led to massacres, gang rapes and the flight of more than 2 million of the region’s 6 million people. While the government now holds many urban centres, fierce fighting continues in remote rural towns like Hawzen.
As the two sides fight, civilians, and especially children, are suffering. More and more children are caught up in shelling in Hawzen and other nearby areas, with at least 32 admitted to the Ayder Hospital in the regional capital Mekele for blast injuries from December to April.
Thirteen had limbs amputated, according to official records.
Haftom Gebru, a 12-year-old boy from Hawzen, was wounded by shrapnel in fighting during Orthodox Easter. An artillery shell hit a pile of stones in the family’s compound that then ricocheted in the boy’s direction. When his 60-year-old father, Gebru Welde Abrha, saw the boy’s wounded left hand, he knew it would have to be amputated.
“I am so sad I can’t explain it,” the father said in a hospital ward, as his son looked angrily into the distance. “I feel it deeply.”
Haftom Gebretsadik, a 17-year-old from Freweini near Hawzen, was also wounded by an artillery round that struck his home in March. He quietly looked at the stump on his right arm and shook his head.
“I am very worried,” he said. “How can I work?”
Some of the young victims of blast trauma might have kept their limbs if they had received first aid at the nearest health centres. But such facilities are shells right now – systematically looted, vandalised and turned upside down.
Eritrean soldiers set up camp in the Hawzen Primary Hospital, which once boasted of equipment ranging from X-ray machines to baby incubators. Now it is trashed and looted.
“It’s a bad feeling I have as a Tigrayan,” said the now-jobless technician, 27-year-old Misigna Hagos.
“This hospital used to serve thousands of people… Now it’s destroyed.”